Sunday, September 10, 2017

The African Influence on Western Architecture

The African Influence on Western Architecture

By Brother Yohance Bediako (And Brother Nkosi Diop)

African Design Principles

Image result for egyptian images

By Brother Yohance Bediako
Brother Yohance have been working in the field of Architecture for 20 years and have developed over the years a diverse back ground and set of skills. He completed his education in architecture at Tuskegee University. Brother Yohance has studied many books written about African culture and traveled to many countries in Africa looking at and studying indigenous architecture. Brother Yohance has had the opportunity at a very young age to have relationships with some of the most dynamic African scholars in the country . Scholars such as Dr. Yosef Ben-Jochannan, Dr. John H Clarke, Dr. Jacob Carruthers, Dr. George Simmons, these are just a few of the scholars that brother Yohance was exposed to and had a relationship with at a very young age. It is from his relationship with these scholars that brother Yohance submersed himself into the studying of African architecture and African culture. Over the years brother Yohance has worked on a variety of projects that range from single family homes, institutional buildings to commercial buildings. But one of brother Yohance's biggest accomplishment is his Non-profit organization, Imhotep Architectural Youth Society.  Imhotep Architectural Youth Society is an organization that provides guidance and advice to African American youth about life decisions and also train them in the field of architecture. Brother Yohance also has an article about African cultures contribution to western architecture that has been published in The SAGE Encyclopedia of African Cultural Heritage in North America.
Note: Brother Yohance is a guest scholar writer and researcher on our Keeping It Real Blog. This posting is an abbreviated version of Brother Yohance research in which his original submission included graphs and photographic documentation that brings his work to greater LIGHT. Brother Yohance is also a Prince Hall Mason and he has a lot to offer our Craft.  I hope to one day soon may be present this same article as PDF to include the pictorial exhibits.

If we look at the Architect throughout history we will see that the Architect holds a very unique position in the society. The Architect is responsible for translating the values, ideas and culture of a society into physical reality through its special forms. This means that the Architect must have an understanding about every aspect of the society. The Architect cannot design a Temple or a Shrine for a deity unless He/She has an understanding about the spiritual and cosmological relationship of the society. The Architect cannot design a home unless He/She has an understanding of the day to day lives of the people in the society. The Architect cannot understand how to plan the arrangements and layout of the village unless He/She has a deep understanding of the cultural ways of the people
themselves. So the Architect must have His/Her finger on the very pulse of the society. The Architect must continue to develop and grow with the knowledge of the society, as the society evolves so should the Architect. 

The field of Architecture is one of the major areas of research for archeologist when studying ancient civilizations. It is through the Architecture of the ancient civilization that the archeologist comes to understand the life style of the ancient societies. Therefore Architecture intrinsically embodies the culture of the people.   


Culture is the product of the collective history of a people that is being constantly informed by forces of the seen and unseen; the collective personality of a people, including their unique cosmology, language, institutions, creative expressions, etc. It is the totality of values, beliefs, and actions that characterize a people. Culture consists of the behavioral patterns, symbols, institutions, and values of a society, and is unique to that society. It is the spiritual, ideational, and material composite that distinguishes one society from another. It shapes and is, in turn, shaped by events in the realm of the spiritual, ideational and the material. All inquiry and solution, truth and beauty, tradition and purity, meaning and reality are culturally relative. There are no culture-free or values-free human endeavors. Culture is not a static phenomenon. It continually evolves as a society evolves and develops. It is that composite of socially and historically determined behaviors that nourishes and thereby defines the intellectual and spiritual parameters within which the human individual develops and exists. As people evolve throughout history, they invariably organize their experiences and their reflections and elaborations on their experiences into various domains of knowledge. Those domains are necessarily linked to the historical nucleus of the culture, and are a consequence of that historical dynamic. Those domains include philosophy, morality, spirituality, ethics, politics, ideology, aesthetics, science, law and others. The several domains and the particular disciplines of knowledge serve as the fixed institutional foundations of the nation. It this case, the domain is architecture.


