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The Environmental and Social Cost of International Architectural Design Styles in Africa

The lack of connection with local context often has significant energy, environmental and social implications. Such designs are driven by imitation, which limits social, cultural and conceptual diversity. Imitation in architecture – or “duplitecture” – also goes against the United Nation’s Agenda 2030, which seeks to make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. Buildings that are mostly covered in glass are imported into hot and humid tropical climates even though glass makes the interior very hot and expensive to cool with air-conditioning. The interior temperatures of these buildings are often controlled by air-conditioning units which expel the heat back into the street. Daylight is also cut off by window blinds and so artificial lighting is needed. The cooling requirements are even greater when workers dress in “international style” business outfits. All these elements create a system that is both ecologically and economically unsustainable. To achieve this vision in developing African countries, it may be necessary to revisit current approaches to the built environment. The culture of using foreign architectural styles, regardless of the consequences, comes from the pressures of globalisation and the colonial past of some African countries. But research supports the view that buildings that are more linked to their local environment, climate and culture will be more sustainable for developing African cities.