Beyond Mud Huts: the excellence of African arc…


I made a very popular post about African architecture, but I didn’t give it the depth or complexity it deserves, and truly I can’t in any amount of words, but I can still talk about something specific that dazzles me: Tiébélé

in Burkina Faso. 

First, three clarifications about why calling African architecture “mud huts” is bad:

  1. They aren’t always made of mud. Cob, clay, dozens of other materials are used.
  2. They are not simply “huts”. That makes their construction seemed careless and downplays the effort put into their construction. They are homes designed for their climate, and so of course they differ from European architecture. 
  3. Three, to call them mud huts is to simplify what is truly an innovative method of architecture, a type of shelter that is the reason we – I’m talking to us, white people – are still alive today. You all love to tote how we’re “all Africans” – so start by respecting their architecture.

These are the Kassena people and this is Gurunsi architecture. Beginning in the 1500s, first made with cob and now made with mud, they began building houses with one foot thick walls. This, coupled with the small doors and lack of windows, makes an environment protected from enemies and the harsh weather. 

About once a year women – and only women – paint murals on the walls using painting mud, kaolin, coal and white chalk. The symbols are taken from religion, folklore, life and the environment. The colors are burnished – rubbed – separately with stones so the colors don’t smear together. The last step is to varnish – protect and polish – the surface with boiled pods from a locust bean tree.

And I just? I love this. This is commitment, this is creativity, this is art. This is not some people slapping together a shelter out of a dirty, disgusting material, out of sloppy mud, this is consideration. Every part of this is planned and executed beautifully, and most importantly: This is how people live. 

There’s no way I can make a well-rounded point about African architecture in one post with just a few examples, but I hope you understand the message I’m trying to impart, or at least you can impart it to this one place.

This architecture is beautiful and it’s worthy of more than an eye roll from us white people. Sure, it’s easy for us to say, “Well it’s not the White People Building in the White People Place,” but that’s the point. It is a difference place, a different culture, a different way of life – and it’s working! Look at it! 

With that in mind, I leave you with one final question: Why haven’t they changed their architecture in Tiébélé in 500 years when Western architecture has changed so much?