Afrocentric architecture: Ensuring its marketability world wide

12 Jan, 2022 - 00:01 0 Views
Afrocentric architecture: Ensuring its marketability world wide Beehive hut at Ole Bulawayo

The Chronicle

Pathisa Nyathi
EVERYTHING created bears the signature of its creator.

This certainly is true of what a community creates, builds and uses.

The community signature is there to see within its built environment.

In fact, there will be a hierarchy of signatures within the overarching community signature.

I have said before that a close look at a cultural landscape provides entry into the minds of creators and builders.

For a community builds as it believes.

This is another way of saying creative work such as architecture, sculpture are informed by a community’s worldview, cosmology, philosophy, beliefs and perceptions.

Last week I commenced a series of articles under the banner of “Journey to being black and KoBulawayo” where I will be interrogating Ndebele architecture as displayed at KoBulawayo, now generally referred to as Old Bulawayo.

A built environment such as KoBulawayo is a veritable expression of Ndebele cultural identity, more so as applied Ndebele and indeed African Thought.

I have often times in the past said that black Africa shares many commonalities such as in thought, philosophy, worldview and not so much on being black or residing on the African continent.

Colonialism has not helped in bringing to the fore these commonalities that are the cultural and natural trademarks for the African people.

Our detractors love us divided by thinking we are very different.

The question I wish to pose is, “Is there scope for something Afro-centric in modern day architecture?” I will argue that yes, indeed there is.

For us to fully grasp the idea we need to pin down and identify, not so much the manifestation of environmental dictates.

Rather we should identify the essence.

Essence will emerge when we lay our minds on the sources for the architectural inspirations.

First, we have to answer the question regarding the structural identities.

The one such trait relates to circularity.

The phenomenon is or was black Africa-wide, in particular from the Nubia-Kush-Sudan-Ethiopia belt.

That was before the advent of architectural forms informed by Judaism, Islam and Christianity, both initially inherited from the Middle East.

The influences of these book religions were telling.

They posited a linear progression type of looking at the world and its processes.

However, they could not avoid the idea of seasonality and cosmic cycles.

The circle and the cycle were central to their understanding of world and cosmic phenomena.

Black Africa on the other hand pinned its philosophical roots on cyclicality.

They recognised periodicity or circularity as cosmic reality.

The African adage, “As above, so below,” emerged from this conceptualisation of the world and the biological processes.

It therefore, came as no surprise that the African Mind embraced universal ideas with circularity as the centrepiece, pivot and fulcrum.

Cosmic bodies themselves displayed circular structures.

The stars are circular in design, so are the planets and the moons.

Further, the heavenly bodies are in constant motion.

They move along elliptical parts which essentially are circular.

That movement is critically important for the continued existence of the universe.

To mortal man, the universe is immortal or eternal.

Besides the African built ideas of beauty from cosmic reality.

Circularity, curvilinearity, repetition. Balance, movement, rhythm (or seasonality and periodicity) are elements of African aesthetics or beauty.

With the cosmos replete with these desirable traits, it made sense for Africa to seek replication of these on the cultural realm.

Architecture was no exception and came to exhibit most of the identified elements resident in the cosmos.

Linear perception and application was excluded from Afrocentric architecture.

There simply were no straight lines or walls in the utility structures that they built.

Roofs and walls were either circular or curvilinear in design.

Some were spiral.

In the Middle East, there are countries such as the Emirates with imposing building structures that are curvilinear, in line with cosmic reality.

The beehive that was built at KoBulawayo may seem different from the cone-on-cylinder roof of the Tonga, Shona, Nambya, Venda and Tswana.

Conceptually there is not much difference.

Both structures embrace the circular design.

The beehive hut is hemispherical, that is it is a part of the circle.

A conical roof is similarly a circular design.

The cylindrical walls are likewise based on the circular design.

A cylinder may theoretically cut into an infinite number of circles.

I argue that this is what constitutes the essence of African architectural design, a cosmically inspired design.

Materials used do not count for much other than the fact that they are expressions of environmental differentiation.

At KoBulawayo, the royal palisade was made out of wood placed in a perfect circle.

Similarly, individual homesteads had wooden palisades as expressions of territoriality.

Essentially, it was wooden poles that were laid out in a particular way; the circular was in the same manner as the sarsen stone pillars at the Stonehenge.

Where wood is not available clay has been used.

Once again, clay was laid in a particular way — the circular way as done by the Ndebele people residing at KoBulawayo.

The same has been done with reeds and stones.

In African architecture it is not the material used that matters.

That varies from environment to environment.

One thing though remains constant and constitutes the critical identity of African architecture and indeed other artistic expression.

The common denominator is circularity.

What this translates to is the fact that in modern African architecture the most modern of materials may be used without compromising essential identities in African architecture.

Glass for example may be used.

Aluminium may also be used.

Not clay, wood or grass identify African architecture.

Rather it is design which lies at the centre of African architecture.

As pointed out above it is design that was copied and not the nature of stellar, lunar, or planetary materials.

Modernity can thus be achieved in African architecture.

Indeed, Afrocentric designs may be incorporated into architectural plans anywhere in the world.

They will remain identifiable as inspired by African architectural considerations.

Cosmic traits lie at the heart of African architecture.

In this context where there is a diversity of architectural forms, it is possible to pinpoint the ones that are informed and inspired by African architectural traditions.

Apparently, this has been done by the Chinese in the construction of the new parliament building at Mount Hampden.

The same was done at the Victoria Falls International Airport.

It is the retention of African architectural designs and the use of modern materials that will lend respectability to African architecture.

Essence, that is design, more than materials is the way to go.

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