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Photographs reveal secret life of urban Africa

By Mark Tutton for CNN
  • Architect David Adjaye has produced an exhibition called "Urban Africa"
  • Adjaye is showing more than 3,000 photographs of Africa's often-ignored urban architecture
  • African cities show a wide range of styles, influenced by geography, history and politics
  • Send us your photographs of African cities

London, England (CNN) -- Most people are used to seeing images of African refugee camps or its sun-parched savannah. Far less common are sights of the continent's bustling cities or varied architecture.

But one architect is challenging the stereotypes with an exhibition showcasing the continent's diverse and often-ignored urban architecture.

David Adjaye -- a London-based architect, born in Tanzania -- has produced a collection of more than 3,000 photographs from 52 of Africa's 53 capitals. For those who haven't seen those cities first hand, his "Urban Africa" exhibition may come as something of a surprise.

The images show the sheer variety of building styles in Africa. Some cities' architecture is clearly influenced by their surroundings -- like the sand-colored houses in Mauritania's Saharan capital of Nouakchott.

Others are influenced more by history than geography. The Eritrean capital of Asmara features examples of art deco and fascist-influenced styles -- a hangover from years of Italian occupation.

I realized there was a cavity in the collective consciousness of urban life in Africa.
--David Adjaye, Architect

Politics also plays a part in Africa's architecture, with many capitals showing an explosion in modernist civic buildings and monuments in the years immediately following their independence.

Adjaye, who was recently commissioned to design the National Museum of African American History and Culture, in Washington D.C., said photographing African capitals was initially a way to get back a childhood spent traveling around the continent.

But it grew into a formalized project when it became apparent many Westerners knew little about African cities.

"I realized there was a cavity in the collective consciousness of urban life in Africa," he said.

"Of course Africans knew, and don't think anything of it, but maybe the rest of the planet didn't have the visual data."

The "Urban Africa" exhibition is at London's Design Museum until September 5.

It has its own Flickr group -- "Your Urban Africa" -- where members of the public are invited to post their own images of African cities.

Submissions show everything from splendid civic buildings in Lagos, Nigeria, to slums in Cape Coast, Ghana.

Share your own Urban Africa images with CNN. Tell us what urban Africa means to you. Share your images and videos of Africa's cities with Inside Africa via iReport.