Somali Architecture Students Digitally Preserve Their Country’s Heritage—Before It’s Too Late
Since the start of civil war in 1991, the political and architectural landscapes of the East African country of Somalia have been unstable. While the country’s urban centers, such as the capital city Mogadishu, boast a diverse fabric of historic mosques, citadels, and monuments alongside modernist civic structures, the decades of conflict have resulted in the destruction of many important structures. And, while the fighting has substantially subsided in recent years, the future of the country’s architectural heritage is still far from secure.
In response, Somali architecture students from across the UK, Italy, and the United States have banded together to form Somali Architecture, an ongoing research project archiving and digitally “rebuilding” iconic structures through 3D models. Their goal is “to preserve the identity and authenticity” of Somalia through its architecture—both existing and destroyed. “We want each iconic building of the past to be reinterpreted for a more coherent future,” they say.
See below for a selection of the structures Somali Architecture has uncovered and re-constructed so far.
While Somalia has spent large stretches of time ungoverned since the 1991 collapse of President Mohammed Siad Barre’s regime, the country’s capital of Mogadishu once housed the modernist National Assembly complete with its sweeping entrance canopy reminiscent of Le Corbusier’s Chandigarh. While the three-volume structure, punctured with two courtyards, was originally built in 1972, the current Assembly still hosts partial governmental activities after a partial restoration in 2012.
The Old Parliament building was constructed in the early 1970s in the early years of Siad Barre’s socialist government when the country was closely allied with the Soviet Union. Designed in a triangular shape with a brickfacade, only the framework of the 15-meter tower along with a few exterior walls remain today.
Erected in 1260, Arba’a Rukun—commonly knows as the Mosque of the Four Pillars—is one of the oldest and most central Mosques in Mogadishu. It was recently restored with the help of Turkey.
Roman Catholic Cathedral
The Mogadishu cathedral was a monumental Catholic church designed by Italian architect Vandone di Cortemilia and constructed between 1925 to 1928. The cathedral held services for almost 70 years before the civil war forced its closure. By 2008, a majority of the building had been destroyed with only a single wall of the two Norman-inspired towers on the facade remaining.
Once a major landmark in the city, the curving, four-level Hotel Al-Curuuba served the influx of Italian tourists and dignitaries in the early to mid-1980s. Today, only three of the four floors remain standing with much of the building reduced to ruins, appearing as a skeleton of its former self. However, the pointed arches defining the Hotel’s facade still reflect the character of the once palatial structure.
National Theater of Somalia
Officially opened in 1967 as a gift from Chinese leader Mao Zedong, the National Theater complex was once a central cultural landmark in Mogadishu playing host to a variety of performing arts. The floating theater supported by a series of thin pilotis and surrounding buildings were damaged in the early months of the civil war, where they would eventually serve as weapons storage. Since 2011, The structure has undergone significant redevelopment in hopes of reopening in the future.
The century-old Mogadishu Lighthouse is perched at the edge of city’s Old Harbour overlooking the expansive Indian Ocean. The crumbling structure was once a beacon and landmark of the city’s economic prosperity—serving as an important port city for years—before its eventual neglect in recent decades.
Masaajidk Ishahaysiga (The Mosque of Islamic Solidarity)
With financial support from Saudi Arabia, the Mosque of Islamic Solidarity officially opened in 1987 and served as the main Mosque for the city of Mogadishu for 4 years before its closure during the civil war. The Mosque re-opened in 2006 and underwent significant repairs in 2015.
Benadir Regional Adminsitration
The two-story Benadir Regional Administration building once held the administrative arm of the regional government in its neoclassical wings perforated by moorish arches. These wings flanked a central plaza and grand entrance that is currently used by the Mayor of Mogadishu.