Emerging interdisciplinary architecture, design, and research practice Studio NYALI, in collaboration with London-based design studio 121 Collective, have designed the ArchiAfrika Pavilion as part of the European Cultural Commission’s “Time Space Existence” exhibition at Venice’s 17th International Architecture Exhibition. The pavilion was designed with support from Ghanaian architect Joe Osae-Addo, ArchiAfrika Accra, Kingston University London, Adriano Wajskol, as well as 10 student collaborators.
The five-by-five-meter pavilion is a response to the Biennale’s theme, which asks “How will we live together” and offers a space that celebrates African and black creativity. With both public and private spaces, the pavilion encourages people to gather and discuss ideas and images for an African future. Studio NYALI founders Nana Biamah-Ofosu and Bushra Mohamed extensively studied the Ejisu Besease shrine house in Kumasi and what African compound houses generally represent as inspiration for the pavilion’s design. Their exhibition, “The Course of Empire: A Compound House Typology,”⸺which displayed from late July to early August⸺ served as an examination of the typology of Africa’s compound houses.
“I would say the three main influences for the ArchiAfrika pavilion were the African diaspora, the region of Jamestown and the Jamestown cafe, and compound houses,” explains Mohamed. “We specifically looked at the Ejisu Besease shrine house as a microcosm of everything that the compound house represents, which is a place where the community can convey its identity and can speak to the community through architecture.”
In addition to compound houses, the pavilion’s bright-colored red and pink design draws inspiration from Accra’s historic Jamestown community and more specifically, the bohemian Jamestown Cafe and Gallery, which operates as a live music venue in addition to a food venue and was founded and built by Addo around 2018. Biamah-Ofosu and Mohamed also explored various cultural references from Jamestown and incorporated those into the design of the pavilion.
“When you’re in Ghana, one of the things you can’t escape is the redness of the laterite soil,” says Biamah-Ofosu. “That red really seems like it’s connected to the earth, so we chose to go with red because it’s a really striking reference to Jamestown, its lighthouse that acts as a signifier for the region, and the cafe.”
The pavilion’s exterior boasts African prints and patterns, as well as Ghanaian wax prints that form the structure’s roof, taking direct reference from the Jamestown Cafe's African fabric-shaded canopy. Inside, the space currently features two exhibits that highlight the works of various African creatives. The first is called “ArchiAfrika’s New Blood” exhibition and features 11 African architects from a variety of different countries around the world, curated by Joe Addo.
From Joe Addo, "The current African New Blood exhibition at the 2021 Venice Biennale has its roots in the 90’s LosAngeles when larger-than-life architect, Bernard Zimmerman, FAIA, decided to curate an exhibition of LA’s progressive architecture to support the Centenary Celebration of the American Institute of Architects Los Angeles Chapter."
Zimmerman's New Blood exhibition led to the establishment of a permanent exhibition space for Architecture and Design, which birthed the A+D Los Angeles Museum of with Joe Addo is credited as one of the founders.
Some of the architects featured in ArchiAfrika’s interpretation include Congo-Brazzaville-born architect Valerie Mavoungou, Nigerian architect James Inedu-George, and Design233’s founder Korantemaa Larbi. All of the architects highlighted were selected by Addo and he hopes to showcase how they will be influential in shaping the next generation of architecture in Africa. “New Blood” is on display through November 5.
The research behind Studio NYALI’s “The Course of Empire: A Compound House Typology,” was instrumental in shaping the final design for the pavilion and ensuring that it fulfilled its purpose as not only an exhibition space, but also a gathering hub for discourse and promotion of black voices. Biamah-Ofosu and Mohamed analyzed different compound houses found throughout the continent and their distinctions based on location, traditions, cultural, and societal norms. They found that despite these variations, all renditions of an African compound home generally feature a central gathering space, along with public and private spaces that foster a sense of civility.
“What is really beautiful about the different compound houses found in various African countries is that they respond climatically to their regions,” explains Biamah-Ofosu. “Even in Ghana, the compound houses in the north are very different from those in the southern coastal parts, and that’s just because they respond to the different climatic zones and regions. They also reflect ways of dwelling and things like interpersonal and family relationships.”
Despite the compound house’s representation of the origin of the collective settlement type, Studio NYALI notes that there have been very few attempts to develop this typology for a modern context. Biamah-Ofosu and Mohamed are working to translate the traditional compound house structure into what they call a “flexible housing typology that appropriately translates history, climate, and culture, while acknowledging the present and future.”
Finally, the pavilion hosted “WE The 7: A Conversation with the African Diaspora” back in August, which presented student work from the seven architecture programs from the Historically Black College and University (HBCU) family in the United States. The exhibition was curated by Coleman A. Jordan, a lecturer at Morgan State University School of Architecture and Planning, and co-founder of Corners– an interdisciplinary organization that works towards social justice in the building environment.