Africa needs more representation and voices in the design world.
Africa is a continent of rich history and culture, and one that is increasingly becoming more integrated into the global economy. Yet there is still a lack of representation for African perspectives in the design industry.
In fact, the only African-influenced buildings that have been built in recent years are made by non-African architects. This has resulted in a lack of visibility for African designers and their work—a problem that needs to be addressed.
There are many reasons why this underrepresentation exists: a lack of awareness about African design; an assumption that only people from Europe or Asia can do good work; and a fear that an African aesthetic is too “different” from what people expect from “normal” Western art/design. These factors have contributed to the silencing of African voices in architecture and other fields of design.
At Memory Eden, we believe there is great value in an African aesthetic and we want to see more voices contributing their ideas and expertise to the field.
In an article for Design Milk, Nick Olsen writes that “one of the most important factors influencing how we experience our buildings is our perception of them.” He goes on to say that “our perception of our built environment doesn’t just enhance or detract from our experience of buildings; it also shapes how we interact with the world around us.”
Denis Eschleman, an architect based in Cape Town, South Africa says “I want to see Africa represented in a way that reflects its unique character—not as a playground for Westerners but as an exciting place to visit and explore.”
This sentiment has been echoed by many other architects who have worked throughout Africa, including David Adjaye (Ghana), Peter Rich (Kenya), and John Pawson (Ethiopia).
The diversity and ingenuity of Africa
The African continent is home to some of the most amazing examples of architecture, interior design and building design on the planet. These buildings are a testament to the diversity and ingenuity of the people who live there.
Although styles vary – partly due to different tribal influences – reinterpreting traditional craftsmanship and recycling materials are commonalities of design made in Africa.
For instance, the Senegalese designers Baay Xaaly Sene (BXS) and Ousmane Mbaye have both ingeniously created furniture from old petrol barrels.
A parallel trend is how interest in African design has filtered into the mainstream – as exemplified by IKEA launching its Överallt collection in 2019, made by ten African designers including Issa Diabaté, Selly Raby Kane and Bethan Rayner and Naeem Biviji.
Unfortunately, these incredible designs are often ignored because they are not considered “mainstream” or “Western.” This is due in large part to the fact that there are few African voices in design in general—and that’s something we need to change immediately.
Africa’s influence on architecture and interiors
Africa has been a continent of many cultures for thousands of years, and the architectural design that has emerged from this land is as diverse as the cultures themselves. There are many ways in which Africa’s rich heritage has influenced the development of architecture and interior design.
Many of these influences can be seen in African art and craftsmanship, including jewelry, textiles, pottery, and painting. The colors used in this artwork often reflect those found in nature, such as blue skies or green trees. The designs are also often simple and geometric in nature, reflecting the simplicity of life in Africa.
The traditional house design also reflects these influences. Houses were built with curved walls so they could be easily shaped into round forms without any corners to cut off space or hinder movement within them; they were also built with flat roofs that allowed rainwater to flow away quickly when it rained rather than pooling on top where it would cause damage over time if left untreated (as it might do if there was no roof).
These same principles can be applied today when designing homes or office buildings so that they are more comfortable for everyone who lives or works there by providing plenty of natural light through windows on all sides so people feel connected with nature; having large windows
Below is a list of Africa’s best industrial, architecture and interior designers currently taking the world by storm.
Kossi Aguessy (Togo)
The visionary artist/designer has a breadth of output that includes subtly blending African influences and western production methods, from industrial design to sculptures and paintings. He’s become a reference for Togo’s upcoming generation at a time when contemporary African design generally is garnering increased attention globally.
Born in Togo as Kossigan Baaba-Thundé Hervé Aguessy, Aguessy studied industrial and interior design at Central St Martins in London, worked for Philippe Starck and then set up his own Parisian studio in 2008.
His ‘Jord’ chair (2012), made from rhythmically layering pieces of oak, and ‘Fogo’ lamp (2012), with organic light-emitting diodes at the tips of its branches, are in the Centre Pompidou’s collection.
Aguessy’s scarlet ‘Infinity’ chair (2016) is a stunning piece of art, made from looping aluminium into a deformed figure of eight, the lower part serving as the base, the upper part as the seat. What emerges is his sculptural and technical wizardry for mastering materials.
His brass work is made with graceful simplicity; and his smooth ceramic masks reinterpret traditional African masks. Hugely curious about processes, Aguessy covered his stainless steel, prismatic-shaped, totemic chair, ‘Useless Tool’ (2008), with a low-reflective material used in aviation.
Jean Servais Somian (Ivory Coast / France).
His furniture is made from African materials such as the trunks of coconut palms, wooden beads, and mirror-encrusted totems with holes carved into them where books and magazines can be inserted. He plays with the codes of the material and distorts objects in atypical ways to create new, unique forms, engendering an ambivalence between aesthetics and usage.
Somian, 48, studied cabinet-making with Georges Ghandour in the Ivorian city of Grand-Bassam and worked in Paris and Switzerland before exhibiting at the 2002 International Design Biennale of St-Etienne. Following this, he established production in Ivory Coast in collaboration with local craftsmen.
Somian buys coconut palms from landowners planning to cut them down.
In his Grand-Bassam atelier, the bark is removed, the wood is carved and sculpted, and forms take shape. Afterwards, the pieces are transported to his atelier in Abidjan to be turned into works of design: drawers are added to cabinets, legs to consoles, and finishings – such as bits of ox bone – are applied to the wood.
Somian also reconfigures the discarded canoes of Ivorian fishermen into sofas by adding fabric onto the empty inner structure and legs onto the base. “It saddens me when old and tired fishermen leave their canoes at the water’s edge and they become rotten,” he explains. “As a designer, I want to find a solution and bring something magical to them.”
Jomo Tariku (Ethiopia/ US)
Jomo is an Ethiopian-American industrial designer, gleans ideas from the African continent in a quest to define a new language of contemporary furniture. One such example is his ‘Birth Chair II’ (2016). Made from blackened wood with white motifs painted on the backrest, it resulted from deconstructing traditional African birthing chairs that are used in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa to provide support to pregnant women during childbirth.
Cheick Diallo (Mali)
An interior designer whose furniture was included in the seminal ‘Africa Remix’ exhibition at the Hayward Gallery and the Centre Pompidou, among other venues,
After studying architecture and design in France, Diallo lived in Rouen, travelling regularly to Bamako to collaborate with local craftspeople. He returned to Bamako to show that it’s possible to make design in Mali. His philosophy was to develop manual, artisanal savoir-faire, because the industry doesn’t exist in Mali. His goal was to make contemporary, luxury objects that were local and infused with Malian culture.
Diallo works with weavers to create meticulously woven and braided furniture and lighting, some pieces revealing a western sensibility informed by Frank Gehry, Ron Arad and Constance Guisset. Other pieces are made with recycled metal on a large metalworking site.
“Africa needs to show that it can propose design projects to the whole world – that’s the ambition and now it’s happening on a bigger scale,” says Diallo, who was commissioned to make furniture for the French and Belgian embassies in Bamako. Regarded as the “grandfather of African design”, he was a co-founder and president of the Association of African Designers and organises workshops for young designers in Ivory Coast, Senegal, Ghana, Morocco and Tunisia.
As more local African residents increasingly becoming interested in unique pieces from local artists in Abidjan, Lagos, Johannesburg, Nairobi, Cape Town and this could lead to a strong economic foundation and demand that will in turn spur significant market development. It’s clear to see that the African continent has so much to offer in terms of architecture, interior design and building design—but it’s time for more African voices to be heard. We can’t let this heritage disappear!
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