Afrofuturism is a movement in literature, music, art and fashion featuring futuristic or science fiction themes which incorporate elements of Black history and culture. It is an inspiration for the Acer House design.

By Donald King


What is Afro-Futurism?

Afrofuturism is a movement in literature, music, art and fashion featuring futuristic or science fiction themes which incorporate elements of Black history and culture: Afrofuturism has drawn adherents from across the whole spectrum of the arts. Afrofuturism, as applied to architecture, is a form, color and material design expression at the intersection of traditional aesthetics of the African diaspora and modernism. The term “Afrofuturism” was coined by Mark Dery in 1993 but was predated in the spirit of enslaved Africans and the lives of their descendants. The first Afrofuturists envisioned a society free from the bondages of oppression – both physical and social.

Afrofuturist design is not likened to be nominal like “Modernism”, Afrofuturism is the larger movement in which architecture participates. In its programming and narrative, rather than simply in form or ornament, Afrofuturist architectural works contribute to the shift of a projected future. Afrofuturist architecture has the power to revitalize Black communities and their view of the future. It also has the power to change Western perceptions of Black presence in the projected future. Afrofuturism can be defined as a broader, more inclusive vision for both local and global futures.

The aesthetic embodies an optimistic and exultant spirit. It is the antithesis of the strict minimization and the efficiency of modernism. It’s expression is beyond appliqués and murals. It is representative of Black culture in how spaces are organized with relationships to nature, socialization and a shared value of community. The Afrofuturist aesthetic is replete with its own precedents of form-giving inspiration, color palate and materiality.

The Afrofuturist architecture featured in hit movie Black Panther was inspired by Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid. According to production designer Hannah Beachler, she visited buildings by the late architect while researching for the film. “That’s what I wanted people to feel for the modern architecture in Black Panther,” she said. The film has triggered renewed interest in Afrofuturism.

The work of contemporary Burkina Faso architect, Francis Kéré, as the designer of last year’s Serpentine Pavilion, demonstrates how traditional building methods and materials can be combined with high-tech engineering. Kunlé Adeyemi, a Nigerian architect, founded his own studio NLÉ in 2010. Shortly after, he made a big impression with his design for a floating school, designed to facilitate education in African regions that, due to flooding, have little permanent infrastructure. He is also now working on plans to build a school in Tanzania that combines regional traditions with contemporary learning.

Rwandan architect Christian Benimana runs the office of Mass Design Group, a research- focused architecture studio that frequently teams up with local governments and NGOs on socially driven projects. He is also the director of the African Design Center, an organization that is championing the next generation of designers from the continent.

Acer House and Afro-Futurism

The Acer House is structure consisting of an assembly of three sibling groupings – the brothers Chad, Jake and Zag area members of the same family, yet have slightly different personalities. Each major mass of the structure is represented by a brother that has a different Afrofuturist design expression.

Driving the building design is a responsiveness to the following form-givers:

  • Site Constraints
  • Climate and Sunlight
  • Programming of Spaces
  • Regulatory Requirements
  • Neighborhood Character
  • Culture, History and Social Dynamics

Site Constraints

  • The exiting topography relationship to the façade, derived from the Latin facies via the French façade. What this means is something constructed, something that “looks onto” its surroundings, or rather is perceived from its surroundings
  • Viewpoints in the dynamism of the changing terrain
  • Territorial and distant at views

Climate and Sunlight

  • Geophysical orientation exposure to wind, rain and
  • Placement of windows for natural ventilation and daylighting features
  • Installation of canopies and overhang for weather protection

Programming and Use of Spaces

  • Use of outdoor spaces and their relationship to the interior
  • Size, configuration of interior spaces expressing outwardly
  • Living space access to exterior walls, fresh air and daylight
  • Utilization of rooftop for tenant amenity, leisure space and urban agriculture

Regulatory Requirements

  • Maximum footprint and floorplates
  • Require setbacks and clearances
  • Allowed structural projections and maximum areas

Neighborhood Character

  • Established neighborhood icons and influences
  • Range of historical design expressions and eras of construction
  • Influencing and guiding a future direction for design and development

Culture, History and Social Dynamics

  • Acknowledge and celebrate the Central Area’s Black heritage
  • Utilize cultural expressions inspired by Afrocentric fashion, music, textiles and jewelry
  • Apply Afrofuturist a design expression that is reactive to the philosophy of a future in which Black people are present, influential and thriving