The 1960s heralded an experimental time for architecture in Africa, with the birth of Afromodernism seeing the incorporation of local building staples such as adobe bricks and thatch employed alongside modern materials, like reinforced concrete, to forge a new type of modernist architecture. The movement paved the way for some of the continent’s most impressive and intriguing Brutalist structures, celebrated and archived by Instagram account @african_brutalism. Oscillating between high-rise residential buildings in Casablanca and cubic offices in Yaoundé to a spaceship-like conference centre in Nairobi, the feed offers a unique overview of Africa’s diverse Brutalist gems.
Among the feed’s recent highlights is La Pyramide, in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, an ambitious effort to reimagine the city’s covered market. Designed by Italian architect Rinaldo Olivier, the striking building was fêted as the country’s most impressive residential structure at the time of its completion. A highly recognisable building in the region, for many years La Pyramide housed the Ivorian elite from Abidjan, who resided in the body of the pyramid, while the ground floor was reserved for retail spaces. Sadly, the project ultimately fell short of expectations owing to its high maintenance costs and design flaws, falling into disuse by the late 1980s. Various regeneration efforts have followed.
Another architectural standout of Abidjan is the second largest cathedral in Africa. Designed by renowned architect Aldo Spirito, St. Paul’s Cathedral is a unique monument that serves as the mother church for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Abidjan. Its construction was completed in 1985 and since then it has been a major tourist attraction in addition to being a house of worship. The futuristic structure is impressive in scale, featuring a vast cross-shaped tower. The concrete cross is anchored to the main cathedral using seven cables and the elevation makes it seem like the structure is being pulled towards the nearby lagoon. The exterior of the cathedral features various ceramic panels telling the story of Christ.
In 1971, the Senegalese government launched an international competition to build an exhibition centre in its capital, Dakar. President Leopold Sedar Senghor, Senegal’s first president, wanted to affirm the political renewal of his country by forging its own cultural and therefore architectural identity. Designed by Jean Francois Lamoureux, Jean-Louis Marin and Fernand Bonamy and constructed between 1972 to 1974, a set of pyramidal volumes form the International Fair of Dakar complex. This building demonstrates the growth of Senegal and more broadly the growing influence of modernism in West Africa. But more than that, it is the expression of an architectural identity of its own, the asymmetrical parallelism reflecting the postcolonial spirit of the country.
Keep scrolling to discover the Sidi Harazem Bath Complex, a thermal spa in Sidi Harazem, near the city of Fez, Morocco. Designed by Jean-François Zevaco, who was hired by the newly independent Kingdom of Morocco, the complex was constructed between 1960 and 1975. The vision of Zevaco permeates the entire oasis, forging a new landscape. An enormous circular pool, partly shaded by an exposed concrete canopy is set alongside the combination of a riad and a market dedicated to tourists and sheltered by pyramidal elements around the massive modernist slab of the hotel. In 2017, Aziza Chaouni and her team of architects, engineers and researchers won a $150,000 grant from the Getty Foundation to restore the complex and develop the surrounding area.
Elsewhere on the feed is Al-Nilin Mosque, located in Omdurman, Sudan, situated on the western banks of the Nile. Designed as a thesis project by a student, Gamer Eldawla Eltahir, in the department of architecture at the University of Khartoum, the mosque was selected for construction by the President of Sudan, completed in 1984. The building is formed by a circular structure mounted by a lightweight aluminium space-frame in the shape of a hemispherical dome. The mosque’s interior is elegantly decorated with geometrically patterned timber ceilings and plasterwork. Adjacent to the prayer space are twelve octagonal pavilions that house a school, library, and exhibition space.
Feature image: Sidi Harazem Bath Complex, Sidi Harazem, Morocco. Photo: Pinterest