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Traditional African Homes Inspire Modern Architecture

Traditional African Homes Inspire Modern Architecture

Civil Engineer Guy-Noël Gnayoro partnered with Architect Price Njanda to form Tamberma, a company inspired by traditional African home designs to make modern African architecture.

Their clients are Africans in the diaspora who have been successful abroad and want to invest in their home countries or build second homes there.

Many clients are seeking, in their new homes, to address unresolved identity issues, the partners said in an interview with AFKInsider. They have questions that Gnayoro and Njanda themselves have to deal with as Africans in the diaspora.

Gnayoro is from Ivory Coast and lives in Paris. Njanda comes from Cameroon and works in Brussels.

“Our challenge is going back to the roots, back to traditional African architecture and bringing something with the same comforts as the country where they live, and at the same time, an African feel,” Njanda said.

Tamberma houses are built to European standards but are Africa-inspired. The company name, Tamberma, comes from by the Batammariba people, also known as Tamberma, and their fascinating dwellings found in Northern Togo and Benin.

One of Togo’s most alluring destinations and the hardest to get to, according to tourism-related descriptions, is the hilly and sparsely populated north known as Tamberma Valley. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site. The local Batammariba people build tower houses of mud and straw, which arguably have become the Togolese national symbol. “It’s a surreal dreamland of a place, and easily a highlight of a trip to Togo,” according to one description.


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Tamberma has 20 concept houses that you can see at their website. The company customizes the designs as clients demand.

They are designs based on traditional architecture mainly from Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Burkina Faso and Senegal.

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Nodoba design

The Nodoba house design reflects the way the Batammariba people are connected with their ancestors. They live in permanent contact with God (heaven) and Earth, the partners said.

“The challenge we faced with this house was to imagine a superimposition of space — the basement, ground floor, upper floor — traversed by the light,” Njanda said. “From the basement, you can see the sky.” Walkways provide visitors a unique feeling of space and light in the home.

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Helida Syndey design

Another Tamberma design, the Helida Syndey, was inspired by the Dioula-speaking people of Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire and Mali. “From the beginning, they’ve been building houses in sync with the environment,” Njanda said. “The roof allows wind to pass through. The house is very well ventilated.

“The house is made so they can collect rainwater and use it to prepare food. All these are very good ideas and we needed a way to express the genius of these people who hadn’t had the opportunities like us to learn the (modern) science of construction. They had skills by observing and succeeded to build houses of such quality. We went ahead with the same shape, but instead of collecting rainwater we put in a small pool for swimming. But if the clients want to harvest rainwater they can.”

Gnayoro and Njanda consider their market to be the 7 million Africans in the diaspora living in Europe and North America. Together, they transferred $40 billion in 2008, according to Banque Mondiale, and 20 percent of that money ($8-billion) was dedicated to real estate.

“The idea is we want to help people link with Africa,” Njanda said.

Homes that tell stories

As the partners grew their clientele, they said they were surprised to learn that African people were interested in homes from African cultures other than their own.

“We thought native Cameroonians would be interested in Cameroonian designs and Togo people in Togo designs,” Gnayoro said. “People are interested in African designs. We’re speaking to the integration of Africans.”

More than wanting to live in a home that reflects their own culture, clients say they are interested in the story of the country. “They ask questions about the story of the design and that helps them with the choice,” Njanda said. “Then once people receive visitors in the house, they can tell visitors that the house has a story. People are buying a house with a story.”

Pazeko design

Pazeko is a villa with a mezzanine designed around the theme of three squares — one for daytime space, one for nighttime space and one for the transition space between the two. The layout is influenced by the Bamiléké people of Cameroon. The roofs are conical. “It was easy for me to design this house because I’m a Bamiléké guy,” Njanda said.

In addition to designing and customizing the houses, Tamberma helps clients get financing, connects investors with landowners and acts as project manager, helping clients build the houses through a network of professionals and contractors on the ground in Africa.

In Africa, that doesn’t always go smoothly.

Many landowners in Africa consider the land sacred and prefer to hold onto theirs, even if they have no money. “People aren’t used to selling it,”  Njanda said. “They’re staring to…and the experience hasn’t been a good one once the money is spent and then they have no land and no money.”

Families in Africa often come into conflict over land and selling it, the partners say. Often, they’ll split the land into smaller lots until it is impossible to split it anymore and that’s when the conflict begins.

But Gnayoro said he and Njanda noticed in their many trips since 2011 to West and Central Africa that there are people with land who lack the means to develop it. “We’re trying to connect landowners with investors with a view to developing land for residential and commercial (use.) We’re testing the idea in Cameroon and Cote d’Ivoire,”  Gnayoro said.