Prometheus Building Balcony

The Prometheus Building is an apartment block conceived by Pancho Guedes sitting on the boundary of the Polana and Sommerschield bairros of the city of Lourenço Marques. Construction began in 1951 and was completed by 1953. Although it bears many characteristics of Guedes’ particular style it is one of the lesser popular of his works as compared with Leão Que Ri or Dragon House.

It is a six storey building with the top-most floor reserved as a residence for domestic workers. In those years and as it is today, the African population would travel to the city for work and return to their homes on the outskirts at the end of the day. Guedes’ design allowed domestic workers to live in the same building and thus be closer to the homes to which they provided their services.

The bottom floor had been designed as a garage but after a few years of the building’s completion the owners decided to convert the spaces into shops much to Guedes’ dismay. During that process, additional walls were built which had the effect of obscuring the perceived floating effect of the building.

Guedes’ had relied heavily on the use of pilotis to raise the building above street level allowing for a cavernous and airy space below. Although he was not the first to do this, he was certainly a pioneer in Mozambique. Elsewhere around the world at the time, pilotis were being used by Le Corbusier for his Unite d’Habitation.

The building sits on the corner of Av. Antonio Enes (Nyerere) and Av. Massano de Amorim (Tung) and is placed further back on its own plot giving it a fairly open space in the front. Views from the compartments in the rear provide an unobstructed view of the other side of the bay known as Catembe in the south-east. Closer and on the east is the relatively large block of the Hotel Polana.

8571608118_5bedb6ab5b_oThe protruding structures on the sides of the buildings also referred to as “combs” serve only a decorative function. Guedes’ was known to have included strange animal-like features into his designs and was also inspired by Antoni Gaudi’s work as young man travelling through Barcelona.

8535069794_4d72845ef8_oA report by a South African architecture publication described the design elements of the building

This is an early use by Pancho of his signature “comb” feature. In this instance the fingers of the comb are square. In fact, no curves are employed in this design. The end faces are completely flat with the structural frame expressed. The front face is highly articulated. Strong shadows are formed by long horizontal deep recessed windows. The outer tips of the cantilever beams extend beyond the point of structural necessity and become façade elaborations.

The articulation of the facade becomes more obvious when the sun’s angle changes throughout the day. For instance, during the afternoon the sun’s rays project a strong light from a westerly direction causing shadow which highlight the three-dimensional mass of the building.


There appears to have been a dramatic change in the building’s facade after Mozambique’s independence. This refers not only to the commercialization of the former garage level but also changes to the plastering and windows.

One cannot help but notice that a structure built in the mid-fifties had to have been inspired by the craze of the jet-engine era. In fact, Guedes did conceive of another private dwelling known as the “Aeroplane House” during this time not far from the Prometheus.

Returning to the Prometheus, Guedes had incorporated windows on the lateral facades of each of the apartments in an interesting wing-like shape. These are seen in the image below and serve to visually distinguish one floor from another. In images from later years, the windows have all been removed and sealed with blocks. The only plausible conclusion for such a change is that the windows, while certainly a novelty did not fair well against the elements. Water may have leaked through or the wood rotten from an accumulation of water on the sill.

8571646958_c66a7bbca5_oOnly time will tell how the building will look in the next few years. While Guedes passed away some years ago after living on a farm in South Africa, appreciation for his work continues to grow daily such as the Casa de Pancho Guedes co-work office as well as projects inspired by his work such as “Looking for Guedes”

agsafrica_13348_fullLook up the road and you will see a structure that is at once perfectly circular. It has no corners or right angles that you can see and is atypical of most built things. One might imagine that anyone who lives in such a building has the most consoling view in the world. Ready to launch an attack or defeat an approaching enemy.

The Girassol is a 6 floor building on the Avenida Brito Camacho (now Av. Patrice Lumumba). It sits on an elevated section of the city on a narrow road which curves up and around the hill.

It was built in 1943 by the Portuguese architect Edmundo Sousa originally as an apartment block but relatively soon in its own history was transformed into a hotel with a spectacular view that is largely underrated for its location and price. The 6th floor was transformed into hotel inspired by the era in which the Portuguese King Joao IV reigned over the country in the 1640s.

The hotel appears to have changed hands a few times and for a period in the 1980s, during Mozambique’s darkest moments in history remained abandoned. Fortunately, the structure of the building was unharmed and it was restored back into operation.

The cover photo was taken by Harrison Forman, a travelling photographer who was once associated with the National Geographic magazine in 1961 on a visit to Lourenço Marques.

This is one of the earlier photos that can be found showing the verandahs of the apartments very typical of lusotropical architecture designed to minimize the heat and strong rays of the sun.

The aerial view looking to the east shows the location of the building on the edge of what is known as the Barreira de Maxaquene. It was taken by Lu Shih Tung, another photographer who appeared to have much of his work produced into travel-sized postcards in the middle of the 1950s.


To the far south and in the horizon is the industrial city of Matola and closer towards the left is the Port of Lourenço Marques. The cranes are used for lifting containers and other heavy items off the ships that arrive into the Baia de Lourenco


Another view looking north on Av. Brito Camacho. The entry to the hotel is to the left and if one keeps on Av. Brito Camacho, it will lead to the area known as Museu, named after the Museu de Alvaro de Castro.