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Architectural Influences on Mozambique Island

Academic article - Mozambique's stone and lime town, built by the Portuguese colonial government, remains an important historical site with valuable architectural attributes, but high costs of building materials and war have impacted its restoration and conservation.

Photo: Farah Nabil


Architecture is a major proof of human civilization. The development of architecture within an area is a cultural manifestation of that place. Therefore, different components such as an architect's imagination, style, environment, culture, religion, and technology influence architectural designs. In addition, the development of architecture is influenced by styles from specific regions creating buildings that are different from those in the surrounding. The introduction of new designs acts as a way of developing the character of that place. This paper will discuss architectural influences in Mozambique and their effects on material excess, conceptual and functional relationships. And go on to critique the theories of architecture and the feminine, critical regionalism, architecture with and without architects, post colonialism and Pierre Bourdieu’s 'Habitus' in relation to the island site of Mozambique. 


The Island of Mozambique is situated four kilometers from the mainland country of Mozambique in southern Africa. The island is connected to the mainland by a bridge built in the 1960s. Mozambique is a former Portuguese colony that gained independence in 1975. The people of the Island were known for their navigation skills, and Mozambique was a central trading post in the Indian Ocean. The Portuguese had a significant influence on the design and development of the stone and lime town on the Island. Most of the buildings and structures in the old town are stills used today due to the high quality of materials and designs. However, local people had their designs known as Macuti that were more popular on the Southern end of the Island. The cultural influence of the Portuguese, Arab, Indians, and Persians on architecture in Mozambique was felt beyond the Island into the mainland, mainly the capital Maputo. Due to Modernization, some old structures have been demolished to pave the way for new buildings in the city. 

Since the 16th century, Mozambique has maintained the same architectural models recognized throughout the 20th century (Coehlo 2019). The nation has consistently used the same building materials, techniques, and decorative principles (Coehlo 2019). Mozambique has two different types of architectural models based on location. They are the traditional African architecture in the south and the stone and lime buildings and urban systems in the North resulting from Swahili, Arab and European influences (Tostoes 2016). The Portuguese colonial government introduced the use ofstone and lime. The incredible architectural unity achieved is an example of technique resulting from cultural diversity and interaction of Europeans, Indians, Arabs, Persians, Swahilis, and Bantus (Tostoes 2016). The administrative and commercial properties in the stone and lime town are an example of architecture in which local traditions and outside influences are all interwoven. 

Building materials affect the quality of a structure. They also impact the durability of buildings and determine the character of the architecture. However, the quality of materials used may sometimes have a negative impact on the cost of maintenance of the building (Green et al. 2015). The existing buildings and structures within the stone and lime town of Mozambique have important architectural attributes. This is where administrative, defensive, and religious buildings are. While most buildings require restoration, the scarcity and increased cost of building materials have not been conducive to carrying out improvements (Melo and Jenkins 2021). This was as a result of using high-value building materials and designs when building (Tostoes 2019). 1976 to 1992 war worsened the condition due to the influx of more people, leading to overcrowding in Makuti town. Some of the high-value buildings were swallowed by the slums that emerged from this influx (Melo and Jenkins 2021). Mozambique is also a path of cyclones that have destroyed some of the buildings. Different evaluations have pointed out that the state of conservation of the rich architectural heritage has not been satisfactory due to population pressure and the high cost of building materials (Green et al. 2015) 

Architectural designs are influenced by the function of the building or structure. This is the purpose of the project, which is an essential component of architecture. It can be a user function, technical function, or symbolic function. Buildings in Mozambique's stone and lime town were mainly built for the military, administrative and commercial functions (Magalhaes 2018). These buildings, therefore, had to be huge and robust. On the other hand, the Macuti town built of traditional African architecture is home to local communities. However, the need for change in the county's urban fabric has led to complex social-economic problems on the conservation of these buildings (Magalhaes 2018). The government of Mozambique has since enacted laws to protect buildings in the old town as historical monuments. In these laws, buildings older than 1920 are automatically classified as national cultural patrimony. 

