Field Note

Diasporic Hybridity for Future Ways of Living

Bushra Mohamed

Through a reframed perspective, the African continent can be seen as a place with a wealth of resources, knowledge systems, languages, and energies. My research on the African compound house typology has led me to question and rethink my perception of scarcity and abundance in both the Global North and the Global South.

The compound house is a multigenerational housing typology that is prevalently found on the African continent. It comprises a walled enclosure with a series or cluster of rooms opening onto a central outdoor space, which is partially covered by verandas. It provides dwellings for multiple members of the same extended family. Due to the climate, outdoor space is equally prioritized with indoor space, affording relatively generous space standards in terms of land ownership and square meters per person to each family. Historically, and still found in rural settings today, this land would serve multiple functions, including agricultural uses, civic rituals, and rites of passage, as well as daily and collective dwelling rituals. The compound house accommodates expansion and contraction of the dwelling over time, allowing the familial group to grow as needed. This spatial generosity considers a civic gesture for congregations, available material resources, and a connection to the surrounding ecology and land. It is a typology of abundance.

Diasporic communities around the world can learn from these historic and traditional housing typologies in order to forge decolonial and decarbonized future ways of living. As part of the African diaspora myself, I believe that the most impactful and effective response is to reclaim our heritage, harness our rooted and pre-colonial knowledge systems, and build upon our diasporic hybridity to imagine and create our future.

In today’s globalized and diasporic world, a prescriptive regional or vernacular approach no longer works for an increasing pluralistic demographic that has complex and layered histories and identities. Therefore, I propose diasporic hybridity: layering these histories, typologies, and cultural ways of living in order to create our future built environment and housing typologies.

Bushra Mohamed is a London-based architect, designer, and researcher. She is the founder and director of Msoma Architects and co-founder of Studio NYALI. Her mixed British, Yemeni, and Kenyan heritage drives her architectural practice that works to center peripheral identities, cultures, and people within the built environment. This continues in teaching and research as an external examiner at Cambridge University, unit master at the Architectural Association, and lecturer at Kingston School of Art.

Diasporic Hybridity for Future Ways of Living