African Vernacular Architecture Database

Malawi home built with rammed earth and thatch roof in Chizogwe village

Malawi home built with rammed earth and thatch roof in Chizogwe village. Picture: Jon (Twingi) Sojkowski

I am a registered architect and I have a passion for African vernacular architecture. I recently (Sept. 2014) traveled to Malawi to document the vernacular architecture in the entire country. 4,700 pictures are on the web page.

http://www.malawiarchitecture.com/

I also wanted to share with you my latest project… a data base on African vernacular architecture. This project was started because of the lack of information available on line. The data base includes images from every African country. Here is the link to the site:

http://www.africavernaculararchitecture.com/

The goal of the project is to have people, who live or work in an Africa country, submit pictures of vernacular structures to the data base to share with the world. Full credit is given for every picture submitted. For too long, African vernacular architecture has been a topic that has been both under-documented and, unfortunately, ignored. People say there needs to be documentation but yet nothing is done. Whether this is due to difficulties in obtaining funding or just apathy, the fact remains that very little data can be found online

malawi house with porch

House with porch in Malawi. Picture: Jon (Twingi) Sojkowski

Architecture is as much of a part of a countries culture as is language, music or art. African vernacular architecture is disappearing. I witnessed that fact in Malawi. There are many reasons why vernacular materials and construction techniques are being abandoned in favor of western ones. One main reason is the lack of documentation, especially finding information on line.

I am hoping you could share the project with your readers, the more awareness, the better the chance to convince people to submit pictures to the data base. There is no other resource for African vernacular architecture like the data base: there is no organization gathering information, there is no active research, there is no voice for it. I will gladly answer any questions that you might have about the project.

Cheers,

Jon (Twingi) Sojkowski

African Action Movies

In the Ugandan slum of Wakaliga, a thriving film industry called Wakaliwood has emerged. Mixing elements of Western action flicks and Chinese Kung Fu movies with Ugandan culture, Wakaliwood’s movies have garnered a cult following not just in in Uganda, but all over the world. Vice headed to Wakaliga to spend a day on the set of the next Wakaliwood hit.

Thanks to Juan Nacho.

Africa Teaches the West How to Build a Car

Smati turtle 1 african car

Today’s cars look like spaceships and are built by robots in futuristic factories. At least, that’s the picture in the developed world.

In Ghana, West Africa, both the cars and the auto industry look rather different. In a neighbourhood called Suame Magazine, an estimated 200,000 artisans take apart discarded western cars and use the parts to build easily repairable vehicles that are suitable for African roads. All this happens manually and in open air.

Artist Melle Smets and researcher Joost van Onna, both from the Netherlands, set up shop in Suame Magazine and built a unique African concept car in collaboration with the local community: the SMATI Turtle 1. Their project calls into question western ways of dealing with technology, waste, employment and automation.

Picture: The SMATI Turtle 1

[Read more…]

Decorated Mud Houses in Burkina Faso

decorated mud house 2

“In the south of Burkina Faso, a landlocked country in west Africa, near the border with Ghana lies a small, circular village of about 1.2 hectares, called Tiébélé. This is home of the Kassena people, one of the oldest ethnic groups that had settled in the territory of Burkina Faso in the 15th century. Tiébélé is known for their amazing traditional Gourounsi architecture and elaborately decorated walls of their homes.”

“Burkina Faso is a poor country, even by West African standards, and possibly the poorest in the world. But they are culturally rich, and decorating the walls of their buildings is an important part of their cultural legacy in this area of the country. Wall decorating is always a community project done by the women and it’s a very ancient practice that dates from the sixteenth century AD.”

Read more: Decorated Mud Houses of Tiébélé, Burkina Faso. Picture (and many more pictures): Rita Willaert.

Jua Kali: Innovation in Kenya’s Informal Economy

Jua Kali Innovation in Kenya’s Informal Economy

Wandering through winding alleys dotted with makeshift worksheds, one can’t help but feel clouded by the clanging of hammers on metal, grinding of bandsaws on wood, and the shouts of workers making sales. But soon it becomes clear that this cacophony is really a symphony of socioeconomic interactions that form what is known as the informal economy.

In Kenya, engineers in the informal economy are known as jua kali, Swahili for “hot sun,” because they toil each day under intense heat and with limited resources. But despite these conditions, or in fact because of them, the jua kali continuously demonstrate creativity and resourcefulness in solving problems.

“Making Do: Innovation in Kenya’s Informal Economy”, Steve Daniels, 2010. Full book online here and here. Hat tip to Gabriella Rubin. Related: Cameroon blacksmiths.

Cameroon Blacksmiths

cameroon blacksmiths

“On the outskirts of Maroua, the capital of the Extreme North of Cameroon, is a place quite unlike any other in the country. Here a community of blacksmiths practice their craft in the relative cool of a tree grove. Several dozen men with specialized skills are gathered here for a single purpose: to transform piles of scrap iron into finely finished tools, stoves, replacement parts and other useful implements for sale to the local population. Young apprentices learn the craft while operating bellows or shaping wood for tool handles. The production here is performed entirely by hand and on a scale which must be seen to be fully appreciated.”

The Extraordinary Makers of Maroua, via Afrigadget. Related: Innovation in Kenya’s informal economy.

DIY Low-Tech Windmills

DIY low-tech windmills

Low-tech energy revolution in Africa by William Kamkwamba and the Moving Windmills Project. Simple diagram (pdf). Image by Tom Rielly (TED).