Compounds, Dwellings, and Tents

Lecture one begins with an overview of the Sub-Saharan region and foregrounds the issues with studying its architecture. These forms have been overlooked by many histories of world architecture in part due to their lightweight construction and impermanence in comparison to the monuments of the canon. Add to this their relatively small archival footprint and the legacy of colonial representation, scholars tended to view architecture in the region as “backwards” and inferior to Western works. The lecture’s focus is on the rich history and symbolism of vernacular constructions in the domestic sphere. Closer inspection of these artifacts reveals of heterogeneous mix of materials, methods, and processes for constructing meaning. Houses have historically been able to adapt to multiplicity of environmental and social pressures. The basic living unit of many Sub-Saharan cultures is the traditional walled compound—a center of daily life, trade, and worship. Composed of materials culled from the local environment, these compounds are a response to the ecology and climate from which they emerge. Compounds, huts, and tents express their relationship to the environment and culture differentially. Presented on a spectrum from larger, more permanent complexes to smaller, nomadic tents this lecture exposing students to a variety of cultures and spatial practices across the region.

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