The Portuguese colonial power greatly influenced architecture in Mozambique. The stone and lime town was first the project of the Portuguese colonial government between 1507 and 1989. Since 1975, when the nation gained independence from the Portuguese, its urban architecture has experienced significant changes. New architectural designs have engulfed the town, and the government has shown little concern over the destruction of some preindependence structures (Sandler 2010). The demand for housing has become high, and more apartment buildings have emerged within the periphery of the town. Even after resolving to give the people of Mozambique the freedom to rule themselves, the Portuguese continue to influence architecture in the capital Maputo (Green et al. 2015). The late 19th century, after the mining boom of South Africa, is when the country experienced the influence. Discoveries of natural gas and coal have also contributed to migration mainly by immigrants from Portugal and Brazil (McAllaster 2015). This has forced the government to invest more money in real estate due to a growing middle class. 

Recently, the government of Mozambique has invested $25 billion in construction projects. According to Chimbutane (2017), these projects are meant to open up the economy and give people more opportunities to live decent lives. Since 1975, the nation has experienced new architectural designs compared to the traditional buildings in the stone and lime town and Macuti. Some unique buildings in the nation’s capital Maputo include the steel structure design of Hotel Polana Serena by Gustave Eiffel. This is the same architect that designed the famous Eiffel tower in French Capital, Paris. As such, older buildings have been demolished to pave the way for new projects, especially in Maputo (Melo and Jenkins 2021). Mozambique's government enacted a law that protects all buildings built before 1920 by labeling them as cultural heritage sites to preserve older architectural designs in the town. 

Critical regionalism is a concept in architecture that ensures a region's capabilities and needs match with modernization. This architectural theory has been influential in developing new designs in postcolonial Mozambique architecture (Tostoes 2019). However, it has varied with time due to social, political, and economic factors. The architectural legacy left behind by the Portuguese in Mozambique did not address rural-urban migration and the different socialcultural needs of the local people (Nesbitt 1996). As a result, the Portuguese architectural influence was reduced as soon as Mozambique gained independence in 1975. Independent Mozambique embraced modern architectural designs in an attempt to solve social and economic inequalities in the country. In addition to contemporary designs, architects in Mozambique resolved to incorporate ideas of critical regionalism to come up with more unique designs. While new techniques in the country are more economical and straightforward, they have maintained the basic structures and decorations used by the Portuguese. The theory of architecture with and without architects is well articulated in Mozambique as an architectural site. The traditional African Macuti in the southern part of Mozambique is an excellent example of architecture without architects. According to Habibi (2020), this type of architecture has often been dismissed as primitive but has greatly influenced architecture development worldwide. This type of architecture is now recognized as an art uniquely developed and applied based on human modes of life. It is also referred to as communal architecture. It is not produced by specialists but a group of people sharing the same heritage and acting based on pure experience. On the other hand, the development of stone and lime towns in the country was done by specialist architects who studied architecture from different cultures. Architecture with architects has since been embraced in modern postcolonial Mozambique as people now appreciate more advanced and economical designs. 

Pancho Guedes was one of the earliest and most revered architects in post-modern Africa. Lusophone Brazil and Portugal mostly influenced his work. According to Tostoes (2016 pp. 199), “Africa created a primeval energy in Pancho. The way people created their own projects captivated him and influenced his organic approach to design”. He paid attention to the nature of the construction site, its surrounding and traditions. Guedes did this by mixing modern architectural designs and Lusophone designs to develop unique and different artistic styles. This architect contributed to more than 500 architectural designs across Africa (Tostoes 2016). Some of these designs were in Mozambique. After discovering natural gas and coal, more Lusophone immigrants arrived in Mozambique, and there was a need to develop more apartments and condominiums due to a growing middle class (Tostoes 2019). Architects, therefore, had to come up with designs that catered to the cultural significance of these people. Research projects such as Casas Melhoradas have also been created to cater to problems of poor housing in the capital Maputo (Melo and Jenkins 2021). This was especially necessary after the influx of people in the city, which led to the development of slums. Therefore, the government came up with a project that aims to create affordable housing for its people (Melo and Jenkins 2021). 

