Moving between the marketplaces, residential areas, government buildings, churches, and mosques, urban dwellers navigate networks of built space that reflect the combination of indigenous and external forces and emphasize the importance of religious, political, and economic power. An analysis of spatial networks comments on the variety of architectural styles and control of urban planning, and it can also tell us much about the nature of social and cultural relations. In Africa, where a great deal more of life is lived outdoors than it is in western societies, a definition of built space must include not only the architectural objects that occupy the physical environment but also the spatial voids of which they form the boundaries. These boundaries serve not to separate one spatial realm from another, but to link the various areas together in a network of urban interactions. Scholarly studies of built space must take into account the function of these boundaries as a means to unite the various physical, social, and cultural identities of the urban environment. The essays in this section do this and attempt to provide an answer to the questions of how built space has been determined by the nature of outside relationships and how the resultant spaces help determine subsequent patterns of behavior.
Urban spaces are characterized by central spaces that represent main focal points. In modern times, these are often the commercial areas of the city with the bustling daily traffic of buyers and sellers and taxis and minibuses. In some precolonial African cities, these spaces were sometimes a cattle corral, a mosque, or the ruler's palace. For the Fulbe, Mark DeLancey argues, the nature of the focal space shifted as Fulbe architecture and their conceptualization of urban space underwent changes during the growth of the Sokoto Caliphate in the nineteenth century. The formation of African empires such as the Sokoto Caliphate brought about urbanization and influenced the organization of urban space. Delancey shows how traditional African social organization, environmental concerns, and the input of Islam played fundamental roles in the spatial organization of economic, social, and religious spaces in the cities of the Sokoto Caliphate.