3 Apr

World Cultures: African Brutalist Architecture

By Thomas Jang

The word “brutalism” comes from the French term breton-brut, meaning raw concrete. Coined by Reyner Banham, a British architecture critic, brutalism is a style of architecture often reviled while other styles such as Victorian or Contemporary architecture are revered. Brutalism seeks to show its concrete material in its untouched, unaltered state. The style also seeks to “be honest” and allow people to “read it” from the outside. Throughout the 20th century, it became a social and political experiment, becoming popularized in formerly communist countries due to its emphasis on the values of equality and egalitarianism. The peak of buildings built in the brutalist style peaked in the 1960’s and 1970’s, coinciding with the period of decolonization and independence of African countries. 

Brutalism as a new architectural style provided an avenue for these newly liberated countries to define themselves as well by creating new institutions and new presences on the world stage. Brutalism was envisioned as a new style that illustrated something different than the architectural conventions of their European colonizers. 

Kenyatta International Convention Centre - Wikipedia

🇰🇪An example of Brutalist architecture from Africa includes the Kenyatta International Convention Center in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. The building was built in the Brutalist style in 1973 as the new headquarters of the Kenya African National Union party (KANU), led by Kenya’s first president Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. Kenyan architect David Mutiso and Norwegian architect Karl Henrik Nøstvik collaborated on the design of the building to include 28 stories and a span of 200,000 square meters of space. Traditional Kenyan architecture designs in mud huts were integrated into the building’s brown color and rounded roof. 














🇨🇮Another building in the Brutalist style is La Pyramide, located in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. The 18-story building was designed by Italian architect Rinaldo Olivieri and built from 1968-1973. The construction of the building in this style was part of a major trend in new construction after Cote d’Ivoire’s independence in August 1960. Likewise, the main pyramid section of the building integrated commercial businesses, whereas its upper levels included luxury apartments. However, along with the Brutalist style, the building fell out of favor and was deserted by the 1990’s due to its disproportionate ratio of rentable space to movement, which was restricted to vertical. 

File:Grand Central Water Tower.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

🇿🇦The Grand Central Water Tower is a 131-foot-tall structure located in the Midrand suburb of Johannesburg, South Africa. Built in 1996 by the architectural firm GAPP Architects and Urban Designers. The water tower is a lifeline of water for the surrounding suburb and holds two million gallons.