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In the Light: New Cultural Architecture Across Africa

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African architecture is as diverse as the continent itself. Throughout millennia, Africans have built according to the climate and local building techniques, working with different traditions and styles. But these projects are also influenced by external cultures, especially depending on geographic location. African architecture also uses a wide range of materials, including thatch, wood, bricks, rammed earth and stone. While materials and forms vary by region, modern designs reinterpret tradition as they look to the future.

Taking a closer look at new cultural architecture in Africa, the following projects include spaces to gather, worship and learn. From the Sahara Desert to the islands of the western Indian Ocean, the continent includes over 50 countries with unique social and spatial histories. Representing the continent’s diversity and a range of multicultural influences, the projects show different approaches to construction. Drawn from the world’s second-largest and second-most populous continent, the projects are made for people to come together.

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Zeitz MOCAA by Heatherwick Studio, Cape Town, South Africa

After Cape Town’s grain silo was decommissioned in the 1990s, its owners approached Heatherwick Studio to develop ideas for adapting the silo and its site. Although the waterfront was already a vibrant area, it lacked a major cultural institution. The grain silo would be transformed into a new museum for contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora. The main challenge was to convert tightly packed concrete tubes into spaces suitable for displaying art while retaining the building’s industrial heritage. The concept was to carve out an atrium, like a vaulted cathedral, to form the museum’s heart. Scooped from the building’s center, it provides access to the gallery floors that are organized around the central atrium.

Africa Africa

Dennis Hurley Centre (DHC) by Ruben Reddy Architects PTY LTD, Durban, South Africa

Located in the vibrant center of Durban, a few steps from Warwick Triangle and Victoria Street Market, the Denis Hurley Centre was conceived as a contemporary facility to uplift and serve the community – a welcoming refuge to all community members regardless of background, faith or nationality. The diverse and multifunctional character of the building reflects the complexity, vibrancy and dynamism of the context and its users. It was imagined as a catalyst to provide hope and aid to those most in need and a living memory of Archbishop Denis Hurley. Utilizing the nature of the triangular site to create interconnected spaces around a centralized atrium, the design of the building reinforces the Denis Hurley Centre’s aim for an integrated community space, open to all.

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Dakar Congress Center by Tabanlioglu Architects, Dakar, Senegal

Senegal’s new congress center first opened on November 2014, for the 15th Francophone Assembly where 75 world presidents met. Typical geography and natural values were the inspiration for the project. The country’s Baobab trees live well over a thousand years, so that they have been important landmarks in Senegal’s dry savanna plain. Like being sheltered by an ancient monumental tree, the one-piece roof of the project encases the building stacks, and guards each construction dedicated to a special function against weather conditions like direct sunlight and wind.


Cape Town Middle Campus by Van der Merwe Miszewski Architects (VDMMA), Cape Town, South Africa

Middle Campus rests on a gentle incline falling away from Table Mountain. Viewed from afar, the Middle Campus provides a ‘green foreground’ to the classic Upper Campus composition of buildings. The team elected to distribute the project in rectangular footprints parallel to the contours of the site, thus forming linear shafts of solid structure and open space, some defined as internal atria. The New Student Administration and School of Economics buildings, together with the associated adjacent external works and landscaping, will complete the unresolved and incomplete Middle Campus portion of the greater UCT Campus.

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Cheré Botha School by Wolff Architects, Bellville, South Africa

Cheré Botha is a government school for learners on the autism spectrum and with intellectual disabilities. This project is defined by a series of collective forms; shared spaces where social and educational interaction can take place, spaces appropriate for children like these who are prone to respiratory diseases, spaces that can protect from the strong wind and rain of Cape Town. The school is divided into six sections: an administration building, four classroom blocks for learners of various age groups and one block with the hall, kitchen and workshops. Each of the classroom blocks is designed around a shared space which is expressed through a timber A-frame. These collective spaces are used in different ways, depending on the age group of the learners; from play equipment for younger kids to vocational training for the older ones. These collective forms becomes the social heart of the school.

Africa Africa

Cape Town International Center by Van der Merwe Miszewski Architects (VDMMA), Cape Town, South Africa

To fulfil its primary purpose, an international convention center needed to be large enough to accommodate plenary sessions of thousands of delegates, as well as trade exhibitions such as motor shows, while providing all the attendant breakaway and meeting rooms, auditoria, banqueting halls, kitchens, bathrooms and more. Wide entrances were incorporated which have the effect of opening up to invite the city and its people into the space. Another inclusive aspect of the design was the creation of an encompassing new public space. Called Convention Square, this space brings focus on the comings and goings of the Roggebaai Canal, where both the main entrance of the CTICC and that of the Arabella Sheraton Grand Hotel are situated.

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Freedom Park by GAPP Architects and Urban Designers, Mashabane Rose Architects and MMA Design Studio, Pretoria, South Africa

The inception of the freedom park garden of remembrance followed an exhaustive consultation process with various political formations, faith-based groups, traditional healers, artists and historians. This phase consisted of developing a framework for the development of the site, initial infrastructure, a visitor’s center and the Isivivane, symbolic resting place for South Africa’s fallen heroes. The architectural and landscape challenge was to interpret and provide for the management of death and bereavement based on indigenous knowledge systems (IKS) at the level of the state. The Isivivane consists of an outdoor memorial and contemplative space where the bereaved can pay homage to those who died in struggle in various places around the country and beyond.

Africa Africa

Bosjes Chapel by Steyn Studio, South Africa

This chapel site is surrounded by majestic mountains with a grand scale which adorned the area with the nickname of ‘Little Switzerland’. With the immediate context of the site, the valley is ‘held’ either side with two mountain ranges which sets up a spatial dialogue at a grand scale which occurs on a ‘micro’ level between the Manor House development node and the Chapel development node; across the vineyards and gardens. The chapel development reflects, in microcosm, one half of what already exists at the scale of the valley as a whole in terms of its sculptural relationship, as does currently exist between the Manor House and the Waaihoek Mountains. The development profile, architectural form and massing responds as a sculptural element to the natural configuration of the mountain backdrop.

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