SUNY at Binghamton African Ar

The paper should be on indigenous African Architecture. The Abstract (summary of the Essay), Introduction, the Body of the Essay (divided into paragraphs with subtitles) and Conclusion (summarizing the Essay’s content).

In the past, many Western scholars did not use the term “Architecture” for buildings in Africa and frequently categorized them as “dwellings” and “shelters.” They restricted the use of the term “architecture” to selected structures from Europe, Egypt, Near/Middle East, Asia, Australia and the Americas constructed with durable materials such as bricks, stones and marbles. Initially, the term referred to buildings designed by an architect.

Thanks to Bernard Rudofsky’s historic exhibition (“Architecture without Architects”) at the Museum of Modern Art (New York) in 1964/65. The exhibition catalogue not only critiqued previous Eurocentric focus of architectural theory, but also drew attention to the originality and “humaneness” of the structures created by anonymous builders in many non-Western cultures. As a result, the term “Architecture” is now widely used for them. Since then, scholars have been revealing their previously concealed meanings.

[See Bernard Rudofsky, Architecture without Architects: A Short Introduction to Non-Pedigreed Architecture. New York, 1965. See also James Morris/Suzanne P. Blier, Butabu: Adobe Architecture of West Africa, New York, 2004]

ARCHITECTURE AND SOCIETY IN AFRICA

The interplay of art and life in Africa is evident in the field of architecture as well. For example, spatial enclosure is influenced not only by environment and available technology, but also by cosmology, religion, social structure, economics, politics, taste and artistic creativity, among others.

In the past, building was a communal activity. The layout and design of a given structure frequently followed an archetype handed down by the ancestors, though physical dimensions and proportions may vary, depending on social status, family size and other factors. Much of the labor came from family members, friends and neighbors. In the course of participating in various projects, certain individuals soon developed special skills in areas such as plastering, wall decoration, roofing and interior decoration which enabled them to practice as professionals.

[For more on ancient, more recent and contemporary architecture in Africa, J. L. Bourgeois, Spectacular Vernacular: The Adobe Tradition, New York,1996; S. Denyer, African Traditional Architecture, New York and London, 1978; N. Elleh, African Architecture: Evolution and Transformation, New York 1997; B. Fagan, “Zimbabwe: A Century of Discovery,” African Arts, 1, no. 3, (1969), 20-25, 85-86 and Babatunde Lawal, “History of African Art and Architecture.” In Kevin Shillington (ed), Encyclopedia of African History, New York and London, 2005, 103-108]

POPULAR BUILDING MATERIALS

Available materials include clay, mud, laterite, burnt bricks, wood, bamboo, stone, leaves and grasses. Unfortunately, the most popular ones (clay/mud. Wood, bamboo, leaves and grasses) do not survive for too long in the tropics, thus making it difficult for art historians to reconstruct the earliest architectural forms in sub-Saharan Africa.

MAJOR ARCHITECTURAL TYPES AND GEOGRAPHICAL DISTRIBUTIONS

THE SILT HOUSES:

Found mainly in the coastal, swampy and riverine areas, they are usually rectangular in form and built on piles or platforms with wood and bamboo.

2.WATTLE & DAUB ARCHITECTURE

Found mainly in the swampy areas as well as inland where the soil is loose and not strong enough for building high walls. As a result, walls are made of mangrove or bamboo poles and palm midribs. They are sometimes interwoven. The interstices are occasionally plastered with clay/mud or covered with mats and recently with planks and wooden boards.

3.IMPLUVIUM ARCHITECTURE:

Rectangular buildings surrounding a courtyard with a cistern or hole in the center for draining off rain water. Found mainly in the rainforest, a typical impluvium has a gabled or saddle-backed roof. Sometimes, the roof extends beyond the wall supported by mud pillars or carved posts, to create verandahs. Some examples in the savanna areas may have round buildings with conical roofs.

4.CIRCULAR ARCHITECTURE:

Round or beehive buildings (usually with domical, conical or thatched roofs) found in the rainforest, savanna/woodland and semi-desert areas. Many are arranged to create a courtyard in the middle. A front porch/verandah may be added to the entrance.

5.RECTANGULAR AND CLAY-BOX ARCHITECTURE:

The name derives from the flat mud roofs of the building. No thatch. A typical complex has a number of round structures here and there. This combination is found mainly in the grassland areas of Western and Central Africa, especially among the Hausa/Fulani of Northern Nigeria, Niger Republic, Chad Republic and Northern Cameroon. The façade and outer walls are usually adorned with Arabesque designs, reflecting centuries of Islamic influence.

6.PORTABLE ARCHITECTURE:

Because of their nomadic way of life, the inhabitants of the semi-desert areas of western, eastern and southern Africa use light and easily transportable materials to build their houses.

[For more details on African architectural types, see L. Prussin, “An Introduction to Indigenous African Architecture,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 33, no. 3 (1974), 183-205; S. Denyer, African Traditional Architecture, New York and London, 1978 and F. Willett, African Art, London and New York, 2003. 


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