A paradigm shift is needed to fully appreciate and understand the diverse and dynamic world of African architecture, both traditional and contemporary.
Regardless of how open-minded and eager we are to understand the cultures of others, we experience life and derive our learning through our paradigms. To appreciate African architecture of any era, be it the contemporary architecture currently produced on the continent or the traditional African traditional architecture of bygone eras, an understanding of the paradigms within which the architects functioned is needed. Indeed, a paradigm shift is required.
The architecture of African heritage was created in harmony with nature’s cycles, with careful attention paid to the quality of light needed for each activity throughout the day.
African heritage architecture reflected the fact that all human activities had to align with both diurnal and nocturnal cycles. Daily activities were strictly tailored according to what was considered appropriate for the time of day and their architecture reflected this. An understanding of the quality of light suitable for each task was vital.
Guided by her learnings from heritage architecture, one of the major determinants of building form- orientation, morphology, fenestration, spatial organisation, and facades in her Architecture is how these features interact with the climate.
Follow Adenowo’s engaging narrative as she decodes the ideation behind the forms of heritage architecture, highlighting the climate-modifying functions of features generally considered hitherto to be mere formalistic traditions.
The essence of great architecture and art is their ability to elicit an emotional response and create a deep connection. Heritage architecture, embodies this perfectly.
There is an intangible value to the best architecture and art; one that causes an emotional connection with the work and its design. This intangible force is a key feature of heritage architecture. Some call it the genus loci, referring to the spirit of the place – which does not quite capture my descriptions of the fourth dimension in architecture. For me, this attribute involves deep connection and communication.
African art and architecture had no concept of art for art’s sake, and all forms were functional, serving a specific purpose. Ancient objects looted from Africa were records of the time.
African predecessors had no notion of art for art’s sake: there was no virtuoso art, and all art forms were functional. The ancient, embellished objects looted from Africa for display in Western museums were not created to be merely gazed at – they were records of the happenings of the time. Heritage art and architecture were true examples of Robert Venturi’s “hardworking elements”.
The cityscapes of Jerusalem and Oxford are contemporary examples of the outcomes of deliberate policies set to enforce contextual veracity, but in the heritage architecture of cities like Ibadan and Kano, this was a natural consequence of the combination of their ethnocultural milieu and their respective physical environments.
In traditional African architecture, the ethno-culture influenced the size of the family and its dynamics, as well as religious activities and forms of worship, which in turn influenced building sizes and shapes, compound configuration, the functions housed within the compounds, and so forth. Only the scale, size, and grandeur of ornamentation differentiated the palaces of the kings, the houses of the chiefs, and the residences of the “citizen”. Physical constraints, such as the climate, seasons, volume of rainfall, soil types, geomorphology and geology, were common to all buildings and determined the type of building materials employed.
African ancestral master builders embodied Gesamtkunstwerk, blending art forms to create immersive works of art, with craftsmen integral to the creative process.
Gesamtkunstwerk is in essence the synthesis of various art forms to yield an immersive work of art, and African ancestral master builders embodied this ethos from antiquity. There was no black-clad celebrity artist-hero separate and distinct from the craftsmen who executed his concepts.
“Olajumoke Adenowo is a renowned African architect who heads her own architecture and interior design firm, AD Consulting, which she founded in Lagos in 1994 at the age of 25. A gifted student, at the age of 14 she enrolled at Obafemi Awolowo University and graduated with a Bachelor of Science (Honours Architecture) by the age of 19, and then completed her Master of Science (Architecture) in 1991.
Her deep interest in architecture and design emerged from her visits to Europe and Great Britain as a young child. She lived on campus at the beautiful University of Ife in Nigeria, where her parents were professors, constantly inspired by this magnus opus of Bauhaus-trained architect Arieh Sharon.
Adopting a global perspective from an early age while firmly rooted in her heritage throughout her career, Adenowo is uniquely positioned to lead the development of best practices in African contemporary architecture which leverages ancestral knowledge and methods.”
Excerpts from “NeoHeritage; Defining Contemporary African Architecture”,
Published by Rizzoli, 2023.
“This book also seeks to introduce a critical mass of the globe to African heritage design ideation: capacities, capabilities, technologies, philosophies, and problem-solving skills which they may be oblivious to.”
“Neo Heritage architecture posits that we should learn from the principles of heritage architecture in creating solutions for the future. The rare advantage I am leveraging on is the privilege I have – to be rooted in my own heritage and global in my perspective.”
“I aim to highlight the problem-solving skills of the African ancestors by focusing on their approach to resolving the challenges of sustainably creating shelter for their human activities; a process which I have termed “Heritage Design Ideation”.
“After ideating and developing the principles presented in Neo Heritage for years, it became apparent that Neo Heritage was the nexus where my passion for architecture, love for my continent, devotion to its youth, as well as my commitment to raising a critical mass of transformational leaders, finds congruent expression. The visionary and philanthropic corporate entities and individuals I celebrate in NeoHeritage are partnering with me to place 1000 Legacy Editions in Colleges of Architecture in Africa, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada. We trust that this will kindle keener interest, robust discourses, and broader curricula with a focus on African Heritage Architecture.
The response from the world’s top architecture programs in the few weeks Neo Heritage has been unveiled has indeed been very inspiring. My sincere appreciation to all those who seek knowledge with an open mind and true lovers of art and architecture for joining me on the Neo Heritage adventure.”
11th May 2023