How has Africa influenced British architecture?
British influences on architecture in Africa are easy enough to spot, but what influence has Africa had on the architecture of Britain?
For my MEng 4th year dissertation, I conducted some research into vernacular and modern architecture in Nigeria. I explored the styles of colonial architecture and how they fitted into the environment and culture of the people of Nigeria. There were loads of examples and many inferences to draw from; but now, in the spirit of Black History month, I find myself wondering if the reverse has happened and whether there are examples of African influenced architecture in Britain.
In interior design, for instance, people have used colour, art, texture and fabric to bring bits of their heritage into their homes. However, have there been actual architectural elements over the decades that have reflected these influences?
We recently bought a house and I have been thinking of ways to inject my West-African heritage into our upcoming house design/renovation. A recent trip to Morocco in North Africa further reinforced this idea. While in Marrakesh, I noticed so many details of their architecture that reflected not just their climate, but also their culture and an integration of their colonial past. There were so many bits of their architecture and design I was keen to bring back home with me.
One of the many interesting places I visited was the Bahia Palace. The Bahia Palace is famous for the intricate designs of Arabic inscriptions, geometric patterns and other colourful Islamic designs on its ceilings and doorways. Also common to Moroccan dwellings are the garden courtyards. These courtyards not only provide a visual aesthetic to homes in Africa, but also serve the functional purpose of creating a space that protects the occupant from the elements and provides a private oasis.
In trying to find information on possible African-influenced architecture in British design I realised a lot of the available research on African architecture is still stuck in the past, with myriad references to the pyramids in Egypt or the Great Mosque of Djenné, Mali. However, architects like David Adjaye, British architect of Ghanaian heritage and a Royal Gold Medallist, have provoked a new interest in African architecture that goes beyond the architecture of the past, extending to contemporary and present architecture.
Through my architectural journey, one of my main inspirations is the Egyptian architect, Hassan Fathy. Imagine the gratification when I found a RIBA journal in 2021 titled ‘What the West can learn from Africa‘ in which David Adjaye also referenced Hassan Fathy as his inspiration.
Other Architects of African Heritage that I admire and closely follow include Nigerian Architect Tosin Oshinowo and Nigerien Architect Mariam Issoufou Kamara. These architects, in my humble opinion, have been able to successfully juxtapose their Western education with their heritage in Africa. However, I would like to find examples where this juxtaposition has happened in Britain, and if it exists at all.
As I continue to think and research design ideas that celebrate my heritage but also fit within my adopted country, I am hoping to find instances in British architecture, past, present, or future that are influenced by Africa and would be really interested to hear other peoples’ opinions or recommendations (in the comments below).