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10 Countries with the Best Architecture in Africa

In this article, we take a look at 10 countries with the best architecture in Africa. If you would like to skip our detailed analysis of African architecture, you can directly go to 5 Countries with the Best Architecture in Africa.

Significance of African Architecture

African architecture is worth evaluating for a unique characteristic: a particular influence of climate and cultural influences on the way buildings are designed. A key example is the use of stone in both ancient and modern structures, as it is one of the most durable building materials available. Historically, traditional African architecture has kept in view the unique needs of the area’s residents.

A study on this subject was published in 2021 by Barabara Widera, an instructor of architecture from the Wrocław University of Science and Technology in Poland. The study found that during the hot season, 60-70% of the inhabitants of traditional dwellings found their homes to be thermally comfortable. However, in ‘modern houses,’ only 20% of inhabitants reported such comfort. During the cold seasons, comfort was reported by 90% of the inhabitants in traditional houses and only 50% of those who lived in modern housing.

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The study identified four typographies of traditional houses, which had similar features across several African countries. The strategies that helped regulate the temperature within these dwellings included: thick mud brick walls to accumulate heat, small doors and a lack of windows to prevent heat from entering the home, and sustainable thatched roofs that provided adequate protection from the rain.

Important Architectural Buildings in Africa 

Africa has several countries with the best architecture in the world, which is showcased by the region’s widely famous buildings.  In 2021, BBC reported instances of iconic African architecture, as detailed in the seven-volume series ‘Sub-Saharan Africa: Architectural Guide.’ Examples included the Kasubi Tombs in Uganda, which were built in 1882. The Tombs serve as the burial grounds for members of the Baganda royal family, which makes it a significant site for the locals. The Guide notes that the interior has been made to resemble a sacred forest, having been topped by 52 circular rings. Each ring represents one of the 52 Buganda clans of the region.

Since the construction pre-dates the introduction of modern materials, the tombs heavily utilize traditional materials such as spear grass, wooden poles, and reeds. In 2001, UNESCO reported that the Tombs had been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 2010, a fire caused heavy destruction to the place, following which UNESCO added it to the List of World Heritage Sites in Danger. The Kasubi Tombs were taken off the danger list in 2023. According to a report by TRT Afrika, the Tombs receive around 30,000 visitors annually.

The BBC report also highlights the Great Mosque of Djenné in Mali, which was built in the 13th century. According to the Guide, at a height of 52 feet, this mosque is the largest earth-built structure in the world. The construction has been done using sun-baked earth bricks and a coat of plaster along with sand and earth-based mortar. In 1988, UNESCO recognized the entire area of the Old Towns of Djenné as one of its Heritage Sites. The place was added to the List of Heritage Sites in Danger in 2016, where it still remains. Factors affecting the site in 2016 were civil unrest, housing issues, and land management. From 1981 to 2020, UNESCO approved seven requests of international assistance for the protection of the property, totaling $115,119 in funds.

Tourism in Africa - Pre and Post-Pandemic Levels 

Thriving architecture is one of the factors attracting tourists to a particular country. The phenomenon has been referred to as ‘architourism’ in academic circles. The relevance of architecture to tourism is pertinent to discuss here because tourism is a major industry in the African continent. According to a report by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), tourism contributed $186 billion to the African economy in 2019. A total of 84 million international travelers made their way to the continent that year. According to another report by Brookings, Africa had the world’s second-fastest-growing tourism sector before the pandemic. The industry represented 8.5% of the continent’s total GDP, employing 24 million people. Tourism-related employment was especially prominent in countries such as Ethiopia and Kenya, where the travel sector employed 8.4% and 9.2% of the total workforce, respectively.

However, the pandemic caused significant losses for the industry. From April to June 2020, the influx of international travelers in the region fell by 98%. Tourism-dependent economies such as Mauritius and Seychelles reported a sharp decline in economic growth, 14.9% and 12% respectively. In September 2020,  a study was published by educators from the University of Calabar, Nigeria. The study estimated that Africa was set to lose some 7.6 million tourism-related jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nevertheless, Africa has managed to bounce back from the losses. On January 31, 2024, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) published a news issue on Africa. According to the report, by January 2024, international tourist arrivals to the continent had recovered to 96% of pre-pandemic levels. Certain sub-regions were even performing better than they were before the pandemic, such as North Africa, where tourist arrivals in 2023 were 8% higher than they were in 2019. An increase in tourist arrivals, as compared to pre-pandemic levels, was also seen in other countries such as Ethiopia (28%), Tanzania (19%), and Morocco (15%).

