It seems only fair that Africa’s rich cultures and growing population (predicted to reach 1.4 billion by 2025) finally take the stage, but it’s crucially important that Africa’s future development is done right. Subject to colonialism for centuries, development in the past was characterised by systems that were designed for the benefit of the colonists.

A growth in native practices and a more sensible, sensitive approach from foreign organisations has led to the rise of architectural groups creating buildings which learn from and improve Africa. Combining local solutions with the most appropriate Western ideas, for the first time these new developments break down the perception of monolithic Africa and have begun engaging with individual cultures; using elements of non-local architecture when they improve a development rather than creating a pastiche of an imagined pan-African culture. Alongside this, there has been a distinct shift, in recent years towards social responsibility. As consumers worldwide, are questioning where and how products are produced and their own responsibility in enabling socially unjust or environmentally destructive organisations.

We all have heard about the social consequences of architecture and about architects having a responsibility to the community when they create a piece of architecture. But is there a social responsibility that extends beyond their practice? And what exactly is social responsibility, why does it matter and who does it affect?

Social responsibility is something that can apply to both an individual and an organisation, indicating an obligation to society and the environment to act for their benefit. It reflects a sensitivity towards social, cultural and environmental issues and in doing so aims to have a positive impact choosing to do something or buy a product that is inline with your ethical ideals. Abstaining from a product or service that, you know is detrimental to society or the environment or opting for a lifestyle that enhances that of others and the environment.

The social responsibility of architects lies in part in believing that architecture can create better places, that architecture can affect society, and that it can even have a role in making a place civilized by making a community more livable. As a social catalyst, architecture plays a significant role in improving the wellbeing of communities by being involved with nonprofit organizations.

By raising public awareness of critical social and environmental issues. An architectural education facilitates the development of critical thinking abilities, which can be applied to solving problems and addressing situations beyond design. The social responsibility is not limited to needs related to the built environment or environmental issues. Developing critical thinking abilities can also be valuable in designing an organisation or setting strategic goals and implementation plans.

Manufacturing locally sourced materials to supply the industry is another way to severely reduce the environmental impact, while at the same time creating enough housing for an ever-growing population and its business needs. It is a way of reconnecting people with their natural environment and working in harmony, rather than competing against it.

The success of African architecture all depends on; what we do to address where the development of Africa’s cities are heading, Cities are going to be stretched to their limits until we end up with human-produced disasters and epidemics. It all depends on what we are going to do about it now.

Renata Dickson-Nwosu

Interior Architect