The theory of architecture and the feminine explores how female architects influenced the development of architecture in Mozambique. Traditionally, women mostly took jobs associated with the feminine universe (Magalhaes 2018). Architecture, on the other hand, was a profession associated with men. However, some women overcame these barriers and achieved great milestones in the field of architecture. Maria Carlota and Maria Emilia Caria are some of the pioneering female architects in Africa. They were both trained in Portugal and worked in different Lusophone countries, including Mozambique. In the 1940s, when Carlota was beginning her academic journey in Portugal, one of the government’s main goals was to meticulously take control of Portuguese women (Colomina 1992). The government went ahead to shut down the National Council of Portuguese Women (Colomina 1992). This highlights the plight of women seeking more significant roles in society during her time. 

Recently, more women have continued to contribute to architecture. This is mainly due to the creation of equal opportunities for both men in women in today's world. Since the 1970s, when Mozambique gained independence, Feminist movements have been rallying for equal opportunities for girls. Consequently, this has led to more girls enrolling for architectural courses in the university and even outperforming the men in the profession (Brown 2011). In 2016, two Mozambique women, Maria Menez and Diana Nune, were nominated for the arcVision Prize in architecture. Working in Mozambique, a developing country lacking enough specialized skills and materials, made the two more conversant with social issues and the adverse effects of an unstable economy (Brown 2011). The two use this experience to come up with functional designs for the people of Mozambique. 

Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu introduced the theory of habitus that be applied to different disciplines, including architecture. Bourdieu defines habitus as "the physical embodiment of cultural capital, to the deeply ingrained habits, skills, and dispositions that we possess due to our life experiences” (Bourdieu 1972 pp. 34). In architecture, the theory examines how spaces and places are constructed and used by different people in different settings. The Portugues colonial context greatly influenced urban Mozambique architecture since the 16th century through the 19th century (Coelho 2019). These designs were used to reinstall the legitimacy of Mozambique as a territory of Portugal (Green et al. 2015). In addition, this represented the nation's history, its people, and culture in influencing a shared commonality. 

Habitus shapes people's thinking and perception of space and place (McAllaster 2015). Consequently, these perceptions affect how architects plan and shape their environment. As such, there is a clear connection between habitus and the professional practice of architects. However, the theory of habitus goes beyond the basic physical concepts in the surrounding. It also recognises the people's social construction such as spiritual, cultural, political, and economic structures (McAllaster 2015). When designing the stone and lime town, diverse cultural and artistic influences from the Portuguese culture were used (Melo and Jenkins 2021). The idea of cultural exchange was therefore paramount to this age-old journey. The use of common architectural designs in its African colonial territory reinforced and idealized an idyllic image of Portugal as a colonial power (Melo and Jenkins 2021). 

Today, in the postcolonial context, the influence of Portuguese architecture is still visible in Mozambique. This is mainly due to the contradiction between the assumption of democracy and pre-installed colonial conditions (Tostoes 2016). In addition, two models of adopting architectural language co-exist. One is the historical and monumental model, which was mostly present in the public works such as administrative, military, and commercial building produced in Portugal (Melo and Jenkins 2021). On the other hand is the Macuti which was based on traditional African architecture mostly used in the inland and southern region of the nation. However, the Portuguese despised traditional African Macutis, which were simple and temporary structures. This is witnessed when Costa (1948 pp. 12) states that "It is therefore incumbent on the European man to create in the native the need for comfort and a higher life, thus inciting him to the work that will lead him to settle down, and this will facilitate a more stable workmanship”. This was meant to create a hierarchical social organization in the country. 

The existing buildings and structures in the Island of Mozambique provide evidence on the authenticity of techniques used. As discussed above, there are two types of dwellings and urban systems. One is the stone and lime town in the North, and the other is the Macuti structures in the south. However, there has been a substantial change in the type of architectural designs being used within urban areas, especially in Mozambique's capital Maputo. This is primarily due to the influx of people in the city that led to the growth of slums. In addition, there was an increase in Lusophone immigrants, mostly from Portugal and Brazil, which led to higher demand for residential buildings in the city. Through critical regionalism, post-colonial Mozambique introduced modern architectural techniques in the city. More women in the field and inclusive use of traditional architectural techniques also contributed to the growth and diversification of designs. 


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