|Emir's Palace Kano. Image: ⓒ Hauwa Mahmoud|
Hausa architecture, as dictated by culture, is traditionally designed to be inward-looking in order to maximize privacy. Residential architecture is characterized by high walls with openings few and small, large courtyards, and entrance porches meant to welcome but keep out strange male visitors from the inner private quarters. These features usually have the double function of ensuring privacy, which is an important consideration in Hausa architecture. They also aid temperature regulation which is vital in the hot and arid regions of the West African Sahel where the Hausas are predominantly located.
|Plan and layout of Emir's Palace, Kano Dmochowski 1990|
The layout of a traditional Hausa residence rarely takes a defined shape. This flexibility allows for expansion as needed as most households tend to be polygamous. However, there are certain features that are consistent in any layout no matter how big or small. These include “zaure” or "soro" and courtyard.
|Sketch showing a typical facade featuring a domed roof. Source: A.A Bena, 2012|
While flat roofs are considered typical of Hausa architecture, domed roofs are also common in areas that receive higher amounts of rainfall.
The form of Hausa architecture is characterized by the presence of "zankwaye" (pinnacles) at the corners of the roof. According to some sources, these zankwaye were initially erected as scaffolding to aid builders to climb onto the roof during construction but were then left afterward as decoration. They have, however, become such an identifying element that without them, a building is considered a “bull without horns”
MATERIALS & CONSTRUCTION
Processing of tubali and azara. Images from Dmochowski 1990
In Hausa architecture, about 70% of the materials used are made from mud or dug up earth. The earth is processed, based on its source and quality and molded into conical building blocks called “tubali”.
Other building materials are sourced from plants such as grass, and timber sourced from palm trees called “azara”.
Stages in construction of a domed roof using azara
AESTHETICS AND ORNAMENTATION
Palatial and residential architecture is adorned with intricate and colorful engravings of abstract geometric patterns and calligraphy. This is often a symbol of status and wealth because the more ornate, the more expensive it is, but it is also a form of expression used by all.
Images: ⓒ Hauwa Mahmoud
Intricate ornamentation as seen on the exterior and interior walls of the palace in Kano
In contemporary Hausa architecture, the most well-retained features have been mainly the aesthetics, most other elements have been "modernized" so to say. But I think there are a lot of lessons to be learned from traditional techniques that can be applied in contemporary architecture to create a built environment much better suited to our context and environment.