The unique and distinctive architectural style of Angola’s cinemas

An archive of historical cinemas in Africa is being created by the Goethe Institut Angola, with Angola's movie theatre history being revived and retold first.

From the Series

Cinema is easily one of the most popular of cultural practices. It reflects a number of social, political, economic and cultural phenomena in modern societies. A collective memory is formed around cinemas: the movie-going experience has social importance and the architecture of the cinema is a common reference or landmark for numerous people.

When speaking of cinema we often think of the film itself as the only element worthy of recognition, but the architecture of the cinema buildings is finally being noticed in African countries. The Goethe Institut Angola is assembling an archive on historical cinemas in Africa and is working to restore national cinemas as a part of an ongoing project to celebrate and preserve the cultural heritage of the modern architecture of Angolan cinemas.

In Angola, cinema is a cultural asset of great importance and played a key role in forming a modern architectural landscape. Between the early 1930s to the late 1970s 50 cinemas were built in Angola with the Cine Infante Sagres in Luanda being the largest on the continent in 1975. Spread out over two floors, the Infante Sagres (which is now incredibly dilapidated) was the preferred place for meeting, socialising and various other activities. In addition to having a strong film culture, this cinema is divided into successive living, bar and terrace spaces that function autonomously from the cinema auditorium. 

Restoring the cinemas means recovering their architectural form and also their functional forms too. The first step in this restoration process began with Angola Cinemas: A Fiction of Freedom, a photographic coffee table book by Walter Fernandes and Miguel Hurst, which brings a fresh focus to the historical spaces of film viewing. The coffee table book contains photos of the cinemas of Angola in their faded glory and gives evidence of their past importance.

Portuguese-born architect Francisco Castro Rodrigues fled to Angola to escape the authoritarian regime of Salazar. Inspired by the lifestyle and the coastal landscape of Angola, Castro Rodrigues dreamt up the cine esplanandas (the open- air cinemas). Paula Nascimento of Angolan architecture firm Beyond Entropy contributed to Angola Cinemas: A Fiction of Freedom described the esplanadas as “distinctive structures, whose design and construction arose from local culture, geography and climate, and are not found in any other part of the world”.

Castro Rodrigues designed the most famous of the esplanadas, Cine Flamingo (named because flamingos land in enormous flocks, as the movie-goers do) and the Cine Baia. He remained in Angola for years after independence as a municipal architect for the Republic of Angola, and died in May this year.

“That cinema was always full because it was really delightful to go to the cinemas on those hot nights and watch a film, partly sheltered beneath the canopy,” Castro Rodrigues said in an interview shot shortly before his death.

While the cinemas were incredibly popular in Colonial Angola, they were marred by the stroke of segregation. Downtown Luanda was scattered with cinemas for the white and assimilado colonial elite and the city's black suburbs housed fewer cinemas for Luanda's African population. Nascimento accurately notes that the cinemas “are a testament to a particular period of our history, as well as to a generation of architects, local and other, who contributed to constructing the image of our cities”.

Some of the cinemas remain in operation, but are used now for different purposes. The national assembly, where the parliament convenes, is housed in the Cine-Teatro Restauração, designed by the architect brothers João Garcia de Castilho and Luís Garcia de Castilho with references to the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright and Willem Dudok.


The Cine Atlântico (ex-Cinema Império) is still in use, hosting the annual Luanda International Film Festival. Designed by the architect António Ribeiro dos Santos, the building was inaugurated in 1966 with a screening of the film My Fair Lady.

The Cine Cazenga (formerly Cinema Lis) was laid out as a cine esplanada and the space contained a dining area, as well as having a partially covered auditorium. When it was in operation, it showed films such as the 1967 film Oscar and the cult 1980 classic The Exterminator. It was renovated for the filming ofAssaltos em Luanda II in 2008.

The Cine Kalunga in the Benguela province built in the 60s in the style of the esplandas contains a luxuriant garden of generous proportions, built to seat 1,146 people. The cinema has been completely restored now, and hosted the 2002 Miss Angola Contest.

There are currently 33 cinemas archived in the historical cinemas on Africa. The entries each include numerous pictures of the cinema, past and present, locations, the number of screening rooms, a brief description and the name of the architect.

The archive on historical cinemas in Africa currently only covers Angola. A collective research project on these theatres is underway and asks for public participation via a website. It has ambitions to expand the archive continent-wide to include the architectural history of cinemas in Mozambique, Ethiopia, Ghana, Namibia, Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte-d'Ivoire and Senegal.

The images in the article are the copyright of Walter Fernandes.