African architecture is not a subject many of us are familiar with, but on my visit to Munich just before Christmas I had a look round the ‘Afritecture’ exhibition at the Pinakothek der Moderne (Modern Art Museum) to see how an art museum exhibited architecture. The exhibition showcases 28 of the most innovative projects from sub-Saharan Africa, community projects such as schools and medical centres that were designed in collaboration with mostly European based architects.
As you enter the exhibition space you are handed a brown paper carrier bag for your shoes, so I was sitting on a cardboard covered wall taking off my shoes wishing I had worn nicer socks and worrying whether my feet would smell from all the walking I’d been doing. The reason you have to walk around in your socks is because Afritecture has a raised cardboard floor, with information about each architectural project on the floor, as well as the usual wall panels too.
It was very strange walking on the exhibition, it was an innovative use of space to utilise the floor and then have cardboard models of the projects on the other side so people didn’t fall off the edge of the raised cardboard! But it was a little annoying visiting on 1 euro Sunday when the exhibition was busy as people kept walking over the panels I was trying to read! I was fascinated by the architectural plans, and it was interesting to compare the plans with photographs of the finished project. Every case study had a video screen with headphones so you could listen to people from the local community speaking about how the building had changed their lives. The architectural models of the buildings were included in the exhibition, for Afritecture these were the ‘objects’, although I was told off by a very strict room attendant for looking too closely, just for the record I wasn’t actually touching! Yellow stickers were given to visitors to place on the panels of projects they thought were innovative, but when I asked for some I was told they were reserved for people on the exhibition tours. I thought that was a bit unfair because there are no tours on 1 euro Sundays and all the tours seemed to be in German, fine for me but a little bit confusing for my husband, who only speaks English. Each project had information, plans and photos, with comments & stickers added by visitors
The exhibition panels were in English as well as German, which was a nice touch as we were expecting to have to use audio-guides. I was a bit disappointed that there were no activities at the end of the exhibition, there was a whole room dedicated to books for further reading, whereas it would have been interesting to see people being asked to design their own community building. Afritecture was very aesthetically pleasing, the cardboard flooring design was innovative, although a little impractical in the middle of a snowy December day, and the layout worked well as the photographs and models allowed me to visualise the finished project from the architectural plans. It was great that there were seats, customised in a cardboard cover, next to the videos, and headphones so there wasn’t sound interference from one video to another. Afritecture was a great exhibition for adults interested in Africa and modern architecture, and made a complex subject interesting and easy to understand. It was a shame it wasn’t suitable for younger children who couldn’t read the panels or video subtitles, if there had been an interactive activity to build your own model from blocks or draw a building then this would have helped children think about how and why buildings look different from each other.