In an era that is luring African cities toward a global constellation of mega-cities, the urbanization of traditional aspects of society, such as the marketplace, provide an identity to local commerce not found in many contemporary urban developments. Often obscure and unnoticed, the architecture that houses large central markets plays an undeniable role in the function and urban organization of today’s city.
In the decades following their independence, undergoing rapid urban development, numerous African cities of emerging regional importance constructed central market buildings. The research presented here focuses on such projects in Accra (Ghana), Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), Lusaka (Zambia) and Dar es Salaam (Tanzania). As part of a larger urban condition, these buildings leave an indelible mark on the social organization of the space within them, at their perimeter, and in the urban context surrounding them. As vessels for the continuation of traditional practices in the context of modern cities, markets such as these produce some of the most vibrant, complex and identifiable spaces in the African city.
In direct contrast to the top-down planning procedures, real estate development, and mega-structures found in many so-called ‘highly developed’ cities, these areas are shaping their own urban form through the practices of daily life, from the bottom up. They are spaces in which a relatively unstructured economy meets an intense modernity, but one does not hinder the other. Rather, they co-exist, creating a unique form of urbanism that –whatever its faults – is formed and developed largely by its participants. In this regard, they represent a more promising future for the urbanizing world than is often considered: a future which ensures that the city is not beyond control of its inhabitants, that time-honoured social networks need not be trammelled by modernity, and that development acts in support of local culture.