West African Architecture: History & Examples

Instructor: Benjamin Truitt

Benjamin has a Bachelors in philosophy and a Master's in humanities.

The climate, history, and culture of West Africa have combined to make West Africa a unique place architecturally. From the Djenne Mosque in Mali to the Nkruhma Memorial in Ghana, the region has some of the most innovative designs in Africa.

A Diversity of Architectural Ideas

You may have heard about the pyramids in Egypt or seen the winding towns of Morocco, but some of Africa's most incredible architecture is in West Africa. The world's largest clay structure is in West Africa, and the region provides many examples of colonial and post-colonial architecture. In this lesson we will look at a few examples of the diverse structures that exist in West Africa.

Islamic Architecture: The Mosque of Djenne

The Dejenne Mosque in Mali is the largest clay structure in the world
Djenne Mosque in Mali

First built in the 13th century and restored in 1909, the Djenne Mosque in Mali has a wooden frame that is insulated and finished using clay. The Djenne Mosque's clay exterior allows the rooms inside to stay cool during the day and warm at night. The scaffolding beams you can see on its exterior are not only a design feature, but serve a very practical purpose. Each year, the rains wash away much of the Mosque's clay, and at the end of the rainy season is a festival in which the residents of the town renew and refinish the Mosque. The structure is considered sacred by the locals, and today it is no longer open to non-Muslims.

Colonial Architecture

French Colonial Building in Ghana
French Colonial Building in Ghana

In the 19th century, the West Coast of Africa was colonized by European powers (primarily Britain, France, and Germany). Each colonizing power brought in European structure and development to the area it colonized. Thus, the cities of West Africa have a distinctly European feel to them. British colonies frequently used Romanesque architecture to deal with the hotter climate, rather than traditional London-style buildings, while French colonies modeled buildings in Paris fashion. In fact, France exported its architectural style to all its colonies. The building in Ghana (left) looks as though it would be right at home in the French Quarter of New Orleans.

Post-Colonial Architecture: The Nkruhma Memorial in Accra

Kwame Nkruhma Memorial in Accra

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