The way our world looks like today is a result of centuries and centuries of human migration, of complex natural phenomena that has resulted in the geographic appearance of the world’s continents today. We understand this world through our lived experiences, but we also understand this world through a two-dimensional man-made invention – maps. Maps define the many contested borders of the world and have been used in an oppressive capacity, in particular places, for example, segmenting off sections of a place from marginalised societal groups.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has seen inequalities laid bare, especially when it pertains to the unequal allotment of architectural resources to people. The start of the pandemic saw Europeans who could afford it, for example, leaving the urban metropolises they lived in and going away to their second homes in the countryside. We’ve also seen how poorer people in places like New York, for example, do not have adequate access to green spaces – a critical part of human well-being. And within this conversation is also the issue of social housing – known by multiple names around the world – and how the social housing that gets designed in the present and in the future should respond to ever-changing global needs.
When we look at African architecture, we see the architectural diversity of a continent which has been shaped and moulded into its present form by a combination of internal and external factors. When we look at African architecture, there is also a tendency for certain regions to take precedence over other parts of the continent. The Tropical Modernist works of Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew in Ghana and Nigeria, for example, are extremely well documented. So is the extremely well-preserved colonial-era architecture of the Eritrean capital of Asmara. Yet, there seems to be parts of the continent that “slip under the radar” in African architectural conversations – and the book Architectural Guide: Sub Saharan Africa is a welcome addition to African architectural scholarship.
When examining the world of African cinema, there are few names more prominent than that of Senegalese director Ousmane Sembène. His films ‘La Noire de…’ and ‘Mandabi’, released in 1966 and 1968 respectively, are films that tell evocative stories on the legacies of colonialism, identity, and immigration. And whilst these two films are relatively slow-spaced, ‘slice-of-life stories, they also offer a valuable spatial critique of the setting where the films are based, providing a helpful framework to understand the intricacies of the post-colonial African city, and the contrast between the African and European metropolises.
The world is home to thousands and thousands of national parks – spaces allocated for conservation, hosting land usually left in its natural state for people to visit. The term “national park” itself differs in meaning around the world. In the United Kingdom, for example, the phrase simply describes a relatively undeveloped area that attracts tourists. In the United States, this terminology is a lot more rigid, describing 63 protected areas operated by the United States National Park service.
When we talk about vernacular architecture, we’re talking about an architectural style specific to a region – architecture that relies on the use of local knowledge and materials to construct buildings. It’s the Beehive Houses of Harran in Turkey, to the traditional Malay Houses found throughout southeast Asia. The vernacular architecture of various places continues to be a source of inspiration for contemporary architects, as they look to create sustainable architectural responses well-suited for their context.
Every year, in the hot, dry town of Djenné in Central Mali, something special takes place – La Fête de Crépissage. Roughly translated to the “Day of Plastering”, this day sees the entire community of Djenné collaborate to reinforce the mud walls of the Great Mosque of Djenné – a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the African continent’s most distinctive architectural landmarks.
When we think of migration, we think of movement. We think of the movement of people simply looking for greener pastures – a better life for themselves. But we also think of war, of conflict, of an unstable situation in a specific place forcing the hand of a location’s residents to seek safety elsewhere. Historically and into present day, war has been the reason for the increased presence of refugees. Instability in places such as Syria, Iraq, or the Central African Republic have caused millions to flee their homes. Lurking amongst this migration due to conflict, however, is the migration of people at mercy of the changing environmental conditions of the Earth – climate migration.
In a Design and the City episode – a podcast by reSITE on how to make cities more liveable – Vancouver-based architects Michael Green and Natalie Telewiak advocate for more sustainable building on Earth, with a special mention for one of their preferred materials – wood. The interview sees the two architects balance the benefits and disadvantages of mass timber construction, which they are a strong proponent of as evidenced by their project T3, a LEED Gold Certified, seven-story timber office building in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Architecture is a long-standing profession, one that has produced the iconic landmarks we admire around the world, monuments which we revere around the world, and played a part in establishing the organisation of the cities we live in today. This description, however, is architecture in the traditional sense – and there are numerous examples of individuals and firms who have strayed away from traditional architectural practice, either through delving into adjacent fields or ‘disrupting’ the field with the harnessing of new technologies.