Featured Image Source: Marvel.Wikia, Under Creative Commons, http://marvel.wikia.com/wiki/Wakanda
The new Black Panther movie put Africa in the spotlight for the first time in superhero movie history. If you’d like to read a review I would recommend The New York Times review. This story will, however, be about the Architecture of Wakanda and its capital Birnin Zana.
*Obviously some spoilers, go watch the movie!*
The most interesting parts of the movie for me was the costume design and the design of the city of Birnin Zana, the capital of Wakanda. It gave a glimpse into how we can design futuristic cities that are still African at heart. It is one of the first movies to show Afro-futurism so clearly and beautifully. The city is not only the most futuristic city in the world with technology that architects and urban planners could only dream of but uses this technology to create a city that respects its tradition and heritage.
The architecture of the buildings in the city were all inspired by architecture found in Africa, new and old. Not only are the buildings reflective of Africa’s heritage but also the street layout and urban planning elements were inspired by African cities and traditions. Some buildings that we see clearly inspired by real African buildings. The first look we get of the city is as T’Challa, Nikia and Okoye are flying into the country to meet the Queen mother. During this scene, we get a sense of the city in all its wonder. The first ‘real world’ building one can see is the main tower of the University of Sankore, Timbuktu. The tower is lit up with large spotlights against its pyramid-esque base. We also see many buildings, including Sankore, covered in wooden pools protruding out horizontally against the facade. This is typical for many West African buildings but is also used in modern architecture like the Rahimtulla Tower in Nairobi.
It was also interesting to see the amount of concrete that is used in many of the buildings. This gives the whole city a brutalist look, something many real African cities have. Many countries gained their independence in the 50’s and 60’s, brutalisms heyday. Therefore many buildings built during this time are built in a brutalist style. Buildings like the Kenyatta International Conference Centre in Nairobi and La Pyramide in Abidjan are good examples. It really makes the city look and feel like a concrete jungle. This city is crisscrossed by hyperloops and trams that carry people from district to district. The city is filled with green areas and small squares.
We also see many round skyscrapers. The most famous round tower in Africa has to be the Ponte City Apartments in Johannesburg. The building was built in 1975 and was one of the most sought-after places in the country. The round towers in Birnin Zana have what is presumably thatched roofing. A technique used in traditional houses of numerous ethnic groups in Africa. The round shape being another clear inspiration for many of the skyscrapers. Many of these towers are furthermore painted in bright colours another design element of many traditional houses and buildings.
The second scene where we get a real sense of the architecture of Wakanda is at street-level. We get a view of a street within the city. This same street is shown a few times throughout the movie, most memorably is near the end of the movie where T’Challa and Nikia kiss. We see a busy market street with some form of tram riding slowly through it. There are many small stalls selling all kinds of fresh produce, bags and the like. The stalls are all covered but open to the street with many people buying and selling goods. This is something one can find in every city and town in Africa. The sandy sidewalks and busy streets with hustle and bustle of people also give a contemporary market feel to the sense. The film did a very good job of translating African life today to a futuristic country like Wakanda. They kept the bright colours, small stalls, haggling and the sense of Africa but also made it futuristic and different from what the continent is.
We see many of the buildings painted in bright colours with geometric shapes. This is clearly inspired by Tiebele village of the Kassena people in Burkina Faso. Thier buildings are covered in geometric shapes and different colours making each building unique and artistic.
The movie has translated contemporary Africa into the future and given architects and urban designers inspiration for the future of cities within the continent. It also articulated some questions the today’s architects and urban planners have and gave some insight as to how one might go about creating cities for the future. How can we create cities for the future without losing the tradition and heritage that connect people across Africa? How can cities bring Africa into the future without expecting its inhabitants to give up their culture? Birnin Zana shows us a future that is not eurocentric but rather full of Afrofuturism. Black Panther has shown Africa in a light not often seen on the big screen. The movie will likely inspire millions of Africans to strive for a better, more fair Africa and for Africa’s architects to create buildings and cities that are not just modern but also African.
Source: Youtube, Ms Afropolitan, Over Mental, WIRED, Inverse, Polygon, The New Yorker, Wikipedia (Afrofuturism), Wikipedia (Brutalist architecture), Wikipedia (Ponte City Apartments), Wikipedia (Rahimtulla Tower), The Daily Dot, IMDb, The Atlantic, Though Co