The main Norrsken House and refurbished classroom blocks designed by MASS Design Group. © Author, 2023
Reflections on the Impact of Tropical Modernism on African Primary Schools

A comparison of two schools in Sub-Saharan Africa





Primary school education, Tropical Modernism, Standardization and modularity, Rwanda and Ghana, Climate responsiveness


The architectural design of educational spaces in Sub-Saharan Africa after the 1950s was heavily influenced by Tropical Modernism, an architectural style that rose to prominence in Africa during the period of independence movements across the continent. Notably, in growing independent countries such as Rwanda and Ghana, educational buildings assumed profound symbolic significance as tangible representations of progress and development. This article explores the architecture of two primary schools, École Belge in Kigali, Rwanda and Republic Road School in Tema, Ghana. It highlights the role of standardization as well as the role of landscape and climate responsiveness in school designs and today’s impact of the school buildings on their respective communities. The two schools in Ghana and Rwanda were selected in order to draw on themes related to Anglophone and Francophone colonial influences. Through site visits and document analysis, general conclusions were drawn to describe how two schools built at the same time but in completely different parts of Sub-Saharan Africa are very similar and yet so different.

How to Cite

Codjoe, E., & Kiconco, J. (2023). Reflections on the Impact of Tropical Modernism on African Primary Schools: A comparison of two schools in Sub-Saharan Africa. Docomomo Journal, (69), 52–60.




Author Biographies

Emmanuella Ama Codjoe, Shared Heritage Africa project

Is a graduate of the School of Architecture and Design at Central University, Ghana, where she currently works as a research assistant. She has a keen interest in history, public space, and urban design. Her previous research explored the issue of social infrastructure in the context of the industrial city of Tema. Specifically, she interrogated the current state of public spaces and their historical relevance in enhancing social interaction. Her current work with SHA builds on this previous research and explores the history, current position, and future possibilities for modernist standardized schools built in the 1960s.

Justicia Caesaria Tegyeka Kiconco, Shared Heritage Africa Project

Is an Architectural Researcher at MASS Design Group in Kigali, where she is involved in design, strategy, and research. She is keenly interested in research in architecture and the bridge between architectural practice and academia on the topics of architectural history, health, and education. Particularly, her research role focuses on issues of design -method, visual representation, textual analysis, and strategies for action. Prior to joining MASS, Justicia was a graduate architect at FBW Architects and Engineers in Uganda and a lecturer in the History of Architecture at Uganda Martyrs University. She holds a Bachelor of Environmental Design and a Master of Architecture (Professional) from Uganda Martyrs University.


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