The report also revealed that from January to September 2023, Africa recovered 92% of pre-pandemic arrivals, while the global average was 84%. During these nine months, Africa was the world’s second-best-performing region in tourism. Throughout 2022, the continent also managed to recover 84% of its pre-pandemic tourism-related earnings. The world average for this indicator was 74%. Several countries managed to exceed pre-pandemic earnings by a significant number, including Seychelles (59%), Algeria (56%), and Ethiopia (49%).

Furthermore, in November 2023, WTTC reported that over the course of the next decade, the African tourism sector could add an additional $168 billion to the continent’s economy, while also creating more than 18 million new jobs. Based on these findings, the upcoming years are expected to see further growth in the tourism sector of Africa.

Making Tourism Possible

As international arrivals in Africa continue increasing, whether for architourism or cultural tourism, several companies are playing a huge role in accommodating these travelers, such as Airbnb, Inc. (NASDAQ:ABNB). On October 24, 2023, Airbnb, Inc. (NASDAQ:ABNB) reported that it had pledged $500,000 to support sustainable tourism in Africa. The company also announced that it plans to expand its Entrepreneurship Academy to five new countries in Africa. The Academy is a development program that helps individuals from underrepresented communities to become hosts through the Airbnb platform. In 2022, Airbnb, Inc. (NASDAQ:ABNB) contributed around $1.2 billion to the South African economy, supporting almost 50,000 jobs in the country.

Tripadvisor, Inc. (NASDAQ:TRIP) is another company that proves to be beneficial for tourists in Africa as it can be utilized to look up the most popular architectural monuments in the region. The online platform has around 12 million reviews for attractions and hotels in Africa, making it one of the best resources for tourism. African destinations have also earned awards from Tripadvisor, Inc. (NASDAQ:TRIP) for years. In 2022, Shadows of Africa, a safari operator in East Africa, announced that the company had won Tripadvisor, Inc.’s (NASDAQ:TRIP) Travelers’ Choice Awards for nine years in a row.

As architourism continues rising and the tourism industry in Africa booms, here are 10 countries with the best architecture in Africa that you can plan to visit this year. You can also take a look at the Top 12 Companies for Architects in United States and the 15 Highest Paying Countries for Architects.

10 Countries with the Best Architecture in Africa
10 Countries with the Best Architecture in Africa

10 Countries with the Best Architecture in Africa

Our Methodology

In order to compile this list of the 10 countries with the best architecture in Africa, we adopted a consensus approach. First, we consulted ten rankings and reports on the internet, shortlisting countries that appeared in at least 50% of our sources. Then, we ranked the countries according to the number of tourists they received in 2022. Our hypothesis is that countries with good architecture will attract a high number of tourists. We sourced our tourism data from the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). Further information is added from UNESCO, the BBC report on African architecture, and the 2021 study on African vernacular dwellings by Barbara Widera.

10 Countries with the Best Architecture in Africa

10. Nigeria

Tourist Arrivals (2022): 0.53 Million

Widera noted that Nigeria was home to the Dagomba huts, which are made with mud walls, thatched roofs, and just one small window. The homes protect inhabitants against the hot climate. Nigeria ranks tenth on our list of countries with the best architecture in Africa.

9. Cabo Verde

Tourist Arrivals (2022): 0.79 Million

Cabo Verde, also known as Cape Verde, ranks ninth on our list of countries with the best architecture in Africa. The archipelago was first inhabited by Portuguese settlers, who left a huge impact on the region’s architecture.

8. Ethiopia

Tourist Arrivals (2022): 0.90 Million

The BBC report highlights Ethiopia’s Lideta Market for its architectural style. Despite being a contemporary shopping center, the building was constructed keeping the unique needs of the region in view. The design is perforated which enables the flow of light and ventilation. The exterior also resembles a traditional Ethiopian fabric, adding further symphony between the architecture and the region.

7. Ghana

Tourist Arrivals (2022): 0.92 Million

Ghana is home to all six architectural typologies noted by Widera in her research. Key characteristics of the architecture include rectangular-shaped huts made out of mud. Ghana ranks seventh on our list of African countries with the best architecture. Ghana is home to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

6. Mauritius

Tourist Arrivals (2022): 1.00 Million

Mauritius houses two UNESCO World Heritage sites and also ranks sixth on our list of countries with the best architecture in Africa. The country received around a million visitors in 2022, which was slightly lower than in 2019 when tourist arrivals equaled 1.38 million.

Click to continue reading and see the 5 Countries with the Best Architecture in Africa.

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Disclaimer: None. 10 Countries with the Best Architecture in Africa is originally published on Insider Monkey.