Redefining Interior Design With Zimbabwe In Mind

Art & Design | By Michelina Adreucci, Design Consultant | 03 October 2015

Traditional Zimbabwean houses consisted of a series of “huts”; each with their designated purposes and function. The traditional homestead comprised the parent’s matrimonial hut gota rema dzi mai  - or “mother’s hut”,  separate  hut(s)  gota, for each gender, girls quarters  and boys quarters - Gota re vasikana ne gota re vakomana, and a central cooking hut pamuzinda pe musha, which was also the meeting hut, situated in the centre of the communal meeting place.  

In Zimbabwean traditions the kitchen was the most decorated room.  It served as a reception area and gathering place; a serving place a dining area as well as for preparation and cooking.  The kitchen was therefore the central point of meeting and congregation.  It served as a centre for the perpetuation of the culture and played a very important part in the fabrication and sociological makeup of Afrikan society.

Today the most neglected places in our modern Western homes are the kitchens, perhaps because the kitchen was in many places perceived as a space for maids.  It is no longer the mother’s domain – a domain for nourishment, sustenance and the rejuvenation of one’s tribe.

The demarcation of the modern Western home does not compliment traditional architectural spaces and their functions. 

The Colonial uses of rooms and the division of spaces have been inherited by Zimbabweans without giving it thought.  Houses in Zimbabwe today are built on the same Western principal of:  a master bedroom, separate bedrooms for boys and girls, lounge and dining room (either combined or as separate units), a kitchen and ablutions, all under one roof, as opposed to the individual traditional units.

How can modern-day Zimbabweans adapt to this contemporary living?

The Afrikan essence of humanity Ubuntu demands that we extend hospitality and cordiality not only to family but to members of our community and strangers as well.  In turn Ubuntu allows us to ask, and expect, help from a neighbour or stranger.  But do our buildings embrace this noble philosophy and way of life in our architectural design?

In our culture the Shona adage “Munhu munhu pamsaka pe vamwe vanhu” – is a central philosophy in the social organisation of homes, communities and nations.  However, this concept has not been adapted in our inherited Colonial structures which were built for servitude.  

Our social-cultural ethos is not reflected in our contemporary architectural design.  

Our social disposition is different in today’s suburbia.  Due to the cultural protocol that arises from the extended family we have to re-imagine ways to accommodate Ambhuya  (mother-in-law), Vatezvara (father-in-law),  varamu nana tsano (sisters and brothers-in-law) and even vazukuru (nieces and nephews) within our contemporary domestic spaces.

We begin at the centre. 

The purpose of creating living spaces is universal; function, culture and human requirements are the same the world-over.  People need to eat, sleep, entertain, socialize, bath and most of all accommodate – where the term “accommodation” is derived from.  What differs within the all-encompassing home environment is the climate, region, materials, ways of living and culture.

The traditional dwellings of our ancestors also reflected their occupations.  The signs of livelihood of the farmer, the hunter, the blacksmith, etc would be evident and reflected within these dwellings.  However, since the arrival of the Colonial Pioneers, when people were relegated to the “back” of the main house, this identity has been lost.

Today, the home or house, is used for the most basic of needs; a place to sit and eat – nzvimbo dzekugara  chete.   But where are people supposed to communicate, grow and dream? 

 It is a well-known fact that people’s behaviour, emotions and mental health are physiologically influenced by the state of their homes and surroundings.  Colonisation and Colonial Architecture have hybridized the Shona concept of living spaces.  The architecture is not compatible to traditional Shona ways; it is not expected to be, but it should be a challenge to architects and designers to conceptualise how to integrate indigenous culture into modern homes.


How can one dream when their most basic of needs are being neglected in the dwelling scheme?