ABIDJAN, IVORY COAST - Ivory Coast's National Order of Architects has opened the country’s first professional architecture school, where professors want to instill in students an understanding of the country’s specific building needs and heritage.

Nineteen students enrolled in the Abidjan School of Architecture's inaugural class in December. They will each spend six years completing coursework, internships and a thesis before they receive their diplomas.

The school’s founders said it was high time Ivory Coast had a professional architecture school of its own. Up to now, many would-be architects have opted to study in France or the United States.

Francis Sossah, one of Ivory Coast’s most prominent architects and a professor at the school, estimated there were only about 100 professionally trained architects in the country, which boasts one of the fastest-growing economies in the world.

By way of comparison, he noted that Ivory Coast, a country of 25 million inhabitants, doesn't even have as many architects as the small French city of Toulouse, and yet there are an increasing number of hospitals, schools, offices and other structures that need to be built in urban spaces.

During the early phase of their training, Sossah’s students spend a lot of time thinking about Ivory Coast’s architectural heritage. They have already gone on trips to study buildings in the beach town of Grand-Bassam and in Kong, a city in the country’s northeast.

Adding to heritage

Student Georges Brou said the trip to Kong helped students understand their own heritage, which is architecture made from the earth. The heritage needs to be conserved and built upon, he said, because the most beautiful buildings, the ones with the simplest concepts, aren't being replicated anymore.

"Our Lady of Peace" basilica, one of the world lar
"Our Lady of Peace" basilica, one of the world largest churches, was built in Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast, from 1986 to 1989 at an estimated cost of $400 million. The edifice is modeled on Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome.

Other students are looking to make their mark on Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s modern economic capital, a regional hub with four million inhabitants.

Marie-Danielle Kangah said she hoped to build high-quality housing for poor city residents currently living in shantytowns.

Current construction isn't being regulated, she said; developers build as they want, when they want, where they want. The architects work for individuals and are not focused on the entire population. The country can benefit, she said, from a new generation of Ivorian architects with a broader understanding of the country's building requirements.

The Abidjan School of Architecture is significantly more expensive than many other private schools in the country. Yearly fees start at roughly 4.5 million francs CFA, or around $8,000. The school hopes to offer scholarships in the future.