The African Cities to Visit for Architecture, Art, and Design 

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These are the African cities leading the upward trend of modern and sustainable architecture throughout the continent.

The predictions associated with Africa’s growth rate are enough to turn the heads of travelers, economists, business developers, and politicians. Both the GDP and population are aggressively on the rise, partially because of the growth in African cities. Sub-Saharan Africa’s population could hit 1.5 billion by 2025, Ethiopia has “nearly the highest GDP growth rate in the world,” and Rwanda’s population is projected to double by 2050. With significant growth, of course, comes the need for added infrastructure. So it isn’t just the economists and luxury African travel clientele seeing opportunity—it’s the architects. As the continent forays into this new stage of development, these are the African cities paving the way in terms of architecture and design.

Kigali, Rwanda


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Rwanda has recently—even just in the last five years—invested in their young up-and-coming talent for new architecture projects. According to Fast Company, the Rwandan population is expected to double by 2050. Thanks to a Global Health Corps fellowship and a partnership with MASS Design Group, young (millennial-aged) architects are working to figure out housing that is both sustainable and affordable to the population without sacrificing high-concept design aesthetics. In terms of what’s happening now for Kigali design, a New York architect recently completed a housing space for health-care professionals wrapped entirely in eucalyptus screens, and British firm Light Earth Designs finished a “sustainable cricket pavilion of self-supporting parabolic roofs,” reports Dezeen. As for plans coming from the fellowship and MASS Design Group, MASS is moving toward opening a full-fledged architecture and design center to train new talent coming from Kigali, other African cities, and beyond. 

Nairobi, Kenya


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Kenya is attracting international architectural talent to its capital city of Nairobi. As an example, Swiss architecture firm ro.ma came in to build a sustainable structure that defies aesthetic odds, while respecting local building regulations and using local construction companies. The building plays with spatial depth, and the exposed concrete exterior color is meant to mirror the color of Kenya’s coffee soil, i.e. the country’s distinctive red soil. The design of the city also takes care to reflect its past; August 7th Memorial Park pays tribute to the bombing at the United States embassy in Nairobi on August 7, 1998. The park is also meant to be a safe space to educate travelers on this terrorist act and the societal repercussions and to discuss the need for peace on a global scale.  

Marrakech, Morocco


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One of the clear design highlights of Marrakech is Majorelle Garden, which was a work in progress that spanned decades, by Jacques Majorelle. He set about collecting rare plants from around the world, which he meticulously interspersed in accordance with light and shadow, and the placement of the tiled central basin and colorful, hand-painted walls. The garden is specifically known for the cobalt blue that can supposedly only be found in the Marrakech garden. In terms of new work, Marrakech’s Musée Yves Saint Laurent was erected in 2017 and is a modern interpretation of traditional Moroccan architecture. Come for the design and revelatory architecture, stay for the 15,000 couture accessory pieces. 

Johannesburg, South Africa


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Jo’burg has seen an overwhelming artistic resurgence in recent years, and that is primarily reflected in common workspaces, gathering points, and artistic hubs throughout the city. For an up-and-coming design tour of Jo’burg, start at Victoria Yards. In their own words, Victoria Yards is “redefining the Jo’burg inner-city landscape through building an ecosystem where tenants thrive as a community.” First off, Victoria Yards is designed with an exposed brick, factory-window, facade-framing greenery vibe that would make any aspiring Williamsburg business owner salivate. They have urban farming on-site (to create jobs and sustainable food production) and are actively seeking new artists to join the fashion designers, printmakers, ceramicists, and small business owners populating Victoria Yards, all with cutting-edge, sustainability-forward ventures. Also worth exploring is the downtown Maboneng district, a go-to success story of Jo’burg’s urban regeneration project. In Maboneng, you’ll find Jo’burg’s six-story shipping container apartment building—a design feat using 140 shipping containers to create 300 and 600-square-foot industrial apartments, by architecture firm LOT-EK.

Windhoek, Namibia


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Namibia, in general, has seen an impressive rise in tourism over the last decade, which is particularly notable considering it’s only a 30-year-old country. Nonetheless, the Windhoek skyline has really flourished, seamlessly interspersing modern towers against the baroque, German-influenced cathedrals. And as the Windhoek area sees an influx of luxury travel, the modern, tourism-centric design is keeping up. Just outside Windhoek, for example, Zannier Hotels’ Omaanda, which just opened in the latter half of 2019, is ultra-luxurious safari huts in traditional Namibian style with Indigenous decor accents. In the city proper, all-suite property The Olive Exclusive is now welcoming high-end travelers looking for a boutique, design-forward atmosphere, with floor-to-ceiling windows and distinctive wooden backsplashes in their Premier and Junior Suites. 

Dar es Salaam, Tanzania


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DARCH, or the Dar es Salaam Centre for Architectural Heritage, is working to promote historical architecture within the capital city of Tanzania, and on a larger scale, throughout East Africa. Their efforts are meant to preserve the historically relevant buildings while advocating for culturally sensitive evolution. The existing architecture of Dar es Salaam is largely influenced by German colonialism, featuring semi-ostentatious European architecture interspersed with politically charged and culturally relevant street names. There are also notable Indian/Asian parts of town and African/Tanzanian parts of town, each with architecture to reflect their separate cultural roots. DARCH specifically offers a New vs Old tour in the “‘conservation/preservation zone’ where the old and new buildings co-exist side by side.”