• Finding New Inspirations : Modernism Vs Mimicry

The shift from traditionalism to modernism in the mid 19th century resulted from the criticism of traditionalism because of its contradictions of hiding modern building technology with a facade of ornamental traditional styles. At the time, modernists advocated for truth to materiality and construction technology.

Iwan Baan Hotel in Ivory Coast African Modernism

The Mali Hotel, an example of contemporary and traditionalist merging into harmony in African Modernism 

The debate today continues with a modernist view that everything that is built today is contemporary by virtue of the time it is built, and that traditionalists should embrace the benefits of innovation & technology; against a traditionalist view that there is need to separate personal preference from what is good design. In order for a new development to resonate deeply in a community, the social traditions associated with a particular place (or people) must be integrated fully into the design. One traditionalist, Robert Adam, argues that only designers (architects) struggle with this issue and that the average person wants what is convenient and advanced. Design, therefore, cannot ignore the changing times, preferences and tastes; it must address client needs but similarly take on board the existing context, scale and pre-existing traditions to strike a balance between the two.

moscow school of management david adjaye

David Adjaye's Moscow Exhibition Centre in Russia

But where do we draw the line between modernisation and mimicry? Where do our identities lie? Yuen argues that the more distinct a place/city is, the more likely it is to succeed. Some of our African artists seem to have quickly grasped this concept and our builders are yet to catch up. Consider world re-known African musicians whose music, though incomprehensible, remains timeless; usually the sound is distinct. The challenge to retain identity, remain relevant and re-invent the wheel is no doubt of particular concern to architects practising in developing countries, and especially for those within the African context. While there is an out-cry of client-directed design, it is important to accept that many modern works of architecture in this region are yet to develop a design identity; what-with an internal conflict of acknowledging changing times on one hand and on the other the desire to remain regional- not traditional.

african modernism Angelique Kidjo as a bridge between contemporary and traditional merger

Angelique Kidjo, a globalized African Musician, Perhaps the real deal?

No doubt, the world is becoming increasingly globalized and while the urge to keep up with the rest of the globe is admirable, an architect looking to stand out in this region must not ignore the fact that the adept predecessor of modernism is always keen to differentiate and sometimes reject pastiche designs. At worst, some designs have even been described as ‘slow subsequent declines of imported architecture’. While there’s an understandable reason why the African built landscape has in the past been dominated by foreign architects, the situation has least changed in recent times. I would argue: why go for a look-alike when you can get the real deal? It is for this reason the developer continues to retain the upper hand; our architects are yet to stand out and develop a distinct style that is fresh and at the same time unique to the African landscape and the world at large.


  • Architecture Of African Origin (AOAO): Isn’t this Simply A Members Club?

  • Architecture of African Origin- what is meant by this term? Literally speaking, it alludes to architecture that originated/originates from/in Africa. But a semantic surgery would opine otherwise. Fundamentally, Who are the “originators”? Is it, strictly speaking, the “African indigenous people...


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