by Terence Sambo
Colonial architecture in Nigeria evokes strong feelings for those with an eye on history and the future
In other words, these buildings represent the hard work and diligence of generations past.
A recent trip to Nairobi roused consciously buried thoughts about the decadent state of colonial architecture in Nigeria. On my travels around the continent I’ve observed that architectural aesthetics differ from country to country.
For instance in Ghana, they favor more futuristic facades and you can trace elements of cubism. In Kenya on the other hand, their aesthetics are quite quaint. They make very little use of paint and the outer parts of their buildings age better than most houses due to the minimal use of paint. This led to me to quip that Nairobi looks like a city from the ’70’s. They managed to still embody the building patterns and designs passed on from their colonial masters in their modern architecture that although it’s modern, it still has that colonial feel.
All of this colonial inspired design and architectural trappings got me thinking about those cute little houses in Yaba, central Lagos and most popularly Ikoyi that are constantly being torn down in favour of luxury apartments built by real estate developers du jour who at least should know better about preserving a heritage or legacy of some sort.
Let’s track back to the colonial days when most of these pieces of art were built. Something pertinent to know is that, yes these buildings are English in design but they are largely local in origin because they were built by the hands of Nigerian labourers not English or immigrant hands. In other words, these buildings represent the hard work and diligence of generations past and in my own opinion should be jealously guarded as opposed to being torn down by greedy entrepreneurs who are looking for a quick way to cash in on the current luxury serviced apartment crave.
As with most people, I don’t say no to development and the good things in life but I don’t see the logic in development that destroys insignia of the past, cultural symbols and things that remind us of our journey to independence and the struggles.
In terms of business, these things getting torn down tell their own tales and these tales have tourism potential and not only that, they are more eco-friendly.
This is clearly not a crime that is largely the fault of the private sector; the government as well is in the pool. The recent construction of the Freedom Park in Lagos – a laudable project by the Lagos State government – on the site of a former prison yard built in the early 1900’s got my stomach churning badly. The only construction on the site that was colonial was the fence; every other single thing had been torn down – the prison cells, guards’ rooms and all, all gone!
Now we all know how many people go on tour regularly to Robben Island in South Africa to see Nelson Mandela’s prison cell – why did the government of that nation not tear down the prison and build some sort of insignia there that celebrates Nelson Mandela?
I’m no architecture expert nor would you see me writing for the Architectural Digest anytime soon but I’m just a concerned citizen who wants to see something done to check the incessant annihilation of these adorable buildings.
Let’s develop without wiping away our past, so that the young and unborn can see where we started from and how far we’ve come. Y!