This new seven-volume set of architecture guides is not just a boon to the armchair traveller, but a vital counterpoint to the modern architectural debate. Following years of research, editors Philipp Meuser and Adil Dalbai have set about re-educating the rest of the world about the huge variety and scope of architecture on the African continent – and architectural travel in the region.

The figures speak for themselves; in addition to enlisting 350 collaborating authors (contributing 200 essays on every single facet of architectural culture), the books run to a total of 3,412 pages and include a total of 850 buildings and projects in the 49 countries of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Lideta Mercato Shopping Centre, photograph by Jennifer Tobolla
Lideta Mercato Shopping Centre, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, designed by Xavier Vialta. Photography: Jennifer Tobolla

Many architectural commentators and publications, Wallpaper* included, can probably admit to being less than perfectly well informed about the debates, differences and diversity of African architecture. The huge scope of the work is apparent in the series’ scale, for Meuser and Dalbai cover everything from traditional vernacular architecture through to colonial interventions, diplomatic ventures, indigenous modernism and the various manifestations of religious architecture in all its forms, from massive Catholic cathedrals to mosques. While recent years have seen a resurgence of interest in, say, the modernist architecture of Ethiopia (an import from the nation’s days as an Italian colony), or the art deco and Bauhaus-style architecture in Burundi, these books contain countless other examples.

Ultimately, the Sub-Saharan Africa Architectural Guide is not just a gazetteer, but an informed investigation of the state of African architecture today. The contemporary works on show demonstrate the growing scope of engagement with architecture and building design right across the continent, while the essays provide essential context. Along the way, there are examples of work that address Africa’s challenges with urbanism, sprawl, and shanty towns, with new approaches to self-building, pre-fabrication, community architecture and re-engagement with traditional methods and styles. Highly recommended for any form of architectural travel and anyone seeking a better insight into built culture in all its forms. § 

Naturally ventilated warehouse, Mopti region, Mali by Emilio Caravatti

Naturally ventilated warehouse, Mopti region, Mali. Photography: Emilio Caravatti

Traditional thatched roof huts, Zimbawbe, photograph by architect Anotidaishe Mavazhe

Traditional thatched roof huts, Zimbawbe. Photography: architect Anotidaishe Mavazhe