Getting to Know Maputo: Architecture and Design

This is the first in a series of posts I am calling “Getting to Know Maputo.”

My family and I have been living in Maputo for three months now and are slowly becoming acquainted with this vibrant and eclectic city. We also recently had a visitor in town who was eager to see and learn about Maputo; it was a wonderful excuse to arrange tours and explore more of the city. Now I finally feel like I am starting to jive with this city; I am beginning to understand its rhythms, its quirks, its idiosyncrasies. It is coming more into focus and I have also learned to look more closely.

But there is another reason I want to start this specific series. My hope is to share with you the rich, diverse culture of this particular city as I encounter it and to demonstrate that Mozambique–and Africa–is full of beauty, vibrancy, and flair.

Architecture and Design

Recently, our visitor and I took a city tour of Maputo focused on architecture. Coming from the concrete, modernist cityscape design of Brasília, it was easy to recognize traces of modernism throughout Maputo. In fact, this city is sometimes referred to as the “cement city”. And like Brasília, which was conceptualized almost exclusively by the architect Oscar Niemeyer, Maputo’s urban design was strongly influenced by one individual, namely Portuguese-born Pancho Guedes.

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Prédio Leão Que Ri (1958), the house Pancho Guedes built for himself. Notice the African design at the top and the whimsical fake chimney which can be found on many of his buildings.
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Prédio do Dragão (1951) by Pancho Guedes
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Façade of the Prédio do Dragão as an example of “tropical modernism”

In Maputo, Guedes developed a subgenre of modernist architecture referred to as “tropical modernism”, a unique style that evolved from the local environment. Shaded walkways, latticed concrete walls, stairwells with ventilation canals are not only distinct features of Guedes modernist design, but they also have a functional purpose: they help reduce the tropical climate’s intense heat and humidity and protect from strong rainstorms.

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Design on the outside of a twin house by Pancho Guedes for the Attorney Câmara and his son

The stark, clean lines along with the incorporation of the natural environment made me immediately think of Frank Lloyd Wright; sure enough, I later found out that Guedes was inspired by Wright. There is even a tribute to Falling Water in Maputo!

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Tribute to Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Falling Water”

But unlike Brasiília’s homogenous cityscape, Maputo’s architecture and urban design is an eclectic mix of neoclassical, Victorian, art deco, and modernism. Thus, in addition to Guedes’ many impressive structures throughout the city, there are several other gems to discover: from the Beaux Arts-style Central Railway Station (Estação Central dos Caminhos de Ferro) and neoclassical Municipal Council Building, the striking modernist San Antonio da Polana church (Igreja Santo  António da Polana, nicknamed the “Lemon-Squeezer”), to the imposing Cathedral (Nossa Senhora da Conceição) and the sprawling, ornate Polana Hotel.

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Maputo Train Station (Estação Central dos Caminhos de Ferro), 1908-1916
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Maputo Train Station
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Igreja de Santo António da Polana (aka the “Lemon Squeezer” Church, 1962) by Nuno Craveiro Lopes. It is actually supposed to represent an upside-down flower.
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The Igreja da Polana from the inside

In short, if you look closely, Maputo is the home of countless unique structures that bear witness to the diverse eras and cultures that have shaped it, from the colonial era of the Portuguese to the period of modernism that eventually gave way to Mozambique’s independence in 1975.

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Maputo Cathedral (1944) by Marcial Simões de Freitas e Costa

For anyone interested in learning more about Pancho Guedes, I would highly recommend the Maputo-a-Pé architecture tour which is focused on his buildings.

Here are also a few other links I found while researching architecture in Maputo:

http://whatsonafrica.org/maputomodernism/

https://monocle.com/monocolumn/affairs/maputo-s-concrete-legacy/

http://eagerjourneys.com/48-hours-in-maputo/

Finally, Philipp Shauer’s Maputo: Architectural and Tourist Guide (2015) is a handy reference book for the city.

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