Africa is a continent of over 30.3 million square kilometers, more than three times the size of the United States. Interestingly the picture mostly painted by the National geographic channel, of a beautiful land with its expansive landscapes teeming with wildlife innocently excludes the picture of the rapidly urbanizing cities and large population of the communities fighting AIDS and poverty.
African countries are among the fastest growing in the world. In 2010, five African countries were included in the top ten countries with the fastest growing economies. Africa is undergoing Technological transformation, electronic notebooks are replacing paper books. For example, mobile phone subscriptions on the continent rose from 16 million in 2000 to 376 million in 2008. In fact, mobile phones have become an important accessory to dressing as there is a feeling of being lost or incompletely dressed if one forgets to take along their mobile phone.
There are increasing opportunities for landscape architects to influence built and natural environments at a large scale in Africa. However, architects in most parts of Africa are yet to explore the multidisciplinary approach that brings the landscape architecture aspect of most construction jobs to bear from conception. Most times the aspects of slope analysis, direction of wind, location of sunrise and sunset angle is usually glossed over in building constructions especially where there is no obvious topographical challenges with the land to be built upon. Ecological processes that would preserve the existing ecosystem or at least create a sync are often ignored. It is an unspoken idea that a good architectural piece should be finished with a nice green landscape and the landscape architect’s function is relegated to little above what an experienced gardener can handle. In fact, the idea of the landscape as a critical part of the whole architecture of the construction is yet to be explored. The reason is not far-fetched. Apart from the fact that most African countries are yet to produce a significant number of qualified landscape architects, the building architects do all they can to stifle the voice of the few foreign trained landscape architects and often times, the thought process that goes into the planning and execution of the building construction through the services of an architect, seldom applies to the landscape. At times, landscape is seen as an afterthought. The resulting product usually is a conflicting landscape that disagrees with the function and even the form of the building it is supposed to enhance and sync with the environment.
There is no definitive dividing line between where building architecture begins and landscape architecture stops and vice versa. Therefore it is necessary that the both landscape and building aspects of an overall architecture be seen as parts of a whole rather than separate unrelated entities.The process from concept plan to proposed design of the building and the landscape on which it stand should therefore be done pari-passu if the whole is to read and work as one. The landscape character gives cues to the building architect and the landscape architects link the building architecture to the landscape. This, the landscape Architect does by paying close attention to the architectural lexicon, beginning with the concept and creating an all-inclusive landscape design and which takes into cognaissance the geometric aspects, details, and materials within the landscape. Activities and functions interior and exterior of the building are synchronized with the land creating a seamless flow from the indoor to the outdoor. The process of greening, shaping the land form and introduction of external landscape features enhance the much desired connection between the building and the land.
Cultural, psychological as well as physical aspects of outdoor space is combined in the landscape architectural thought process to blend the proposed building technology with the natural attributes of the land , thereby creating a harmonious landscapes that unites all components cohesively. It is imperative that the process of building construction engages the services of a landscape architect ab initio, just as it would the building architect, electrical, civil and mechanical engineering services prior to the commencement of the building construction. We must resist the urge to overlook the process and focus on the product as is common in Africa. This clarion call must be heralded as it would ensure continuity in the deliberate relationships between the land and the building construction. Land and nature has existed thousands of years before mankind and have learnt to heal themselves and preserve themselves through the ages. All activities that threaten the nature’s preservation will in the long run not harm nature as she will find a way to heal herself albeit at the expense of some collateral damage to mankind and some other plant and animal species. Wetlands that are being sand filled and built upon will after a while, (it may be several years) swallow up the structures which inconvenience them through flooding. If the land is imposed upon by man, sooner or later, nature will resist it. At this turn in the century, man’s survival and cohabitation with nature is dependent upon his own actions. This is why the landscape architect who is an environmental doctor should be called on board for any activity that would impact upon the land. Landscape architects should not be relegated to the background in the construction process as what will eventually result is chaos and not harmony.
The IFLA Africa forum which took place in 2008 in the United Arab Emirates identified some challenges to the landscape architecture profession in Africa. Seven years after, a good question might be what progress has been made? The assertion by the American society of landscape architects in the annual meeting which took place in San Diego, California in 2011 that landscape architecture is rising in opportunities is true. However it would be foolhardy to rest on our oars. From 2008 till now, landscape architecture education has been introduced in two universities across Nigeria with about a total of 20 landscape architects produced from then till date as at the last report I was aware of. Uganda has started the bachelors programme in Landscape architecture and some other progress in landscape education has been made. The IFLA Africa region has been strengthened and two significant symposiums have been hosted by Kenya and Nigeria in 2011 and 2014 respectively.
There is still room for improvement in landscape architecture education as holding a forum in Africa with leading academics and selected participating academics from other universities outside the continent which could lead to an academic version of “Landscape Architecture without Borders” as proposed by ASLA President Perry Howard can be explored. Professors could then visit African Universities to deliver lectures and educational support for a specified period. However although we are not where we were, we are still a far cry from where we should be because there is still a lack of awareness of the profession and a need for more visibility in media as well as a need for government recognition of the profession within the political context of several African countries. There is also very importantly a need for cohesion among fellow landscape architects and sacrifice for the common benefit of this profession in Africa.