Africa’s post colonial governments have had little respect for the architectural profession. In many countries, like Angola and Mozambique, it was eradicated completely or replaced by a dysfunctional socialist/marxist ideal in the service of the captured state.
The post World War drive to decolonise Africa did not bring practical independence to African nations but created dependent globalised consumer societies willing to supply cheap raw materials in return for consuming mass manufactured goods from industrialised global states.
Architecture became one of those things that could be imported from an industrialised nation when needed; the African Union building being a practical example of this thinking. The AU’s main building was designed and built by a collaboration of Tongji University, China State Construction Engineering and the China Architecture and Design Research Group, with the US$200 million budget donated by the Chinese government. ( 1 )
The governments imposed on these “independent” African nations by the industrialised states – through corruption, fake or rigged “democratic” elections, coups, forceful regime change and such – are kept in power to serve the interests of the global agenda first and foremost. The interests of the localised populations themselves are very much a secondary consideration and are primarily catered for by civil society. African leaders who resist or fiddle with the rules of engagement are unceremoniously eliminated, so there really is no chance of this system of governance changing any time soon - Libya's barbaric destruction being the most recent example of this policy. It is simply the way it is, and it is what it is. Moving on...
Colonial Africa had a very limited need for architects as the towns were small and the building systems and materials available relied primarily on vernacular builders to provide design solutions, which they did very well.
Reinforced concrete came into common use in the construction of high rise buildings at the start of the 20th century and soon found its way to Africa. With it came the modernists, and where modernists went they built schools of architecture.
The British developed a very sophisticated system of practice which positioned the architect as the master builder and they exported it to the colonies. South Africa, being a British colony, benefited from such a system. European colonies, such as the French and Portuguese ones, inherited a different system, where the building contractor employs the architect – who, in this context, has no principal agent powers or duties and answers to the contractor only.
The British system, which sees the architect being employed by the building owner rather than the builder, has many advantages over the European way of doing things. But it does make it much harder for architects to find work. In the British system the client is invariably a once off client – or a once in a blue moon client at best – whereas in the European system an architect only needs to establish working relationships with two or three good building companies to be kept in work for life.
Or so it was. Both of those systems are now becoming increasingly unsustainable and destined to become irrelevant. We live in a brand new world where the role of the architect has changed completely and irreversibly; and if the role has changed so the systems of practice must change.
So how do architects find work in this brave new globalised world that has materialised around us, mostly without the participation of architects?
Two important things have happened; our societies have become urbanised and our schools of architecture have become increasingly productive. Whereas fifty years ago a brilliant architect was a relatively rare species, today we have them in great abundance, geographic distribution. gender and affordability.
Our increasingly complex urban structures need architects to solve the myriad of rapid urbanisation problems common to all African states. These problems are so complex and so large than no single government or administration can successfully address them within any current political context. The reality is that our African megacities are completely out of control, as are most of the African governments that oversee them.
African architects can (and must) fix this but they currently have neither the power nor the positioning to do so. Architects, in general, are a pretty powerless lot with no influence in governance or developmental structures. This is probably the first thing that has to change in the architect in practice paradigm of the future.
Most established architects still pound away at the old school approach of waiting for clients to walk in through the door. For young graduates that opt for this career path it could be a slow death – regardless of how much they spend on search engine banner advertising or how many politicians they grease. It’s not going to work because it is not a sustainable model of practice in the 21st century.
So what is?
The very first thing to recognise is that the fundamentals of architects’ traditional work acquisition systems have changed. The legacy birthright network does not function very well in the new urban paradigm. The traditional dependency on bread and butter government commissions is also no longer available to the architectural practice. In today’s dysfunctional state of governance, government work is accessible to the very few, in very limited amounts and at a price.
The modern practice, unaided by birthright or the state, must generate its own work in order to survive economically as a sustainable business entity. The only way it can do this is by making itself relevant to the society which it seeks to serve. It must identify a market demand or a community need and then position itself to meet that demand or need.
Social relevance is thus the most effective means to architectural practice and production available to future African architects. But before taking a closer look at social relevance in the fully extended meaning of the term and its work acquisition opportunities there is something which needs to be addressed first, and that is the global context within which the architect has to conduct the business of architectural practice.
Agenda 2030, African Urbanisation and Architecture
The United Nations has a plan to save the world. (Woopee!) It is a completely useless plan, but it is a plan nevertheless. It is called sustainable development and manifests itself as this thing called Agenda 2030. It used to be called Agenda 21 and something else before that. It keeps changing its name because the UN keeps shifting the goalposts. You can read more about it here.
These goals express great humanity and idealism but they are simply manifestations of a pie in the sky ideology and have no practical or meaningful application in the real world and are thus completely irrelevant to the practice of architecture in Africa. There is no action and no solutions are forthcoming; just concepts designed to obfuscate the same old agenda - global domination by the industrialised few.
In the next fifty years Africa will be home to the world’s biggest cities with populations expected to top 200 million plus in places such as Lagos. We know that this is true because we can see it happening around us right now. The rate of informal and anarchic urban growth is frightening and unrelenting - as is the rate of urban decay and human misery which it promotes.
So here we have this interesting situation where the world’s future megacities have the world’s worst infrastructure, have the world’s poorest populations, are governed by the world’s most primitive, incompetent and corrupt administrations and are further hindered by the shenanigans of the globalist agenda. It's a brutal picture.
African cities are completely unprepared for the demands which are going to be placed on them in the coming decades as they are unprepared for the demands which are being placed on them right now. We are not facing a catastrophe; we are living in one.
What Agenda 2030 lacks is what African societies need to solve urban problems on a megacity scale ; innovation. And it has to start with the architect; the master builder. There is no other option.
Innovation is a significant parameter in today’s Architectural Arena because it is the core creative capital of the industry. Innovation is at the core of an intelligent organization’s functionality. Innovation is the key to offering contemporary architectural solutions that society needs. Only innovation can help design solutions that are holistic in nature. Innovation is the key to previously unimagined architectural possibilities. Architecture has been a role that has continuously evolved. However, no evolution is possible without innovation. Innovation is required to build economic, architectural solutions that drive economic flow go beyond just aesthetics and fulfills business objectives. Innovation is needed to craft stronger communities that have healthier neighborhoods and businesses. Innovation in architecture enhances the quality of life and environment. There is a very valid dialectical relationship between architecture and innovation.
The future architect will need to be sensitive to societal needs, will need to be responsive to these needs and will have to be innovative to fulfill those needs. These, then, are the three key attributes of the 2020+ architect and form the basis of the future architectural practice methodology.