This book attempts to answer the African architect’s constant professional dilemma—respecting the concept of “modern African” architecture, whereas Africans do not wish to live in traditional-style huts any longer.
Epée Ellong, with Diane Chehab, follow traditional African architecture through various historical phases to today’s African architecture, so as to highlight contradictions through a societal and technical lens.
The illustrations and images that accompany the text show the construction phases of traditional and contemporary architecture, as well as everyday objects. Many historical and linguistic references are used in order to better explain the changes on both a human and architectural level.
Subjects covered in the book include:
- Historical migrations in Africa
- Traditional architecture in Cameroon
- Colonial architecture
- The consequences of social changes on architecture and construction
- The evolution of housing in Cameroon
- Thoughts on the future of African architecture
Why was this book written? There are few books that explain the relationship between history, colonization, sociology and architecture in Africa.
Epée Ellong is a native of Douala, Cameroon. He is an architect trained at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, France. In 1983, he founded an architectural firm, CAEE, with Diane Chehab, an American-born architect. The philosophy behind CAEE was to reincarnate African traditional architecture into modern design. A home whose basic materials are bamboo and palm fronds, and no electricity or running water, can’t be automatically transformed into a contemporary dwelling. Epée drew upon traditional symbolism and masks to “Africanize” CAEE’s architecture. The firm designed projects in Cameroon, Guinea, and Ivory Coast.
CAEE’s projects brought Epée to many parts of Cameroon, where he was familiarized with the country’s ethnic, cultural and geographic diversity. He met many regional traditional chiefs who provided him with the background of the architectural and social upheavals brought on by the arrival of Europeans. Together with these chiefs, he put together a nomenclature of the typological elements of traditional construction.
Epée practiced architecture in the United States from 1995 to 2014. He taught Afro-centric architecture within specialized workshops, and has spoken at American universities and at the Museum for African Art in New York. He is currently working on Cameroon-made building materials and teaching at the ESSACA architecture school in Yaounde.
Diane Chehab was born in the United States, lived in several countries and continents, and studied architecture at the Lebanese University in Beirut and at the Beaux Arts in Paris, France. She moved to Cameroon and learned Duala, to better understand the culture. She currently lives in the United States.