African architecture is fascinatingly diverse with an array of traditional styles which varied from many climates and landscapes of Africa. It is however rare and uncommon to see houses built with common styles and materials in each region. It is also defined by the use of local material and historical rootedness.
African architecture is the reflection of the interaction of environmental factors which are natural resources, climate, and vegetation. Africans use materials that are readily available to them to build their shelter. In less-forested areas, shrubs serve as building material and are also used for thatch and mat roof coverings. In forest regions, hard woods are employed as building materials. Earth and clay are also source of building materials.
For more than a thousand year, Islam religion greatly influenced architecture in Africa due to some trades between some African kingdoms and Islamic states. This trade exposed Africans to Islam religion and brought about mosques. The Djenne mosque, Mali is the popular mosque in Africa. In Mali and Songhai kingdoms, Muslim skilled builders introduced a new type of building. Houses built with flat roof and are two or more storeys made from sun-dried mud bricks or from mud and stone. By the 1500s this kind of building had spread to present the northern Nigeria. They can still be found in Kano and Sokoto States of Nigeria.
European architectural style was brought to Africa when a Dutch castle was completed in Cape Town, South Africa in 1679. This continuously began to spread as churches are built all over Africa. The impact was felt greatly in the western part of Africa.
Let’s take a look at houses which are built in Africa with natural materials that are indigenous to Africans.
Basotho Houses, Lesotho
“litema” in Lesotho is a mural decoration which involves engraving, mosaic and relief elements on the walls of houses. It is built with earth brick and plaster. Basotho houses stands out by their ocolours with the use geometric shapes. This house is painted in the traditional colours of red ochre. This red colour symbolises the blood of fertility and sacrifice. White represent purity and peace and black gives reference to the ancestors and their promise of rain which is symbolised by dark rain clouds.
Tata-Somba houses, Benin
In the northwest of Benin, Somba people dwell there and are popular skilled builders. Somba houses are mighty clay fortresses which are called Tata-somba houses. Typically, these houses are two storeys tall and also made of mud walls, straw roofs, and turrets which you can actually see on a castle which is similar to the Takienta structures found in neighboring Togo. Tata-somba houses have designs which are uniquely on both inner and outer walls. Somba women draw these abstract and geometric patterns on walls. These engravings are symbols of fertility and prosperity.
Painted Gurunsi houses of Tiébélé, Burkina Faso
The village of Tiébélé is occupied by the Kassena people who are the greater Gurunsi group of Ghana and Burkina Faso.In the 15th century, Hand-painted houses existed in that community. Some of these structures which were red-painted serve as mausoleums.
Mud huts of Gaoui, Chad
Gaoui, the former capital of the Sao civilization played a vital role by hosting some of the finest examples of Chad’s traditional buildings.
This buildings can be found in Sahel which connects the Sahara Desert to the Sudanian Savanna.The village’s buildings are earthen huts which are made primarily from mud and straw. They have many feature like painted embellishments which are colorful trims lining the top, bottom, and entrance.
In the Horn of Africa, there are countries Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Djibouti which Afar people inhabit some parts . The Afar people’s traditional tent-like houses are made by constructing circular frames from thin branches. Then, they cover the buildings in mats woven from local materials.
Koutammakou’s Takienta tower-houses, Togo
This is a home to the Batammariba people of northeastern Togo, neighboring Benin. Koutammakou is a cultural landscape recognised by UNESCO. The landscape is cherished for its takienta which is traditional tower-houses. The houses are often two storeys and has pointed thatched roofs. Through their use of local materials, they reflect the peaceful relationships between man and nature. These buildings have become icons of Togo at large. It as well as earn socioeconomic status for Togo.
Tukels, South Sudan
The Toposa people makes up as much as 83 percent of the population in South Sudan. The traditional cottages which they live are called Tukels. The huts which are like beehive-shape are made from mud and scrub brush. They are helped up by twine or Dinka rope woven wooden and roofed with thatched roofs. These houses are found scattered across the iconic landscape of Toposa granaries, which have a similar architecture but they are often raised up on stilts.
Beehive huts — Eswatini
Eswatini’s traditional structures, tightly woven grass coverings fitted on top of domed skeletons made out of thin saplings, are adapted to the community’s hot climate by self-heating and cooling. This depends on the season. It as well as serve as protection against rain. The numbers of huts own by a family indicates their socio-economic status. Though this structures are, going into extinction but some models of these strucstructures can be found at the in Lobamba’s Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary.
Kenya, Cameroon, and Tanzania Coastal communities
Building materials that are often unique to coastal areas are often used by communities close to the coastlines. The Swahili people who are at the coast of Kenya are good example because they make use of mangrove poles to construct their houses. Otherwise, the Duala of Cameroon used bamboo to build their houses and plastered the walls with mud. In Tanzania, Nyakyusa people are skilled architects who used bamboos to build tall houses with pyramid roofs. Bamboos grew to a height of about 15 metres in Angola. These bamboos were split to make rectangular homes which has thatched roofs.
Their houses are built with roofs that are made from thatch and walls are made from wood or mud. Earthen clay is still favoured for walls because it is economical.