20 MOST ICONIC BUILDINGS – The Hallmarks of Art meeting Architecture in East Africa

Most Iconic

East Africa consists of 20 territories with rich diverse cultures. The territories are situated at the African Great Lakes, Nile Valley, as islands in the Indian Ocean and in the Horn of Africa.

These countries are blessed with natural and human assets being utilized to develop the ecosystem and build infrastructures to attract tourists across the world. The region is known for its beautiful cities: Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), Nairobi (Kenya), Kigali (Rwanda), Kampala (Uganda), Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), and the list goes on.

East Africa is also famous for its jaw-dropping game reserves with large areas for national parks. Addis Ababa is one of the highlights of the region with world-class buildings and eye-catching road networks as well as other social amenities. Tourists also say it is the home for the most beautiful girls in Africa.

There’s more!

Africa is home to see the most beautiful buildings when art and architecture mate to erect identities built from culture. Hop on, let’s ride!

  1. Lideta Mercato — Ethiopia
Lideta Mercato

In 2017 upon the completion of Lideta Mercato in Addis Ababa, this pretty box strategically chopped at the bottom, with beautiful lights was named the world’s best shopping center by UNESCO Prix Versailles architecture and design awards.

It boldly celebrates the Ethiopian culture and beauty. Designed by architect Xavier Vilalta and inspired by the Old Mercato, the structure has perforated outer wall that brings your mind to the fractal patterns found in Ethiopian textiles to control natural light as well as ventilation.

It has been uniquely designed to protect buyers against harsh weather conditions. The water collected from the rooftop when it rains is filtered and channelled for use.

  1. African Heritage House — Kenya
African Heritage House

Founded by Joseph Murumbi, former Kenyan vice president, and Alan Donovan who was once a US State Department employee, the African Heritage House was inspired by Mali’s Great Mosque of Djenné and other African mud architecture.

The building is an emblem of pan-African art in Nairobi, and a cultural center housing different artworks from across the continent. They include the works of Francis Nnaggenda, a Ugandan sculptor; Kuba cloth from Central Africa; Fulani blankets from West Africa; Lamu Furniture originally from East Africa, and many more African-related pieces.

  1. King’s Palace — Rwanda
King’s Place

Shaped like a beehive, the King’s Palace in Nyanza bearing similar resemblance with other huts in the community is a roadmap to the ancient royal residence from the days when Nyanza was the unofficial capital of the kingdom.

Merely looking at the structure and arrangement of hays, one can imagine how meticulous it took from the ground level to the top in order to realize a hill, which appears like a cave in a mountain.

  1. Kasubi Tombs — Uganda
Kasubi Tombs

Not as tall as the famous Pyramids in Egypt for mummies, but Kasubi Tombs is the graveyard for kabakas or kings and other nobles from the Buganda Kingdom located in Kampala district.

It was initially a palace that later became home for deceased royal blood. Since it was built in 1882, it remains firm to the ground.

Muzibu Azaala Mpanga, the main structure of the Kasubi Tombs which is completely organic houses four royal tombs, and it is made of grasses, wood, wattle, daub, and reeds.

  1. Ishnashri Dispensary in Zanzibar — Tanzania
Ishnashri Dispensary

With such aesthetics, Ishnashri Dispensary in Zanzibar City attracts people from across the globe to the coast of Tanzania.

It is an outstanding building in the whole of East Africa functioning as a museum and a cultural center.

In the 19th century, the building was commissioned by a wealthy Indian trader.

  1. Rova of Antananarivo — Madagascar
Rova of Antananarivo

Queen Ranavalona I ruled Madagascar for over 3 decades (1828 – 1861) in Antananarivo, the capital of the island.  The palace was originally built from wood.

Viewing the city from the peak of the Analamanga hill, the beauty and uniqueness of the palace protrudes. It is also known as Manjakamiadana.

  1. Thien Thane Pagoda — Mauritius
Thien Thane Pagoda

China? No, Mauritius.

Thien Thane Pagoda does make a Chinese Buddhist feel nostalgic in Africa but at the same time they feel at home. It emulates the Temple of Heaven in Beijing.

Mauritius is one of the small island nations in the Indian Ocean. Thien Thane Pagoda was built in 1950 somewhere at the foothills of Signal Mountain, Port Louis. It is a shrine built in the name of the Jade Emperor and serves as a place of worship for Chinese Buddhists on the island.

  1. Arul Mihu Navasakthi Vinayagar Temple — Seychelles
Arul Mihu Navasakthi Vinayagar Temple

Stretching into Heaven like the Tower of Babel, Arul Mihu Navasakthi Vinayagar Temple is the only holy ground for Hindus surrounded by Roman Catholics and other Christian Faith in Seychelles.

It resembles some of the temples in southern India erected in the name of a deity, Ganesha, in 1992.

  1. Fiat Tagliero — Eritrea
Fiat Tagliero

Constructed with typical modern features, the structure stands spreading its wings as one of the most iconic building modelled after an airplane by Italian architect Giuseppe Pettaz in 1938.

Despite the fact that Fiat Tagliero service station appears like any other

Italian fascist design, it is fundamentally African: constructed with local basalt, with Eritrean labour and craftsmanship.

