The Past is the Future: Architecture Education in Africa

I’ve been to places like Accra before – actually, everywhere in the world I’ve ever been - and seen the common circumstance of “the haves” and “the have-nots”. Often, a bevy of resources exists right alongside highly visible needs that are immense and pervasive. What to do…? Loeb Fellows, it seems, are focused on building bridges between the two realities to generate positive outcomes. Therefore when the invitation was extended to me by my good friend and colleague Joe Osae-Addo to moderate the 2012 ArchiAfrika Educational Network Conference in Accra, Ghana, I jumped on the opportunity. It was my first return to Africa since my maiden voyage to Johannesburg and Cape Town in 2007 with my Loeb classmates.

In cooperation with the Aga Khan Foundation and the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, ArchiAfrika convened the 2012 Educational Network Conference with representatives in attendance from 14 of the over 30 African schools of architecture.  The primary purpose was to establish networks among the schools to facilitate sharing information and resources. The ultimate aim is improving the quality of graduates who will then go on to become Africa’s next generation of practicing architects. Through a series of presentations, the various schools shared their best practices, pedagogies and challenges. One important conclusion reached early on was that there is a need, if not mandate, to “expand the tent” of the role of the architect. Such an expansion will require assignment of greater value to aspects of the profession - other than pure design - that are key to addressing those aforementioned unattended “needs.”

Mamadou Jean Charles Tall, President of College Universitaire d’Architecture de Dakar

Mamadou Jean Charles Tall

Toward that end, Mamadou Jean Charles Tall, president of the recently established College Universitaire d’Architecture de Dakar, shared his model for educating architecture students with a practical, yet culturally rich approach to content and methodology. His presentation included students’  free-hand drawings and detailed research of traditional village structures as a way to understand heritage, which attendees agreed was of great importance. Over the first two years, students learn to “see” and draw “old school” before launching into the seductive world of “the machine.” They must fulfill professional internships and by the 3rd year be able to balance school with earning income. This ultimately makes them and the program sustainable.

The prospect of evolving the traditional educational paradigm, to which almost all schools of architecture subscribe, so that “public interest architecture” becomes mainstream – and on a global scale – is beyond exciting! It is gratifying to know that Loeb Fellows are at the center of change that is for the public good, wherever in the world we happen to be. Finally, I was inspired by the words of brother Joe Osae-Addo in a challenge to his colleagues, when he said, “it is not enough to simply be innovative…no, we must be INNO-NATIVE!”

Steven LewisSteven Lewis (LF 2007) is an architect and a tireless advocate for social justice and diversity within the field. He is founder and president of Thinking Leadership, a consulting practice in Southern California distinguished by a facilitated approach to collaborative problem-solving.

All photos courtesy of Steven Lewis

Fellowship Year: 2007
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