Continental Wonders: Five architectural highlights of Africa

The vast continent of Africa hosts diverse lands, from desert plains and verdant jungles to bustling metropolises. The architecture found in Africa’s many nations is equally varied – from the oldest of ancient wonders to soaring modern skyscrapers, the constructions of this continent are rich in wonders to behold. If your path takes you to this fascinating destination, here are some architectural jewels waiting for you to discover.

The Great Mosque of Djenne

Djenne, Mali

The world’s largest building comprised of earth or mud bricks, this massive mosque is internationally acknowledged to be the Sudano-Sahelian style of architecture’s premier accomplishment.

Situated on the Bani river flood plains, the present incarnation of the Great Mosque of Djenne represents the third restoration of this astonishing building. While the original structure dates back to the 13th Century, the version standing tall today was not finished until the year 1907.

Each year during the spring season the Crepissage del la Grande Mosquee festival is held in Djenne. The city’s entire population unites to replaster the facades of the mighty building officiously supervised by the guild, which include 80 masons of senior standing. While elders advise, the women of the city provide water for the plaster mix. The annual festival is a time for reparation gathering the populace to fix damage the mosque has suffered in the torrential rain storms of West Africa.

The Great Mosque features three tall box-shaped minarets and provides an impressive backdrop rising up above the central market of the city it overlooks on a three metre-high base, cleverly crafted to protect it from flood.

Jardin Majorelle

Marrakesh, Morocco

While recovering from illness in Morocco, the French artist Jacque Majorelle became infatuated with Marrakesh and decided to take up residence. In 1931, he commissioned his countryman architect, Paul Sinoir to design him a cubist villa on a palm covered plot of land he purchased.

The orientalist painter bought additional land and created a garden around the villa that became his passion. The buildings within the complex are painted in a style inspired by the cobalt coloured tiles native to Marrakesh but with a blue named after the artist (Bleu Majorelle). Featuring an arched motif and front-facing balcony, the cubist design, surrounded by botanical gardens, creates an architectural oasis away from the hustle and bustle of Medina markets.

The eye-catching buildings fell into ruin and disrepair following Majorelle being forced to sell the complex, but were restored in the 1980s when it was discovered by fashion designers Pierre Berges and Yves Saint-Laurent.

Ponte City Apartments

Berea, South Africa

Located close to Johannesburg, the residential skyscraper stands 173 metres high and is the tallest of its type in all Africa. The cylindrical structure comprises 55 storeys and features a hollow centre that enables additional light to enter the apartments inside. This central void rising above a rocky uneven floor is called “the core”.

At the time it was built in the year 1975, the Ponte City Apartments were considered an exceptionally desirable address that afforded tenants incredible vistas over the city of Johannesburg and its surrounds. The buildings apex hosts the largest sign in the entire southern hemisphere. Up until the millennium it advertised Coca-Cola, but presently promotes Vodacom – a mobile phone network in South Africa.

The sweeping skyscraper stands along with the Hillbrow Tower as iconic elements of the Johannesburg skyline.

International Conference Centre

Dakar, Senegal

In a combination of metal and mesh, Dakar’s international conference centre presents a modern western design, complemented by Senegalese inspirations as are apparent in the structure’s expansive roof. Rectangular in shape it features an intricate detailed pattern echoing the local baobab trees branches.

These trees are an important symbol in the customs and culture of the area with many important events taking place beneath them from local rituals and peace talks to the coronation of kings. This thoughtful design respects the buildings purpose as place for prominent meetings on international issues.

The architecture has been cleverly crafted to keep delegates within at optimum comfort, despite the intense sun of Senegal. Below the shade of the centre’s roof, a vast reflective pool is present, cooling the interior and attracting airy breezes into the structure while offering an eye-catching design feature. The blocks of the building are sheathed in a translucent metal, creating an interior that feels shaded and cool.

The combination of the meshwork and surrounding reflective pool was developed to create a shimmering, floating feeling to the design.

Giza Pyramid Complex

El-Giza, Egypt

Sometimes referred to as the Giza Necropolis, the complex is the site of the Pyramids of Khafre and Menkaure as well as the Great Pyramid of Giza. Constructed in the Fourth Dynasty of Ancient Egypt’s Old Kingdom the site also includes pyramid complexes, the ruins of the worker’s village and many cemeteries.

Situated west of the Nile on the cusp of Egypt’s Western Desert in Giza around 13km from the country’s capital Cairo. The pyramid of Khafre and the Great Pyramid are the biggest of their kind in Egypt. The Great Pyramid is not only the oldest of the world’s ancient wonders described by the Ancient Greeks, but the only one of these still standing today.

There are only theories as to how these gargantuan structures were conceived and built, and there is still much debate among scholars on how the giant stone blocks were conveyed and positioned. In order to achieve symmetry, the exterior stone block needed to possess equal width and height. While erosion can now be seen on the facades, in the era of construction they would have been smooth white limestone that originated from the Nile where it was quarried

From the sunbaked bricks of venerable mosques, to the blistering blue of a painter’s studio sanctuary, the architecture waiting in Africa is full of surprises to make the spirit soar. Built into all these outstanding structures is the power of human achievement and heart. They stand as symbols of this mighty continent’s unquestionable ability to inspire and unite the people born here, or fortunate enough to set foot on its shores.

Posted by Mark
June 12, 2019

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