Forgotten Architecture

Forgotten Architecture

Map of Northern Province, Zambia.

A popular opinion is that old buildings have a certain je ne sais quoi to them and this is true anywhere in the world. It might either be in their grandiosity or in the reflection of a rich culture left behind over a period of time.

One old building in particular that had me feeling nostalgic of a time in architecture that I wish I lived through is an Anglican Church all the way up in the Mbala District of the Northern Province.

The church sits beautifully on a decent patch of land only a few miles from Lake Chila. The weathered brick on the building is evidence that it has stood the test of time. What appears to be out of order to the visitors’ eyes is, for the most part, nothing wall filler and a fresh coat of paint can’t fix.

Built by the early missionaries, this building is a labor of love, a love still shared by the locals. As with most colonial era buildings, the settlers supplied the material, while the locals provided the land and the labor.

The church was commissioned in 1950 and completed in 1955 by the Pioneers using materials sourced from different places. Some of the original furnishings like lectern, missal holder, brass candle sticks were from London churches that were decommissioned during the Blitz. The Blitz refers to a period in history spanning from September 1940–May 1941 during which London and other British cities suffered night time bombings by Nazi Germany during World War II. The door hinges, on the other hand, were made by a local blacksmith from Chinakila village.

60 years on, the structure continues to defy gravity, maintaining its structural integrity. A feat largely attributable to the original arced brown timber trusses still carry the weight of the roof. Complementary traditional arched windows finish off this structure and smooth out the heavy plastered interior by washing it with light.

With its rich history and allure its no wonder the church was recognized as a cultural site by the National Heritage Conservation Commission.

How I imagine the church looked like in its earlier years.

In spite of this, the church auditorium is still used the same way as it was by way of Sunday mass, funerals and weddings; ceremonies all which have allowed the community to gather in this space for over half a century and for many years to come.

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A FAMILIAR LANDSCAPE

For my family, the male grouping in particular, a pilgrimage of sorts is expected. My father and his father before him had done it and now it was expected of me, and I was to take it with my father’s brother. This is like a rite of passage where we travel to Angola to experience the land of our ancestors; the food and the people. My father as well as all others that came before him where born there and there is eventually where they went back and made their home long after the civil war that ravaged part of the country.

The road leading to the province of my village leaves much to be desired. Only 4-wheel drive Land Cruisers ever dare to venture out on this road that boasts of more cavities than I’ve ever seen on one road my entire life. The bright side of it all was that the scenery was something to be held; the luscious and most crisp greens. It felt like taking a very long safari down the road only without the animals to complete the picture.

Flip flops, a rich coffee brown skin much like my own and a set of strong white teeth I could only wish I owned is what you first notice in our neighbors. They have the brightest smiles and the most infectious laughs that will leave you engaged but with a tongue that’s most strange to that which I’ve grown accustomed to. Luvale, my mother’s tongue, is a lucky compromise between the Chokwe and the Mbunda ethnic languages that are widely spoken between them. This then meant that I’d understand them in much the same way they’d understand me in conversation; which was very little.

We spent most mornings going to the local Plaza to buy supplies for the day because for some reason, our hosts hardly ever buy in bulk, all days save for Fridays when the Plazas close shop for general maintenance. They are no different from our markets of makeshift stalls all arranged in rows and divided into sections; charcoal, fresh veggies, fish and meat, and secondhand shoes and clothing. It would be best for me to mention here that unlike many Zambians, they mostly use yellow maize and cassava for their cornmeal which is naturally much thicker and more filling and as it turns out every bite is eaten with a fork and a knife.

On our second leg of the journey and across from a Plaza along the main road that leads into the Central Business District of Saurimo in Lunda Sul Province are shops run by Asians and there we’d find cartons and more cartons of bottled water and bottled juices among other things the Plaza does not offer.

And because we weren’t anywhere near an ocean front city, limited by things to do and also because as a people we’re no different from each other, we took on the social habit of patrolling the nearby Cantinas. I soon discovered that they have a palate for pints most similar to ours, with the most common being Cuca Cerveja. It is locally brewed and is fondly advertised as Sabor de Angola (Taste of Angola). For the sake of perspective, Cuca Cerveja tastes like Castle lager and boasts of a 4.5% Alcohol volume. I also tasted their other offerings like Nocal and “33” export which are a cross between Castle and Mosi lagers, only “33” export being slightly sweeter.