Cosmology is a system of thought arising out of a people’s history and culture that addresses issues of reality and creation, truth and value, meaning, process, and that people’s place within creation. It is the component of worldview that refers to the structure of reality from a particular racial-cultural perspective and/or experience. Also, it is the study of the origins and structure of the universe. Every culture has their own cosmology that relates to their understanding and explanation of how the universe works and interacts. As we shall address later, cosmology is embedded in architecture traditional African architecture.


Context is the visual relationship to the surrounding.  Spatial context can be any of the following: 1) the a specific building seen in the context of other buildings; 2) a specific building seen in the context of the surrounding landscape; 3) a specific element of the building seen in the context of all the other elements of the building; 4) the relationship between a building’s exterior and interior. Contextualism is the “fitting-in” of a building with surrounding buildings so that it is in harmony with them, especially in terms of scale, form, mass, and color. Contextual elements are history, local site, cultural past, continuity, material, culture, climate, environment, size, appearance, location and form, topography, society's ideas, its form of economic and social organization, its distribution of resources, authorities and beliefs, values. In the case of traditional African architecture, context relates to the physical environment, the available materials used for construction, amongst other criterion.


Architecture is the art and science of design and building structures. It is both the process and product of planning, designing and construction of physical structures. Architectural tradition is a set of architectural practices inherited from one generation and passed down to another. These practices may include methods of construction, patterns of architectural design, using particular building materials for certain cultural or religious purposes, amongst other possibilities. Adapting innovative methods of architecture are incorporated within the development of the architectural tradition.

The Western world has always been influenced by African culture. One of the major African cultures that influenced the Western world is ancient Egypt(Kemet) Nile valley high culture. The major domain of African culture that influenced Western culture is architecture. One of the most influential and enlightening concepts of African architecture that Western society learned from their first ancient educational experience in the African Nile Valley is that of Sacred Geometry and the natural ratio that appears in the growth patterns of nature. The Western society calls this number the Golden Ratio or the Golden Section and is represented with the Greek letter Phi. The Golden Ratio was used in ancient Greece and Rome. The knowledge of the Golden Ratio traveled from ancient Greece and Rome to other parts of Europe and throughout time to this very day. The Africans of the Nile valley used this special proportion in developing many of the sciences that were taught in the Nile valley. One of those sciences is Geometry. The African Nile Valley High culture was not only the first civilization to discover the Sacred Geometry and this universal ratio but, to them these concepts had spiritual power and significance. The ratio was not just a number but a symbol of the creative function, the reproductive power of the male, the fire of life.1(Secrets of The Great Pyramid, Peter Tompkins)  In the ancient African Nile valley culture Sacred Geometry and the Golden Ratio was incorporated and hidden in their iconography and architecture.
What is the Golden Ratio? The golden ratio is obtained when anything is divided in the following example; let’s take a line that is divided into two parts A and B in such a way that part A(The larger part) divided by part B(The smaller part) is equal to parts A+B divided by A. When this is done the ratio of the parts equals 1.618 which is the universal building block of the cosmos. (See figure 1)This ill rational number can continue on to infinity.  Because of its regenerative character the Golden Ratio mainly, but not only, has a spiral appearance, this spiral is found in all parts of the natural world, such as the spiral of a snails shell, the spiral of the horns of a ram, the spiral of a tornado, the spiral of the pedals of a pinecone and the spiral of the galaxy itself.

