The beautiful city of Charleston, South Carolina, was built by enslaved Africans, and the painful historical connections between classical architecture and slavery have encouraged some critics to see classicism as racist. Contemporary black artist Jonathan Green, however, proposed a new way of viewing Charleston’s buildings: as a testament to black creativity and resilience that fused African architectural traditions, such as colonnaded porches and metalwork, with European ones. Following Green, this essay traces a number of trans-Atlantic architectural connections forged during the age of empires. Many different African nations, from Ethiopia to Ghana, developed great classical architectures that traveled to Europe and America through the migration of people or the publication of books. African-American designs also returned to Africa, sometimes with European accents, and found compatibility with indigenous traditions. As Green asserted, a beautiful truth emerges from this study: traditional architecture is bigger than racism. It is African, American, and human.
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