A parigem for Keweseki’s (plainly, a station for a brand of motorized bikes) were always on hand to transport us from one point to the next always on the right hand side of the road at a very affordable price, and this in my opinion might mostly be because there are so many of them out there with a demand to match and an even cheaper price for fuel.

I would be reaching if I tried to define their architecture, and admittedly, I’d be suffocating the definition in any number of paragraphs because theirs has gone through just as plenty of shifts as ours to get to where it is right now since the colonial way of doing things.

Something did, however, stand out on a basic new build I had the chance privilege to work on near where we stayed. Block work is laid along trenches dug at a depth not above 800mm from the natural ground, and a 100mm thick reinforced concrete slab cast above to complete the foundation, this is the way of doing things in Zambia and this is what was taught to me back in Architecture school. Our friends, however, dig trenches to a depth of 400mm and a width of 300mm along which they place huge rocks all the while pouring concrete of 1:3 cement to sand ratio. Corners form out of reinforced concrete columns all protruding from a 300mm thick concrete slab filled with rocks. Pitched roofs slanting this way and that way are most prevalent which technically works best for water harvesting purposes during seasons of plenty such as this one.



While their commercial buildings from what I saw range from mere metal sheets nailed onto timber skeletons to concrete buildings having aluminium cladding and fenestration to complete the designs.


Apart from the one hour difference, the Portuguese speaking country is similar to ours in more ways than what differentiates us with the seasons lasting as long as ours and battling the same struggles as us.

In all the time we were there, it was clear to see how much hope the people still have for the future more especially the faith they’ve entrusted in the new Movemento Populaçao Liberataçao de Angola (MPLA) administration under the progressive leadership of Joao Manuel Gonçalves Lourenço who promises to curb corruption and bring forth development to all corners of the country; including surfacing of the undone road leading into Moxico Province through Cazombo District and into Zambia through Chavuma District beginning 2019. This the people believe will develop the province through enhanced trade between the two countries.

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Basically, an everyday conversation…

Where do you see the future of school design going?

Generally, the future of design is green and so is school design. It is not at all different.

What do you mean by Green?

This is basically sustainable design, because Green is an all-encompassing term that even if we spent the whole day trying to break it down, we would still fail quite miserably.

How best would you then simplify Green design?

Well, let us look at the choice of materials for use on a project. In my opinion, repurposing materials from pre-existing buildings for use either in the grey shell or in fittings and fixtures of new builds is the most sustainable example there is. Another one would be reusing materials cleared from the site instead of disposing of them.

How does reused material cleared from a site work?

In the case of trees cut down from a site during clearing, these can be processed into lumber. This lumber of course should be dried in a kiln and treated with preservatives before use, but it takes a long time to be ready for use so it might not quite be the best option for time sensitive projects.

Alternatively, on the off chance that a site is endowed with good soil, this can be reused for laterite purposes. This method is as time saving as it is cost saving, in that it cuts down on time spent on procuring materials and waiting for delivery on site. Money saved here would then be spent to meet other demands the project might have.

There really are a lot of materials sites can provide us to work with, one just needs to keep an open mind.

Is this not where the concept of the greater evil comes into play? Could you be so kind as to shade more light on the same?

Certainly, this is that time. It is about the action that wreaks the least havoc on the environment and going with it. Having already mentioned repurposed timber what we are saying is that materials obtained from a demolition – which in itself is awe so sustainable – is lighter on the environment in that fuel is only burned on transportation than processing the trees into lumber which burns more fuel, is. From the two examples we can see that the former has a less negative impact on the environment than the latter does. Basically, what this does is help us leave behind a more habitable environment for future generations than we found it even after we are gone.

Is there anything else that can be added to what has just been explained?

Of course, burning fuels are a nuisance on the climate and it is the biggest culprit of global warming so the construction industry should make it a point to reduce on processes that require a lot of burning of fuel. Furthermore, if we reduced the footprints of our buildings by going a few storeys upwards we would be able to moderate the extent of flora damaged and the extent of fauna disturbed from its natural habitation. This is really good for the ecosystem.

We shall talk about the importance of maintaining a healthy ecosystem another time. In conclusion, what features exist in the school designs of the future?

This will vary from one designer to the next, naturally, but mine would be vanished timber frames, large windows, double volume height buildings, multipurpose outdoor amphitheatres and of course sports spaces for recreation.

And on that note, thank you very much to everyone who came.

Whispers Of The Mighty Zambezi.

