Embracing the Nigerian Eclectic Oddities
The built environment in this part of the world is indeed one like no other; though it does not quite measure up to the advanced technological and exceptional (and somewhat bizarre) artistic innovations in other countries. The Nigerian construction industry has however managed to adapt Western architecture to its climate and economy. For example, most states in the country experience extreme temperature levels and a power supply system which is below par, making closed buildings (those which rely entirely on artificial lighting and cooling systems) using excessive glass unsuitable. Architects have found a way around this obstacle, incorporating courtyards and greenery; buildings with curtain walling systems have rows of windows which can be opened to let in air, amongst others.
Despite these intriguing elements of acclimatization, many, especially the academically inclined still believe that there exists no clear thought or underlying idea in the design of buildings. I, however, beg to differ. You see, even though one cannot point to a ‘Nigerian Architecture’ as there exists Chinese Architecture, Egyptian Architecture, Roman Architecture etc., one or more thought patterns can be traced. Owing to the fact that there are as many tribes (and thus, varying art forms) as there are countries on some continents, it would be virtually impossible to establish a general theme in building design especially those in present day Nigeria; but these thought patterns can help create a basis upon which various categories, subgroups or sub movements are formed. One of these is Coconut Architecture.
This unique phenomenon is characterized by buildings which are anything but elegant on the outside, but whose interiors seem to be a step into a whole new dimension. Just like the hairy, coarse exterior of a coconut, these buildings are often void of painting and embellishments on the outside but the interiors could have furniture and finishing revealing exquisite taste.
Coconut Architecture is primarily an architecture which is more concerned about living/ working spaces than it is with perception or appreciation of it facades; as opposed to western cultures where both seem to be treated as equals. There are however a few exceptions. This mostly applies to clients in and above the middle class. In most cases, little or no attention is paid to
I sometimes fondly refer to Nigeria’s architecture as the ‘Architecture of the Economy.’ Buildings are designed and constructed with the client’s budget and income (or willingness to part with it) as the principal considerations. While this in itself is a noble gesture, it has been known to choke the aesthetics and creativity out of many a design. Any architect or architect-in-training will admit (and most, not with the slightest indication of excitement), that at one time or the other, they have had to “scrap” entire designs because of cost implications. Students would tell you how they were lambasted at their jury because the materials or concepts they incorporated were “too expensive”, thus earning then zero points under ‘buildability’. Those working in the field can also recount similar experiences.
The following are pictures of actual buildings to illustrate the concept of Coconut Architecture: