Room Concept: A Courtyard
The African Heritage Classroom's unifying concept is a courtyard. Courtyards can be found throughout Africa. They are the center of family life, a place where traditions are kept alive. In more formal religious structures they serve as settings for rituals and celebrations and symbolize the importance which Africans place on family, community, and spiritual values
Of the many courtyard styles found in Africa, the one which serves as the prototype for our classroom is the Central Courtyard, in which four buildings are joined at the corners to enclose a central square. This style predominates among the Asante of Ghana, among the Yoruba, Igbo and Bini of Nigeria, and among other groups in Togo, Benin, and the Ivory Coast.
Traditional Asante home, with four attached rooms forming a central courtyard. From Murray, Cultural Atlas of Africa
Traditional Yoruba central courtyard. From Murray, Cultural Atlas of Africa.
The decor of the classroom draws inspiration from the red-colored earth, grass thatch, bas relief figures, and pierced earthen screens of an Asante temple. Documented by drawings made by English explorer T.E. Bowdich in 1817, this design meets the University requirement that the period of all Nationality Rooms predate 1787, the founding date of the University of Pittsburgh.
The classroom's two-tiered seats recall the benches and steps of an Asante temple. The peripheral benches and chieftain stools provide African alternatives to auditorium seating. Large bas reliefs adorn the window wall reminding us of the religious rituals that occur in Asante temples. The frieze symbols on the upper walls display achievements in mathematics, literaure, music and art by peoples from throughout the African continent. (For illustrations of the classroom architecture and features, go to Features.)
Below are two illustrations of Asante architecture and festivals in Kumasi, Ghana, as recorded by English explorer T.E. Bowdich in 1817.
Asante architecture; City of Kumasi, Ghana, 1817
From T.E. Bowdich, Mission From Cape Coast Castle to Ashantee (1817)
Asante Yam Festival after T.E. Bowdich, Mission From Cape Coast Castle to Ashantee (1817)