In the words of associate professor of Architecture Edward Denison about African Architecture: “If you peel away the skin…you’ll see they’re actually quite traditional.”

  1. Tukels — South Sudan
Tukels

Judging South Sudan’s Tukels on the surface level, it may not appear grand considering new modern structures. But it sure remains iconic.

A lot of effort and details have been put into achieving the beehive-shaped roof by the Toposa people. Almost every family are builders in their own right.

Toposa people occupy about 83% of the country’s population. The traditional cottage called Tukels, are raised with earth and covered with thatched roof. Underneath, there is a skeletal frame of woods arranged in a specific pattern and held together by twine or Dinka rope.

  1. Le Champignon — Burundi
Le Champignon

This building stands out like a mushroom. 

Le Champignon is a product of Bauhaus architecture. The word “Bauhaus” is from German which means “building house”.

Bauhaus was an entire movement pioneered by a German school founded by architect Walter Gropius (1883-1969) in the early 20th century. It emerged in 1919 in the city of Weimar with a new perspective of unifying fine art as in painting and sculpture with applied arts as in building and industrial design.

The design is known for its creativity, simplicity, and sustainability for mass production. Though this movement was interfered by the Nazis but it still travelled with the winds.

Countless products of the style exist around the world with several in Bujumbura, Burundi.

  1. Tomb of the Unknown Soldier — Somalia
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

The motive behind the construction of the obelisk is as profound as it is iconic in structure, standing tall in Mogadishu.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a symbol for soldiers who lost their lives fighting during the ongoing Somalian Civil War (2009-now).

  1. Church of Saint Anthony of Polana — Mozambique
Church of Saint Anthony

The Franciscan church in Maputo has been playfully called a lemon squeezer in terms of how it looks from a distance.

However, no one can tell if architect Nuno Craveiro Lopes, the man behind this figure from Portugal, has any spiritual explanation for it.

  1. The Afar huts — Djibouti
The Afar Huts

On the beach of Devil’s Island in Djibouti, lie the tortoise-like huts of the Afar people.

Situated in the Horn of Africa, the Afar people other than in Djibouti, have also inhabited parts of Eritrea and Ethiopia. Their huts are made from thin branches curved to the ground to form a tent-like structure which is then covered with locally made materials.

  1. Grande Mosquée d’Iconi — Comoros
Grande Mosquee D’iconi

Like Mauritius and Seychelles, Comoros is also an island nation in the Indian Ocean. Majority of the people practice Sunni Islam, thus you get to find quite some number of mosques in the region.

The Grand Mosques in the aerial view image of Iconi, a small town in the largest island, is the biggest you find built in the 16th century as the seat of Sultanate of Bambao.

  1. Comité Du Tourisme — Mayotte
Comite Du Torisme

Comité Du Tourisme is a tourist office, a visitation center in Mamoudzou, Moyotte. Between the coast of Mozambique and Madagascar is Moyotte, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean. In Mayotte, visitors find marine reserves to enjoy some quiet swimming surrounded by a coral barrier reef.

The island shares similar culture with the inhabitants of Comoros islands, and it’s a department and region of France.

  1. Mua Mission — Malawi
Mua Mission

The White Fathers, a group of missionaries, founded Mua Mission in Malawi in the early 20th Century. Ever since 1976, the mission has been established as a cultural center and has organized and hosted the Kungoni Art including the completion of a museum and a library dedicated for preserving the African heritage of Yao, Chewa, and Ngoni.

It is also a place where young and aspiring wood carvers develop their wood-carving skills, then sell their works in return.

  1. Cathedral of the Holy Cross — Zambia
Cathedral of the Holy Cross

The Cathedral of the Holy Cross of the Anglican Diocese in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia bears a design different from a regular church. It looks like a water tower rather than a conventional church building.

The innovative structure since 1962, has been the holy ground for Sunday services, other weekly activities, and for national prayer events in Zambia.

  1. St. Anne’s Church  — Réunion
St. Anne’s Chruch

Like Moyotte, Réunion is department and region of France in East Africa. The island is home for St. Anne Catholic Church in Saint-Benoît. The district of St. Anne cannot be passed with the church going unnoticed. It is the most notable building in the district.

  1. Eastgate Centre — Zimbabwe
Eastgate Centre

The Eastgate Center came to be after Mick Pearce, a Zimbabwean architect, watched a video of David Frederick Attenborough, a natural historian and broadcaster, walking among termite mounds in northern Nigeria.

Studying how termites mound moderate internal temperature and humidity, Pearce designed the Eastgate Center employing the termite style as a metaphor.

Though the building requires a cooling system powered by a small or moderate amount of electricity via a fan-and-duct-system. Pearce enhanced the cooling system with a natural model to avoid using refrigerant-based air.

By Elijah Christopher,

Elijah Christopher
Elijah Christopher, a journalist at A New Touch Of Africa, is also a creative writer, a poet, and an IoT enthusiast. He contributed to the collaborative poem written in celebration of Edwin Morgan Centenary, the first Glasgow poet laureate and Scottish national poet from the University of Glasgow. He loves meeting people and learning about new places, cultures, events, and lifestyles.
Scroll to Top
X