Fractals in African Architecture


One of the most striking examples of fractal architecture are the Ba-ila settlements of Southern Zambia.
Each extended family's home is a ring-shaped livestock pen, with a gate on one end (call this the front of the pen).
Near the gate are small storage buildngs. Moving around the ring, the buildings become progressively larger dwellings, until the largest, the father's house, is opposite the gate (hence at the back of the pen).
Thus front to back measures a status gradient for the home.
Left is an aerial photograph of a settlement, right a schematic. Click each picture for an enlargement in a new window.
The entire settlement reproduces both the ring structure and the status gradient.
The front of the settlement is the gate. Near the gate are smaller home rings, progressing to larger as we go around the settlement ring.
Entirely inside, and near the back of, the settlement is the chief's house.
The front of the chief's house is the gate, with progressively larger buildings around the ring, until the largest, the chief's home, at the back.
Entirely inside, and near the back of, each family's house is the household altar.
The relation of the chief to the tribe is described by the word "kulela," best translated as "to nurse, to cherish.".
The structure of the settlement reflects this interpretation. The chief is the father, the tribe his children.

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