We have settled into a style of design and architecture that has become so universal it’s now in danger of becoming a stale cliché.  The sleek hi-gloss modernism of the last couple of decades is certainly glamorous and was a welcome change from what went before.  But are we on the cusp of a new direction?

The lockdown has led to us spending much more time in our homes and gardens than probably ever before.  For many this has led to their home re-becoming exactly that their home.  Not a design statement.  And for some this has led to a re-evaluation of all that white geometric sheen.  A feeling has grown of wanting something … more… more homely… less like an office or a hotel…something with more texture, colour, individuality.  Something to engage you and sustain a deeper interest.

Well strap up because we’re going on a ride!

We’re going to take a lightning tour of one of the most amazing aspects of African culture.  Often over-looked but inspirational in its range, diversity, use of traditional materials and responsiveness to the local environment.  And most important of all, it’s sheer creative verve and beauty.

From Morocco To South Africa, Nigeria to Kenya, right across this vast continent of over 54 countries and hundreds of languages the local, vernacular architecture of the people has produced a fizzing array of styles, materials patterns and colours.  What follows is a tiny taster, a brief photo essay of the world-class treasure that is African Vernacular Architecture.

Northern Tongo and Benin. A child would sell their granny to live in an adventure like this.
Chad. We laughed out loud when we saw this one. Who knew a house could be funny, beautiful and comforting all at the same time!
South Africa. ‘Frozen music’.
West Africa, Gurunsi, (Northern Nigeria, Northern Ghana, Niger and Cameroon). Simple mud decorated and polished until it gleams with pride.
Gurunsi architecture in Burkina Faso and Ghana (West African). No one needed to do this. This is love of home, of decoration. Ingenious and caring.
Chefferie de Bandjoun Cameroon. Almost monochrome, but not quite. A very subtle palette. A stunning balance of the massive roof and slender pillars. Then the fine detail of the pillar carvings.
Traditional Mosgue, Dogon Valley, Mali and Burkina Faso. Mud and sticks. Repetition and variation. We go starry eyed at such masterful control of core elements in the Barbican Centre in London. Here it is under an African sky.
Zulu thatched house, South Africa. The pure yet complex form of a sea urchin.
Bambara Architecture. Sudano-Sahelian, (South West of the Sahara). That orange. Those smoothed contours, all in one colour so that the form just sings.
Songhai houses, Mali. Echoes of the famed Trulli of Puglia Italy, but with the added texture of thatch to offset the stone work.
Ghana. Cool shade and a perfect inspiration for a veranda or barbeque area. The masterful use of geometry in the rhyming use of triangles would be left at that in Europe. But here exquisite sgraffito in the mud pillars adds a rich and unique touch.
The Great Mosque of Djenna, Mali. Those wooden beams are used to climb the walls for the annual ceremony when the mud plaster is renewed.
Kamangadazi, Malawi. Almost throwaway frescoes but the eye keeps getting drawn back. The one shutter giving an effect of a winking face.
Brutalism anyone? Cameroon.
Basotho hut. Lesotho and South Africa. Utter simplicity and purity of form.
Rwanda. Such subtle use of texture and colour.
Sadly some buildings no longer survive. Ekibondo village, Congo. C 1920s.
The Dorze people, high in the mountains of Ethiopia. A home that simply hugs you.
Shimmering like a mirage in the Algerian desert.

If this very brief survey has kindled your interest in beautiful, practical, African Vernacular Architecture an American architect Jon (Twingi) Sojkowski is working on an online database, you can see it here: https://www.africanvernaculararchitecture.com/

For inspiration from another part of the world you could read about Japanese gardens

Have the past few months encouraged you inject more colour into your surroundings?  North Leeds Garden Design can help you add colour and form to your garden

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