Tropicality in Francophone African Architecture: Leveraging ideas of Rhythm and Syncopation in Négritude after Independence

Paper presented at CAA Annual Conference: Feb 13, 2021

The French conception of the tropics as a clime inherently intertwined with a primitive or child- like state of being as well as alienation from this perceived natural state of grace is expressed in the work of artists and poets like Charles Baudelaire. Aimé Césaire, one of the founders of the Négritude movement, refigures Baudelaire’s famed black swan as a symbol of blackness itself, distanced from its birthright, longing to reclaim its African past. Institutional architecture built after independence in French West Africa embraced Négritude’s ambitions, seeking to represent an an imagined, ideal black past projected over the framework of a modern, black future—a future of global inclusion and economic equipoise between new black nations and the post-colonial West. Throughout the 1960s and ‘70s, a group of French architects collaborated with African intellectuals to build an image of black modernity using ornament, rhythmic composition, spatial syncopation and Corbusian modernism as a demonstration of a unified, Pan-African cultural reinvention. Using case studies from Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, and Senegal, this paper will focus on the work of the Bureau des Études d’Henri Chomette in collaborations with Négritude thinkers, including the president of Senegal, Léopold Sédar Senghor, who along with Césaire is the other major founder of the Négritude movement, to articulate “Africanity” as an amalgam of tropicality and modernity in a francophone context.