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Traditionally, I come from the North-Western part of Zambia – a landlocked country – in Southern Africa. My parents and their parents before them both hail from here.

Particularly, my mother’s people hail from Zambezi town whereas my father’s people hail from Chavuma town which is 2 hours away from Zambezi town which in turn is 7 hours away from Solwezi town.

This being my second time working in Solwezi, I felt challenged to endeavor to wander just a bit yonder in the depths of the province. The first time having been back in 2014 on another tour of duty.

In all my years, the furthest I had wandered had always been Solwezi, the administrative center of the province. And with my birthday being imminent, it was the perfect opportunity to do just that – to step out a little further and ever deeper into the land of my heritage.

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The date was set; it had to be just a day before my birthday.

The month of August might signal the end of Winter and a jump to Spring in this part of the world but to me it’s the month of my birthday, so why not take a birthday vacation I thought.

Three things had piqued my interest in Zambezi town; the Chinyingi bridge, the Zambezi river and a waterfront lodge on its banks.

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After a 7 hour bus ride on a completely tarred road to the town, I checked into the Royal Kutachika Lodge on the 28th of August. My key card was marked 27 and I was shown to what would be my room for the next 2 days of the same mark.

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The most representative characteristics of the lodge are the striking and extensive thatch roofs decorating the lodge which scream vernacular architecture. Sliding doors opened to a four-poster bed complete with a Telly, natural reed side tables and a vanished timber wardrobe. Within the room, was a walk-in shower and a walk-in water closet, both spaces separated by a wash hand basin.

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After enjoying a readily hot shower, I took to their fully stocked bar (although I’ll admit they had everything but tequila, and what’s a birthday vacation without shots?), so several double shots of Red Label whiskey sufficed until they didn’t anymore.

The morning of my birthday got off to a slow start since planning for the trip and for activities to do was done beforehand, so all that was left for me to do was to sleep in, to take in the scenery and to bask in the fresh air before taking a trip upstream the mighty Zambezi river towards the Chinyingi bridge.

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With the day being perfect; sun out, mild temperatures and with very little to no wind, it was time to go riding on the river.

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At the dock, I took a tour of the stationary pontoon trying to fathom its workings. Sated with the workings of the pontoon, my interests shifted to the banana boats lightly sailing about. With a K10 to spare, I crossed forth and back to one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life.

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Life jacket strapped on and with just over 3 hours left to be on the Zambezi, we took to venturing forth on our journey towards Chinyingi bridge. The one way trip that should’ve taken 45 minutes lasted about an hour due to urges to take it all in; the beaches at each and every turn, the small islands on the way and the vegetation on the river banks.

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After an hour, the bridge was upon us, stretching from end to end, supported by nothing but chords. At the initial approach, it looks like a string that soon grows in size to that of a footbridge.

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We docked the boat to the side and stepped out to walk on it. The bridge swayed with every step; to the right with the first step and to the left with the second, and so on and so forth. It was a gentle sway.

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I heard more than the average man hears. Whispered to me were the secrets of the river that speaks to the smallest of ears. It was everything I had imagined it to be in experience. This alertness wasn’t a subtraction but an addition to the experience.

For a person not scared of heights like myself, I took in all that the bridge had to offer. I crossed from one end of it and to the other, and back.

The walk on the bridge reminds you you’re in the presence of engineering ingenuity. The best part is that the user is able to appreciate the stability of the bridge in the support columns on either side of the waters. What’s also plain to see is how local materials – timber braces and chicken wire mesh – have been fused in which makes it as beautiful to the eye as it really is in experience.

Feeling content and the sun beginning to set, we rode back downstream. A trip that took us about an hour before, now took us just 45 minutes.

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Back at the Royal Kutachika, my mates and I took to the bar to enjoy some cold beers whilst looking over the mighty Zambezi river, and the beautiful sunset above it and above the plains.

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As I checked out of the lodge the following day, I was content and fulfilled. I was glad I got to go on this particular adventure in the land of my people. Nothing warms the heart like conversing with strangers in your mother tongue, and that’s exactly what I did.

…Of Draught And Platters. 🍻

Spaces for eating and drinking can be looked at from two points of view; that of the customer, and that of the proprietor.

Firstly, the customer will choose a particular establishment, not only because it sells food or drink but because it also sells

•somewhere to entertain a guest in peace; as in good restaurants

•entertainment; as in nightspots or dinner-dancing venues

•fast service; as in cafés and fast-food outlets

Secondly, the owner will choose to operate an eatery which is also licensed for alcohol.