In the ancient Nile valley the Golden Ratio was expressed in many deferent geometric shapes, like squares, circles, triangles and rectangles. The Golden Ratio and sacred Geometry would be hidden into their iconography. One of the images in the African Nile valley culture is the Neter(Divine Spirit) Min, which is represented as a mummy with an erect phallus, but his phallus is located in the position of his navel. The location of Min’s phallus divides his body into the Golden Ratio.2 (The Temple In Man, R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz) This is also true about the human body, that the navel is the point which divides the human body into the Golden Ratio proportion.(Figure 3a) This knowledge was well known by the Africans of the Nile valley and it was expressed in the Neter(Divine Spirit) Min. In the temple of Ramses IV is the same image of the Neter(Divine Spirit) Min with his whole body leaning at a 3 4 5 right triangle and incorporating the same Golden Ratio proportions.3 (The Egyptian Miracle, R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz, figure 3b) The ancient Africans of the Nile valley had a very deep understanding of this Ratio and it’s significance in nature and with the human body. In addition, in the building of the temples and the pyramids and Tekenu(Obelisk) of the African Nile Valley culture was the incorporation of the value of the Golden Ratio and the number Pi. The entrance to the temple of Auset(Isis)(Figure 4a), according to Schwaller de Lubicz, the Africans of the Nile valley constructed the entrance to the temple by using the Golden Ratio and Pi. In the construction of the entrances the architects started with a 1 to 2 proportion. In figure 4b de Lubicz shows how the different part of the entrance proportionately incorporates the Golden Ratio and Pi.
The Great Pyramid of the African Nile valley(Figure 5a), which is the most recognized and impressive structure in history, also has the Golden Ratio and sacred geometry hidden in its construction. The ancient Africans of the Nile valley believed in the sacred balance of proportion and harmony. The first aspect of sacred geometry that the ancient African architects hid in the Great Pyramid was the Golden Ratio or  Phi. The Great Pyramid was constructed in such a way that if you divide the base of the Great Pyramid in half, than take that half and divide it by the length of the face of the Great Pyramid you would get 1.618 the Golden Ratio and that relationship would automatically make the height of the Pyramid equal to the square root of the length of the face of the Great Pyramid.
The Great Pyramid also solves one of the most ancient sacred geometry issues and that is the squaring of the circle. The Great Pyramid base is a square whose perimeter is equal to the circumference of a circle whose radius is the height of the Great Pyramid.  So through science of sacred geometry the ancient Africans of the Nile valley was able to tie together three geometric shapes that work together in harmony, a triangle, a square and a circle, it squares the circle (Figure 6a). The Greeks would much later after the Africans of the Nile valley had already solved the issue, represent this geometric harmony by placing an image of a man inside a square and a circle.

The Greek civilization also used the Golden Ratio in the building of their temples as shown here in the Parthenon see figure 7.

There are many buildings in Washington DC that use this same proportions and ratio.

One of the popular twentieth century architects Le Corbusier, explicitly used the Golden ratio in a modulor scaling system for architecture proportions. Le Corbusier based this system on the human measurements. He then incorporated these proportions in his architecture.

Ancient Kemet’s Influence on Greek Architecture

Ancient Kemet’s architecture that remains today is breathtaking, monumental in scale and recognizable. It had a particular character that permeated the physical appearance. Distinguishing features marked each design which subscribed to the Kemetic architectural tradition. It also had a noticeable influence on many aspects of Western architecture. It heavily influenced Greek architecture in a multitude of ways. Columns; the colonnade; stylobates; trabeation; post [column] and lintel [beam] construction; the entablature with an architrave frieze and cornice; arches; and the use of stone as a building material are all aspects of construction that are renown throughout architectural history that were first used as  methods of construction along the Nile Valley in Ancient Kemet.

Western culture’s classic civilizations are Ancient Greece and Rome. They are the foundation of Western culture. Their influence on all aspects of Western civilization, including architecture, is abundant. Greek architecture has a definitive architectural vocabulary that continues to have a profound effect on present day Western architecture. Ancient Kemet was the origin of many architectural methods of construction and aesthetics that are commonly overlooked today.


A column is a relatively long, slender vertical structural member. Throughout history, columns have been integral in the construction process.  In Ancient Kemet, columns served as structural and aesthetic 1elements. There are over 30 types of Kemetic column forms that all vary in appearance, size and style. In most cases, the columns had a base, shaft and capital (the top most structural member of the column). Stylobates (a raised platforms supporting a colonnade) were used to reinforce the foundation of columns. Their influence on the Greek Orders is visibly apparent in several of the types.
Kemetic Proto-Doric or Fluted Column Influence on the Greek Doric Order

The Step Pyramid complex of Third Dynasty Pharaoh Djoser (ca. 2667 to 2648 BC) has the Proto-Doric or Fluted Column type with abacus (the uppermost member of the capital of a column), convex shaft and base. [see figures 11,12] It predates the Greek Doric Order. [see figures 13,14] Each type has fluted shafts. Although the Proto-Doric column sits on a base, the typical Greek Doric Order does not.
The Step Pyramid complex (ca. 2667 to 2648 BC) with abacus, fluted shaft and base.

