Amancio d'Alpoim Miranda Guedes, known as Pancho Guedes was an architect, painter, sculptor, and educator that is revered as one of the earliest post-modernist architects in Africa. Throughout his career, he has contributed to more than 500 building designs which were often characterized as eclectic, bringing together Lusophone African influence with his unique surrealist and experimental artistic style. It is said that having worked mainly in Mozambique, Angola, South Africa, and Portugal, Pancho Guedes was less well known than he ought to have been in the rest of the world, as he is a leading figure in modern African architecture.
Born in Portugal in 1925, Pancho Guedes moved to Mozambique during his childhood where he lived for most of his professional life. Wanting to become an artist, he enrolled at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg in 1945. He soon decided to study architecture which was to him the culmination and combination of all the artistic trades that interested him. Guedes then began his career and produced a multitude of projects in the 1950s and 60s as building activity intensified in Mozambique.
Meanwhile he was a popular member of the Team 10 which had met at the 9th CIAM congress in 1953. The group of architects worked on new approaches to urbanism through impactful theoretical frameworks which influenced the development of European architectural thought during the late 20th century.
Pancho Guedes pushed the boundaries of imaginative architectural creation, brilliantly mixing the sculptural and figurative with practical requirements and traditional local identity. The results appear through his extremely diverse projects from bold rooted and asymmetrical houses to intricate and colorful buildings found in every other corner of Maputo’s city center. In all cases, it is as if looking at large singular sculptures that stand their ground and capture passerby’s attention.
His designs include a library of riveting drawings and paintings that relate Guedes’s artistic inclinations. His creative freedom and drawings mastery were certainly passed down to his pupils which he taught in the mid to late 70s in South Africa and later in Lisbon, Portugal.
Pancho Guedes was in fact a true patron of the arts and an exceptional mentor to a whole generation of architects that is still promoting the development of African (more particularly South African) construction and putting forward various new styles all inspired and sensitized to the traditional and original built environment.
Through his architecture, personality and art, Pancho Guedes opened my eyes to Africa. He encouraged me to engage with what African people, and understand how they practice rituals life. This understanding and insight into African Space Making was to be the foundation of an architectural journey for me, embracing Hybridity and multiculturalism in all its forms.
Pancho was responsible for opening the doors of contemporary Africa to the architectural community, which, during the years of apartheid oppression, was barely known. Because of him, our universities woke up to the fact that there actually was an African culture out there, and that it was important for us to know and understand it. Before that, we were in the same boat as everyone else, where African culture was marginalized, or simply unknown. His awareness of social architecture was way ahead of his time and influenced a lot of the fashionable ideas many architects are only beginning to deal with today.” _Peter Rich
Smiling Lion Apartment Building (Leão Que Ri), Lourenço Marques (1956-58)
The Smiling Lion is a perfect example of Guedes’s affinity to seamlessly intertwining organic elements and forms with a functional plan. The mid-rise building constitutes a block of six typical flats with distinguished spaces. However, the view from the exterior suggests a different picture, resembling the original paintings of the building which displays curved edges and extruded elements turning the façade into a stylized image of a smiling figure.
Edificio Abreu Santos e Rocha, Maputo (1953 – 1956)
Set in one of Maputo’s main squares, this residential building reflects another Guedes style. Still following the same initial principles, the Edificio Abreu Santos seems more like a brutalist intervention due to its imposing scale and main cubic volumes. Local artistic language is nonetheless a main element of the building, seen through the ornamental operable louvers and patterned brise-soleil. Additional vivacity is injected into the design with the use of multitoned blocks and the textured cladding.
Sagrada Familia Church, Machava, Mozambique (1960-1964)
This project conveys furthermore theatricality and compositional experimentation. The distinguishable shapes and forms lead the eye towards the roof line which curves up to the imposing cross and on to the skies. There seems to be a meaning or intent to every animated component of this edifice, showing once more how Guedes expresses himself freely.
I'm looking for that quality, long lost among architects, that results in spontaneous architecture of magical intensity. _Pancho Guedes in «Manifestos, Essays, Speeches, Publications»
This feature is part of ArchDaily's series where we share a general overview of an architect's career and present some of his/her iconic projects. Every month, we explore new names, highlighting their story and their architectural expression. As always, at ArchDaily, we highly appreciate the input of our readers. If you think we should feature a certain unfamiliar architect, please submit your suggestions.