Stefan Jakobek reviews his favourite building, Pancho Guedes' Zambi Restaurant
My tastes have been pretty typical for a middle aged, western educated architect brought up on the canon of 20th century architecture that we are all so familiar with. But my recent discovery of the work of the architect, painter and sculptor, Amancio “Pancho Guedes” in Mozambique has led me to think hard about my own preconceptions and shown me a meaningful architecture that is seriously original and a lot of fun at the same time.
We are currently working on a series of education projects in East Africa and the Indian Ocean, regions where materials are scarce, technologies limited and budgets low. It is an endlessly fascinating place to make architecture but the lack of the extensive, conventional built heritage that Europeans take for granted made our initial search for a culturally appropriate and contemporary architectural language very difficult.
Maputo is stuffed with Guedes work, sadly much of it suffers from the economic neglect that Mozambique has been afflicted with in recent decades. But much of still survives, houses, apartment buildings hotels and churches can be found all over the city centre. This is architecture of big sculptural forms and finely rendered detail, all of it exquisite, highly inventive and deeply expressive of the cultures of its setting.
My first evening in the Zambi Restaurant (built for a Trade Exhibition in 1951) opened my eyes to the way that a master does it. It is a small, simple building full of delight. I have long been a fan of African music which has bounced back and forth across the Atlantic for centuries, each exchange adding a new layer of richness and delight. Guedes shows how the same process can happen with architecture, taking back African visual art forms that had been reinterpreted by western artists such as Picasso, and integrating them into uninhibited and sculpturally free spaces deeply rooted in African ideas.
I am fully aware that Guedes and his work was the product of a colonial society that was every bit as exploitative and racist as its neighbour, apartheid era South Africa. But Guedes’s work somehow transcends that legacy. It has survived civil war and 30 years of economic paralysis. A new, more confident Maputo is emerging from the tragedies of the past and slowly, Guedes work is being restored and brought back to life. This is architecture that belongs in and has a lot to say about the cultures of Mozambique, it has a creative quality that equals the architecture that we know in Europe and if it were a little closer it would have received the acclaim it so richly deserves. If you are ever in Maputo, seek out Guedes work (it is hard to miss) and make the effort to visit Zambi. The food is great too.