Archive for the Architecture Category

Improvised houses

Posted in Architecture on May 5, 2011 by Home Strange Home

Somali huts in Hargeisa.

Throughout Hargeisa – even in the better-off neighbourhoods next door to large houses surrounded by compound walls – you will see these small patchwork domes, which serve as self-built shelters. The word in Somali for such a hut is aqal.

Historically, Somalis are a nomadic, pastoral people, and they were constantly on the move in the countryside herding their livestock. The arid landscape required families to move frequently to find pasture for their animals, and so their houses consisted of portable huts that they could disassemble, move, and reconstruct in their next grazing location.

While these ingenious houses were traditionally made from natural materials in the countryside, you see them today constructed out of all sorts of scrap materials, tarpaulin, plastic, and fabric, and families build them in the city on unclaimed plots of land. Near our house, a friendly family lives in such a hut, surrounded by a loose fence of branches and thorny plants.

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Hideous roundabouts

Posted in Architecture on March 29, 2011 by Home Strange Home

Even when it was brand new, this sculpture must have been minging.

Hargeisa is an urban planner’s nightmare for a plethora of reasons. It epitomises the word “urban sprawl,” with bits of concrete, metal, and billboard sprouting up like mushrooms in a field without rhyme or reason.

A great example of this is the roundabouts. Or rather, the tendency to throw up one ugly ass piece of junk – in the form of a sculpture, statue, or glorified pole – in the middle of a dusty intersection and thereby turn it into a “roundabout.” (Remember that there are no working traffic lights in Hargeisa.)

Each of these works of public art (in the loosest use of the term) seem to be competing with each other to be uglier than the next. Sometimes I look at them and ask myself, “What on earth were they thinking…?

Post-modern Dahabshiil roundabout.

Random monuments

Posted in Architecture on March 27, 2011 by Home Strange Home

Civil war memorial.

So over the weekend I went “sightseeing” in Hargeisa with some of my co-workers. Sightseeing might be too strong of a word. There isn’t really anything of touristic interest here. Even the two pages on Hargeisa in the 10-page Somaliland/Puntland/Somalia chapter of the Lonely Planet Africa book – the only thing that even remotely approaches a guidebook to this region – start the Sights section with the sentence, “Let’s be frank: it’s the ambience and the sense of exploration that are the pull here.” So, not much to see. Meaning that what little there is to see, I have no excuse for not seeing it.

The main monument is the Somali Air Force MiG jet on Independence Avenue in down town Hargeisa. In 1988, the military dictator Siad Barre, who was in charge in Mogadishu, gave orders to the Somali Air Force (based at the Hargeisa airport) to bomb the city of Hargeisa, leading to over 10,000 civilian casualties and the near total destruction of the city.  He killed his own people simply because they opposed his dictatorship.  One of the MiG jets used to bomb Hargeisa is now erected (above a ghastly mural) as a memorial to the civil war.

The only other monument of note, for those people who find themselves desperately searching for sights, is the Somaliland independence statue, which features a giant fist gripping a map of the unrecognised state of Somaliland, labelled with all the cities. The date on the side of the monument is May 18, 1991, the day Somaliland declared independence from Somalia (now observed as a national holiday). We stopped here to take pictures and drew quite a crowd of onlookers and questioners. They probably wondered what the crazy white people were doing…

Somaliland independence monument.