Book Review ‘Sub-Saharan Africa: Architectural Guide’

Book Review ‘Sub-Saharan Africa: Architectural Guide’

This month we are continuing our series of book reviews in which members of the dRMM team share a book that has allowed them to evolve either their thinking or their approach to architectural practice.

Architectural Assistant Zafir Ameen shares how the ‘Sub-Saharan Africa: Architectural Guide’, published by DOM Publishers, has opened-up a world of lessons to be learned from works of architecture which are often missing from western architectural discourse.

Why this book?

I enjoy looking at vernacular architecture. Currently there is a big gap in the scope of western architectural education. During my studies, my course never really touched on works of architecture beyond Europe. I picked up this book because I was interested in broadening my horizons – I felt that wasn’t happening within the university context. I found out about the book via LinkedIn – one of my lecturers, Professor Ola Uduku, a research professor at Manchester School of Architecture contributed to the book with her piece ‘Affording Authenticity: Thoughts on African Architecture’.

I enjoy the fact that it isn’t just about architecture. It incorporates the bigger picture of geography, history and colonisation – other architecture books don’t necessarily give this level of context.

What did you enjoy about the book?

The breadth and scale of the book is impressive – currently I’m 1.5 volumes in, so I’ve read the ‘The Introduction to the History and Theory of Sub-Saharan Architecture’ and am currently reading about ‘Western Africa: From the Atlantic Ocean to the Sahel’. I enjoy the fact that it isn’t just about architecture. It incorporates the bigger picture of geography, history and colonisation – other architecture books don’t necessarily give this level of context. I like the level of detail, it isn’t just about projects, it’s supported by academic essays. The book is well put together and organised. The graphics ensure it communicates well. The cross references from country to country are great, the structure of the book and its design have provided a great opportunity to learn about the geography of the African continent.

The book supports my work with ACAN. Decolonisation is crucial to us, particularly in architectural education, and the book has helped us in our call to decolonise the curriculum. Equality, diversity and inclusion is important across the board, one academic area can learn from another, so decolonising architectural education could act as a catalyst for decolonising other academic fields.

How has the book informed your practice or shifted your thinking?

It’s exposed me to styles of architecture and architects that I’ve not been aware of previously. I’ve enjoyed seeing the subtle differences from country to country and region to region. So far, whilst going over the books, one of the favourite things I’ve seen is the Francis Kere project that is included in his essay ‘Building Commons: An Inventory of a Kampala Neighbourhood’. In this project, I particularly appreciated his use of natural materials. The materiality is really specific to context – his studio went through a process of manufacturing bricks from earth taken from the exact spot where they were building. The series is informing my practice by giving me access to architectural precedents I didn’t have before. It is so vital to reference different ways of working and I think that I will be revisiting these precedents time after time and each time I will notice something different.

On a practical level, the book has informed my work outside of dRMM. I recently worked with some fellow students on the annual Kaira Looro Competition. This year the brief was to design a house for women that could promote gender equality in Senegal. Our entry made it to the top 50 and will be published in their book of winning projects later this year. The ‘Sub-Saharan Africa: Architectural Guide’ was useful because it explained a deeper cultural history of Senegal and outlined some of the traditions and cultural differences that we were not previously aware of. We were able to integrate this into our scheme and help strengthen our proposal by considering local norms and ideas such as the Senegalese concept of ‘Teraanga’ a term meaning generosity, hospitality and warmth which the Senegalese use to define their national culture.

I would recommend it to anyone inside or outside the field of architecture, as it is the first work of its kind – charting 40 countries and 850 projects – it’s actually unbelievable that its 2021 and this book has only just come to fruition. You will not have the chance to see the pictures in this book anywhere else, so making time to look at it is a must for that reason alone. I’m going to approach each volume in order, I don’t want to overlook the quality and don’t want to miss out on the lessons I can learn.

About Zafir

Zafir is an Architectural Assistant at dRMM. He completed his Part 1 at Manchester School of Architecture where he received the Dean’s Outstanding Academic Achievement Award and the John H. G. Archer Prize’ for his graduation project ‘the SOL-RE Centre’ which explored possibilities for space based solar power. Prior to joining dRMM, he worked at Hawkins Brown and conducted research into international housing with CAUKIN studio.

At dRMM, Zafir uses his experience of socially engaged practice to contribute to our social value and equality, diversity and inclusion workstreams. Zafir’s interest in social equity extends into additional part-time and voluntary roles. This has included working for MEDLIFE, a non-profit organisation who provide healthcare, education and infrastructure to international communities in need. He has worked as an Architecture Ambassador for the RIBA National Schools Programme and is currently involved in the Architects Climate Action Network (ACAN) where he is in post as a Coordinator.


Book Review ‘Sub-Saharan Africa: Architectural Guide’


Book Review ‘Sub-Saharan Africa: Architectural Guide’