German architect and publisher Philipp Meuser, along with architect Adil Dalbai, are releasing a comprehensive introductory guide to African architecture that examines more than 800 buildings and projects. The seven-volume book collection, named “Architectural Guide Sub-Saharan Africa,” is an overview of architecture south of the Sahara and takes a comprehensive look into some of the most significant structures from the continent’s 49 Sub-Saharan countries.
The volume of books are the result of years of extensive research that involved working with more than 350 international authors and nearly 50 experts to identify Sub-Saharan architecture and its unique style, thus creating room for increased discourse on the topic. Meuser, who owns DOM Publishers (who is publishing the volume of books), set out to create “Architectural Guide Sub-Saharan Africa” in 2014 after running into difficulties getting information about projects in a region he was working on for an architectural project of his own. The collection features a range of various buildings, from traditional indigenous structures to modern-day projects, with stunning original photography throughout.
Aside from presenting Sub-Saharan Africa’s most important buildings, the guide also aims to “emphasize the political and economic conditions under which the respective designs and constructions were made,” says the authors. Another important agenda item for the series is to critically examine “the colonial legacy, the opulent buildings of the kleptocratic elites and contemporary architectural imports from East–which for the past 20 years means especially China and West,” says the press release for the book.
Among the many projects highlighted are projects like Ghana’s Black Star Square completed in 1961, Kéré Architect’s Centre for Health and Social Welfare– a medical facility in Burkina Faso’s Oubritenga Province that was completed in 2014 and built out of locally produced clay bricks, Kampala, Uganda’s 19th century Kasubi Tombs that were renovated in 1938 and is believed to be one of the largest grass-thatched structures in the world, and Edwlne Neto’s rendition of “cubatas,” a type of wooden house found in traditional architecture of São Tomé (one of Africa’s oldest colonial cities) and built in urban spaces by the Portuguese colonial administration.
The approach to the compiling the series of books was to create something greater than a series of mere “guidebooks,” as the title suggests. With the collection, Meuser and Dalbai set out to both pose and answer the question: how should we explore Africa’s architectural discourses differently.
Per the book’s foreword, the result is a set of books that are an “original archival documentation of the sources of architectural studies for current and future students, scholars, practitioners, and for general interest readers and researchers.”
“For the very first time the architecture of every sub-Saharan country is presented individually in an individual chapter, some of which cover the respective country's contemporary architecture for the first time ever," Dalbai told Dezeen.
“While there are specialised publications on particular aspects of the region’s architecture, we felt there was a dearth of ambitious surveys of the region as a whole, which examine Africa's architecture for its own sake, rather than viewed as a manifestation of perpetual conflict or romantic transfiguration," said Meuser.
Combined the collection spans more than 3,400 pages with an astounding 5,000 accompanying images and illustrations. Each of the 49 chapters focuses on a single country.
The volumes are broken down as follows:
Vol. 1: Introduction to the History and Theory of African Architecture
Vol. 2: Western Africa from the Atlantic Ocean to the Sahel
Vol. 3: Western Africa along the Atlantic Ocean Coast
Vol. 4: Eastern Africa from the Sahel to the Horn of Africa
Vol. 5: Eastern Africa from the Great Lakes to the Indian Ocean
Vol. 6: Central Africa from the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes
Vol. 7: Southern Africa between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans
The collection is expected to go on sale in April 2021 and will retail for €148. It can be purchased via DOM Publishers’ website.