Kemetic Volute Column Influence on the Greek Ionic Order

The Greek Ionic Order derives from Kemetic lotus flower used throughout Ancient Kemetic architecture. The volute (a spiral scroll) style developed through the cultural transmission between Kemet and the Ionian people of Greece. Ancient Kemet developed strong precedent for artistic influence and a historical and cultural context ideal for the transmission of artistic and architectural notions. As Ionians began to colonize portions of the Delta region of Anicent Kemet, significant innovations in Ionian temple architecture of this period began to greatly resemble long established and commonly implemented elements of the Kemetic architectural tradition. [See figures 15,16,17,18,19,20]
Volute Column

Karnak Temple Complex at Karnak, Egypt (3200 BC)

Kemetic Palmiform and Composite Column Influence on the Greek Corithian Order
The Greek Corinthian Order resembles the Palmiform and Composite capitals of Ancient Kemet.  The ornamentation depicted in the capitals of both derived from nature. Mostly notably, inspiration was drawn from the lotus and papyrus of the Nile Valley and acanthus leaves of Ancient Greece. The idea of using the locale vegetation as a decrative column ornimentation was taught to the Greeks by the African architects of the Nile valley.  [See Figures 21,22,23,24]
Composite Column

Temple of Auset, Philae, Egypt (380–362 BC)
The three orders of Ancient Greece columns (Doric, Ionic and Corinthian) were concepts based upon balance and proportion.  And as stated previously were concepts inspired by what the Greeks learned in the Nile valley. These architectural conventions influenced subsequent civilizations such as ancient Rome and Renaissance architecture.  They are archetypes of Western architectural beauty.  Ancient structures like the Parthenon [see figure 25] have influenced countless buildings within the Western hemisphere - specifically civic buildings. The White House (Ionic columns) [see figure 26], the US Supreme Court (Ionic columns) [see figure 27], the Lincoln Monument (Doric columns) [see figure28] and the US Capitol Building (Ionic columns) [see figure 29] are all in Washington, D.C.  Each edifice was inspired by the ancient Greeks who were inspired by the ancient Nile valley African people.
The Parthenon

A colonnade is a number of columns arranged in order, in intervals called intercolumniation, supporting an entablature and, usually, one side of a roof. In Ancient Kemet, the colonnade accompanied post and beam construction. [See figures 30,31,32] They were constructed throughout the dynastic era.

 Mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, Luxor, Egypt (1490-1460 BC)
Post and Beam Construction
The post and beam method of construction was practiced by the Greeks and is still used throughout the world today. But It was first achieved in monumental fashion throughout the Nile Valley. In the figures shown, post [column] and beam [entablature] construction, and the abacus that sits on top of the capital are demonstrated. [See figures 33,34] The lotus or papyrus capital columns carry the weight of the architrave above. This is the precedence of the Ancient Greek post [column] and beam [entablature] method of construction where the column carries the weight of the beam [entablature] which, in turn, transfers the weight of roof above.

Entablature with Architrave, Frieze and Cornice

The Ancient Greek entablature was an elaborate horizontal band and molding supported by columns. It was horizontally divided into three basic elements: architrave (the lowest member), frieze (the middle member), and cornice (the uppermost member). During the dynastic period of Ancient Kemet, the architrave was decorated with mdw ntr [hieroglyphs]. Its use predates that of the Greeks. A curved cornice often rested above the architrave as a decorative feature.


A clerestory is an upper zone of a wall pierced with windows that emit light to the center of a room. They were first used in Ancient Kemet. Specifically, at the Temple of Amon at Karnak, clerestories permit light inside the Hypostyle Hall. It was later used as a design feature during the later period of Ancient Greece and in some Roman basilicas of justice. Its use is well known in Romanesque and Gothic cathedral architecture. Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France is an example of the use of clerestories in Gothic period architecture. They are flanked by flying buttresses (a specific form of buttressing in which an architectural structure is built against or is projecting from a wall which serves to support or reinforce the wall) at the exterior of the building. Clerestories are still regularly used in Western architecture in different design capacities and applications. The term now refers to any row of windows above eye level that allow light to penetrate a space.
Mount Rushmore and the Lincoln Memorial
The rock cut Temple of Ramses II was carved into the side of a mountain from massive blocks of sandstone up thirty tons each. This was a literal display of using the site context as the material for the construction of the temple. The faces of Presidents George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt carved into Mount Rushmore near Keystone, South Dakota is an example of the Temple of Ramses II’s influence on Western architecture. Additionally, the statue of Abraham Lincoln sitting at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC is a direct parallel to that of the massive replicas of Ramses II sitting at the entrance of the Temple of Ramses II at Abu Simbel. These type of African influances on western society are very seldom talked about.

