Organic Formal And Spatial Organization In African Societies: Reviving A Dying Identity

The traditional architecture of many precolonial societies in Africa is characterized by unique patterns which express their cultural identity and values.

These patterns are not only expressed in individual building units but can also be seen in the arrangement of all buildings within the community.

The buildings arrangement may be in radial form which projects from  center to the edge of the community as in the case of ancient city of Benin in Nigeria.

It can also be in fractal form to simulate patterns in nature which is the case of Moukolek community in Cameroon.

In few instances, the arrangement may the amorphous as in the case of Nankani community which can be best described as free flowing.



Fractal arrangements of formal and spatial elements may have been made popular by computer simulation but they have been in used in many African societies for years before the advent of computers.

It is common in these indigenous communities as it is a naturally occurring pattern that can be observed in flowers, leaves, stars, animal skins etc. For this reason, it can be easily interpreted and expressed through their hairstyles, clothes and architecture.

Oftentimes, the arrangement of formal and spatial elements within the community follows a particular course which is repeated at all scale as one can see in plan of Baila community in Zambia where the large circular arrangement of the community encloses smaller circles for livestocks which is also made of smaller circles for living quarters and store rooms thus simulating a circle of circles of circles.

While the border of some of these communities may be surrounded by boulders or walls to deter hostile neighboring communities, the individual building units within are often without fence to express freedom and strengthen kinship.

However, many of these organic organizations have been lost largely due to acculturation of western values that heightened during the colonial period. Even today, some of the surviving fractal arrangement are gradually being replaced by orthogonal grid forms as a result of industrialization.

Notwithstanding, these arrangement can still be revived and incorporated into planing and design of urban space. The urban plan and design of The Palm Jumeirah in Dubai, UAE highlights this possibility. Here, the planners mimicked the shape of palm tree to create a unique urban environment which enhances communal living.

It is therefore imperative for architects, urban designers and planners to explore the indigenous formal and spatial arrangements, make combine effort to integrate them into modern city plans and thus revive a dying identity.



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Just simple and entertaining