Year Built

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.


Bairro da CoopThe mid-twentieth century was shaped by significant cultural, political and religious turbulence. It was in this same century that the Cold War was born amid simmering tensions between the East and West; it was when the stirrings of racial inequity came to the fore in the United States of America and it was also when the Pan-African Independence efforts spearheaded the rapid and mass decolonization of African states. But there was also an enormous sense of order, progress and a drive to validate old structures that precipitated advances of the like which had not been seen before.

Lourenço Marques was the capital city of Mozambique, founded in 1897 it quickly rose to prominence as one of Portugal’s capital cities along with Luanda in Angola – another overseas province. At a time when growth and potential in Portugal had become limited, the overseas territories saw the injection of capital and attracted immigrants from the motherland. The country’s status as a colony made labour affordable and simplified access to land for development. Against the backdrop of a fascist Portugal, the colonies were seen as somewhat of a playground, a place where artists and musicians enjoyed greater liberties than elsewhere. Personal accounts by its former residents narrate a subtle endorsement of African cultures.

It is no surprise then that forward thought encouraged what was to follow. It is not known quite clearly what spurred the development of COOP but a combination of anti-political sentiment, disenchantment with traditional governing structures in Portugal and the vision of a new idealistically classless society are supposed to have been key influences. The net result of this was an enormous effort that unseated conceptions of colonialism inconspicuously. The COOP became known as a model enterprise, unbounded by political interests and clearly empowered by cooperative will.

Founding Principles

Like other co-operatives, the COOP was established and developed to function through a membership model. Certain levels of membership provided occupancy rights, while others allowed access to services such as bookshops. The COOP was designed to accommodate the large number of Portuguese middle-class settlers who were arriving into the country in the early 1960s. By the end of that decade it had well over 12,000 members. As a cooperative it also provided employment to its members, and even more interestingly counted on a membership base that included people not of European descent. It was  project unlike others which was inclusive of the entire strata of the Mozambique population.


The bulk of the architectural work for the COOP was done around the same time in which the city was seeing rapid growth and urbanization. Several types of designs and structural innovations had their origins in Mozambique and the country was at the time a host to a number of preeminent architects and engineers such as Pancho Guedes, Joao Tinoco, Jose Forjaz and Jorge Valente who was to design the COOP.

The Bairro de COOP was located on a vast trapezoidal area in the north east of the city. This was an area with very little development at the time and was positioned quite close to the urban settlements that were built for non-Europeans. The intention was to make the location of the suburb as autonomous, self-reliant and considerably independent of the city – principals of the COOP project. The complete area would be able to accommodate about 8000 people and include several multistory towers and grounds for leisure such as parks and sports fields. The urban space for the complex while unique to Mozambique, heavily borrowed from plans already established in other densely populous parts of the world.

Post Independence & Identity

Construction of the first towers were completed by the early 1970s but by then the clashes between the colonial government and FRELIMO – an armed group fighting for independence from Portugal had become too obvious to ignore. The situation worsened in 1974, a bloodless coup in Portugal saw a change in power which eventually led to independence and by 1975 most Europeans had left the country.

The COOP however up to this point was able to continue motivating its members and had been able to receive the support of several banks due to its founding principles which expressly advocated the beneficiaries of the project as common folk, its impartiality to racial background and class and ideas of achieving societal transformation through the use of living spaces. It was perceived as a lesser evil by the Marxist/Communist government that was to lead the country post-independence.