The next group of African people that was a very strong influence on Western society was the Moors of North Africa. The Moors entered Europe in the early 700s AD by way of the invasion and Domination of Spain and some parts of Italy, France and southern Europe. The Moors became an extremely influential force and occupied southern Europe for over 700 years. The Moors reestablished the intellectual development and new construction methods in the early European societies, which sparked the renaissance movement of the medieval period. The Moors built the first stone masonry structures and became one of the main master craftsmen in the construction of European castles and cathedrals. The first universities and educational institutions of western society was established by the Moors. One of those early castles built by the Moors was Castillo DeAmenar in Spain.
Africa’s Influence On Modern Society

In today’s society you can see the influence of Africa in many buildings and places in the United States and around the world. The Buildings and places very from national monuments to institutional buildings to private and commercial structures.  The African influences in these structures are very clear as can be seen in the following images.
Further Readings
Armstrong, W., Chipiez (translator), C. Perrot, G. (1883). An ancient history of art in ancient Egypt 2 Volumes. New York: A.C. Armstrong and Son.
Badawy, A. (1965). Ancient Egyptian architectural design: A study of harmonic system. Berkley, CA: University of California Press.
Badawy, A. (1966). Architecture in ancient Egypt and the Near East. Cambridge, MA: The M.I.T. Press.
Basire, J. (1789). The rudiments of ancient architecture, in two parts, vol. 1 of 2. London: I. And J. Taylor's Architectural Library.
Browder, A. T. (1992). Nile Valley contributions to civilization: Exploding the myths (Vol. 1). Washington, DC: The Institute of Karmic Guidance.
Clarke, S., & Englebach, R. (1990). Ancient Egyptian construction and architecture. New York: Dover Publications.
Edwards, A. (1891). Egypt the Birthplace of Greek Decorative Art. Pharoahs fellahs and explorers (pp. 158-192). New York: Harper & Brothers.
Goodyear, W.H. (1887). The Egyptian Origin of the Ionic Capital and of the Anthemion. The American Journal of Archaeology and of the History of the Fine Arts, 3, 271-302.
Gwilt, J. (1982). The encyclopedia of architecture. New York: Random House Publishing.
Harris, C. (Ed.) (2000). Dictionary of architecture & construction. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Kostof, S. (1995). A history of architecture: Settings and rituals. New York: Oxford University Press.
Livingston, L (2000, December 12). Egyptian influence on Ionic temple architecture. Retrieved February 18, 2014 from
Lloyd, S., Muller. H., Martin, R. (1974). Ancient architecture: Mesopotamia, Egypt, Crete, Greece. New York: Harry N. Abrams.
Lockyer, N. (1894). The dawn of astronomy. London: Cassell and Company Limited.
Riley, J. (1996, May). A paradigm for Kemetic architectural design: The beginnings of a Kemetic architectural design language. Retrieved December 9, 2013 from
Schwaller de Lubicz, R. A. (1977). The temple in man: The secrets of ancient Egypt. Brookline, MA: Autumn Press.
Schwaller de Lubicz, R.A. (1985). The Egyptian miracle.  Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions.
Smith, E. B. (1938). Egyptian architecture as a cultural expression. New York: D. Appleton-Century Co., Inc.
Smith, W. S. (1958). The art and architecture of ancient Egypt. New York: Penguin Books Ltd.
Tompkins, P. (1972). Secrets of the Great Pyramid.  New York: HarperCollins.
Van Sertima, I. (1986). Golden age of the Moor. New Brunswick: Transaction Press.
Vignoloa, A. (Ed.) (1891). The five orders of architecture. New York: Wm. T. Comstock.
Wilkinson, J. (1850). The architecture of ancient Egypt. London: Murray, J.









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