More than half a century ago, G. Anthony Atkinson, the Colonial Liaison Officer at the Building Research Station of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research in British Tropical Africa, noted one deficiency in the literature on life in Africa. The deficiency had to do with the lack of attention to African housing strategies. The absence of housing in this literature, Atkinson (1950: 228) remarked, ‘is astonishing when one considers that shelter is one of man’s basic needs, and its provision, through the art of building, one of his most important activities.’ He went on to argue that,
Since Atkinson lamented the tendency to ignore African housing, architecture and spatial organization strategies in the relevant literature, a few works attempting to address this shortcoming have appeared (see e.g., Ojo, 1966; Lebeuf, 1967; Oliver, 1971; Prussin, 1974, 1999; Denyer, 1978; Schwerdtfeger, 1982; Falade, 1990). However, these works tend to be generally weak on two important fronts. First, they are generally descriptive. Second, they fail to determine the implications of traditional and customary practices for development efforts in Africa. Thus, many gaps exist with respect to our knowledge of the implications of traditional and customary practices in the housing sector on development. This chapter seeks, amongst other things, to contribute to efforts aimed at bridging these gaps. I begin by painting a vivid picture of African traditional architecture, building techniques, housing strategies, and spatial structures. In the process, I discuss the colonial policies and other measures that sought to replace customary practices in the human settlement development domain with Western or so-called modern varieties. Finally, and before concluding the chapter, I identify and discuss the implications for contemporary development initiatives in Africa of efforts to supplant African traditional and customary building and environmental design techniques and strategies with modern substitutes.