Things to help me understand urbanism in Africa / Basic Introduction

WoeLab, Africa Intro ・ Jan 3, 2022

In the past few weeks, I've been trying to gather resources that help me understand the architecture & cities of Africa. For many, the mention of Africa conjures images of poverty, mysterious tribes, thick jungles, and colossal Savannahs. While that remains true, according to this article, it's been more and more clear that Africa will be the next economic hub as its cities, and its population is rapidly growing. Urban centers in Africa are projected to house nearly 60 percent of the population by 2050.

I've been also concerned that the urban theories, discourses, ways of thinking, architectural practices are still pretty much dominated by Western perspectives. This note is the memorandum of my still-not-organized thoughts, discoveries, and reflection on African urbanism, and related design fields. It will be constantly updated.

*I'll make another post to summarise the growing smart city projects across Africa!

Understanding Africa by data

  • First of all, to get a big picture of how important it is to think about cities in Africa nowadays, please check out this great data visualization on Urban Africa

  • Africapolis is great research and data visualization tool used to map, analyze and understand urbanization and urban growth in Africa.

Introduction to African architecture and urbanism

Alternative narratives

  • I came across the concept of Afrofuturism, a term coined in 1994 by Mark Dery, which is about creating alternative narratives for the past and future to create better conditions for Black people through the use of technology.

  • I highly recommend following QUARTZ Africa to learn from the stories of innovation across the continent.

  • Stories matter. Bird: Africanofilter supports the development of nuanced and contemporary stories that shift stereotypical and harmful narratives within and about Africa. I'm especially curious about the work of Conrad Onyango, who has been contributed to QUARTZ Africa for a long time.

  • Doek! Literary Magazine is a magazine from Namibia publishing fiction + nonfiction + poetry + visual art from Africa and the African diaspora. It's organized by a talented writer Troy Onyango. Check out LOLWE, the beautiful piece of writing, The Things We Remember by Troy Onyango.

  • Imagi-nation nwar – genealogies of the black radical imagination in the francophone world – is a beautifully printed paper with full of inspirations.

Key figures & initiatives to know

  • Ruhehe Primary School designed by MASS Design Group in RWANDA. MASS Design Group created African Design Centre (ADC) to encourage designers of Africa's future through their fellowship program.

  • Francis Kéré was born in 1965 in Burkina Faso and is one of the leading architects from Africa right now with an afro-futurist vision. I recommend you to watch his talk at Design Inbaba, in which he claims that African architecture should stop copying the West. As architecture should be determined by its weather conditions, natural resources, habits of people, Francis Kéré claims that the key is to learn from traditional knowledge from the regions.


History & Traditional knowledge

New, emerging urban initiatives

  • WoeLab, a tech & entrepreneurial hub in West Africa. They've been working to create a bottom-up smart city driven by local citizens and democratic digitalization; called HubCity.

  • So-called 'Mushroom Queen in Ghanna', Fafape Ama Etsa Foe, created a farm in a suburb of Accra, Ghana, using sawdust to grow mushrooms to provide more affordable, nutritious food for people.