Use, Misuse and Reuse: Buildings Function in Doula, Cameroon

In her article “Intertwined Architectures,” in ArchiAfrika’s  March newsletter, author Danièle  Diwouta-Kotto discusses the use, misuse and reuse of buildings in contemporary Douala, Cameroon, and the significant changes and deterioration of these buildings over time:

“The colonial built environment is a shared heritage, part of the Douala architectural history. However, the bond between the city and its colonial buildings is very paradoxical. Ultimately, it is a state of permanent denial. In Cameroon, policies around the preservation of the built heritage are short-lived and the State, generally slow to proceed with forced renovation works, pays little attention to their preservation.

In other words, this tolerated architecture is not maintained and considered to be part of the city general functioning. Not unusually, buildings located in the colonial area are patched similarly as temporary stalls. Preserving the architectural heritage appears irrelevant. Holes in mud brick wall constructions are sealed with breeze blocks, which are commonly used at national level: all modifications are possible because in Douala destroying as well as improving is not an option, tinkering following immediate needs is the preferred approach. Walls are not considered to have a history, but a function and as long as they stand they be will found useful! Colonial architecture has clearly failed to ennoble and its primarily functional role is predominant in the built environment.”

 The city of Accra faces similar challenges — on the one hand, the local government has no clear historic preservation policy (perhaps representative of the wider lack of recognition for the significance of the city’s older buildings, both “traditional” and “colonial.” But this article and the quote above demonstrate how in Doula (as in Accra, and other West African cities like Lagos, etc), continues to be a dynamic city — the city continues to grow and change over time, in terms of its character, land use and activities — so why shouldn’t the spaces in which people live, work, reside, shop and play change accordingly? Is this change a necessarily negative phenomenon?