These establishments are thus referred to as Pub and Restaurant, and may include Cafés and Snack bars.

My client hopes to build a chain of these establishments in Solwezi.

Finding the perfect location to set up shop was crucial and the final decision depended on the need to find balance between

•the availability of customers

•cost of the location

•accessibility; customer parking and goods access

In the end, an open space of 10 meters by 6 meters in a newly built local shopping center was decided on. In here, we managed to fit a show kitchen at the far end and separated by a counter from the customer sitting area, while right beside the entrance fits a bar.

The restaurant’s main feature is the show kitchen which is equipped with a pizza oven, a deep fryer complete with extractors, and durable natural stone splashbacks for the protection of walls from stains when cooking. The bar is complete with a wooden bar and steel stools, and stocked with the best cocktails only money can buy.

For safety reasons, an exit door is to be maintained at the back of the Kitchen in case of a fire while Copper sconce lighting lamps pinned to the wall accentuate the space by way of accessory.

The brief pressed for an establishment where common business deals can be struck but ultimately, achieve a place where family and friends come to socialize over food and drink.

Dream Me An Abode…

It is innate in people looking to plan for retirement in their old age to seek putting their affairs in order by way of building an abode in which to rest their tired head.

This was the case for my client, a man in his forties, who hopes to build a structure which both him and his children can call home. This is to be a monument of his toil and a landmark to show his hard work.

For a well travelled man like himself, he requested a house that embodies both contemporary and vernacular characteristics; contemporary characteristics that he’s grown accustomed to through his various travels and vernacular characteristics that he’s known from his childhood.

This was according to his initial brief…

•Burnt bricks and treated timber for walls and other parts of the superstructure.

•Treated local thatch for the roof.

•Large treated timber pivot doors.

•Regular windows with treated timber window frames, et al.

Inasmuch as I have materials and other components like a thatched roof worked out, the source will be very critical during construction because they will have to blend in with the local environment. For this purpose, the use of local stone was chosen as cladding around the chimney.

In developing the brief further;

•the client asked to have part of the house as a double storey

•a Master Bedroom, a Guest Master Bedroom and two bedrooms for the girls and the boys respectively.

•a Study, a Lounge, a Kitchen and a Dining room.

•a Games’ room and a Gymnasium for recreation.

The self contained master bedroom with a his and hers walk-in closet was thence placed on the top floor to serve as a watchtower for the owner. Apart from a place to rest his head, this bedroom also has a private study and a door leading to a private deck looking over an infinity pool and a timber deck on the ground floor. Interestingly, the deck is also accessible to invited guests via an ornamental copper plated spiral staircase from the courtyard.

A suspended timber deck resting on stilts around the swimming pool was thought to be an ideal representation of the vernacular component as emphasized by the client. Other representations in the design include local clay roof tiles above the bedrooms and the triple carport, as well as a courtyard around the rest of the house which all help bring the vernacular requirement full circle.

Once built, the client dreams to treat his main Living room in themed African paint and with ornamented fabric. This means painting the walls in Moroccan-inspired hues, and subsequently hanging of local African art pieces on the walls while having a themed culture from Southern, Western and North-Western inspire the bedrooms.

Somewhere To Gather 🤝

Dubbed the new mining hub because of the prevalent copper mining activities in the province, Solwezi has enjoyed remarkable development in the last couple of years from roads to shopping malls to office blocks.

Naturally, with such key infrastructure comes the incessant need for supporting infrastructure and such a one is conference centres.

There are currently just a handful of these facilities in the provincial headquarter. None are self supported structures since the few that do exist are largely found at hotels and lodges, and are often overbooked for business seminars, company workshops, weddings and conferences.

Much emphasis was therefore placed on the design; the layout and the aesthetics.

The layout was restricted to only an auditorium, a stage, storage, Lounge, 3 offices and water closets for the two genders.

The auditorium was designed to sit just over 300 people while 2 of the 3 offices provide service to management. The third office is to serve as an office for hire or as a meeting room. The Lounge then accommodates performers and/or presenters.

The design employed Pre-cast concrete portal frames as a technique for ease of construction with rainwater drain pipes securely tucked behind parapet walls and ducts covered by louvers.

The materials of choice were Local stone cladding, timber louvers, glass, mass concrete and copper rods as these realize a structure that boasts of what resources the province has to offer.

Once built, this structure is hoped to help meet the growing demand for conferencing.