The importance of wayfinding in Lagos: Layout, Landscaping and Light

Layout & Landscaping

If you have ever flown in a plane over Lagos at night, you may have observed the patchwork appearance of the streets and buildings which is made obvious when driving through these streets. Some describe the experience as exciting, others hectic, but I am yet to find a person who believes navigating around Lagos is easy.

Below are pictures of different cities, starting with Lagos, there are key factors to each city which I will identify.

Maryland, Lagos


Near Murtala Mohammed Aiport road & Maryland

Looking at the aerial views of other cities in the world (below). There seems to be a greater sense of hierarchy, whether by the design of the buildings themselves, their positioning, their surroundings or the landscaping. This increases how easy the city is to 'read'; a term commonly used by urban designers. It basically refers to how easy a city is to understand, absorb and comprehend for a stranger or visitor.

Should large industrial expressways really be tearing into residential neighbourhoods?

The positioning of such roads can confuse the meaning of such spaces hence making it more difficult to read. Though there is a demand for large, direct roads near neighbourhoods from workers as a route between the workplace and home, however in the picture directly above, the expressway is a major road, which means that a lot of people who have nothing to do with the surrounding neighbourhoods will use it and pass through it, each disecting the neighbourhood numerous times.

Fortunately, most residents emigrate away from buildings closest to the expressway and so these buildings are now used for retail and office puposes instead.

Other cities

City Centre and squares



Facilities are grouped together, there is a greater sense of identity for each area in the city. Amsterdam is renowned for it's strict geometrical layout, this extends all the way from its residential layout to the farmland. Though some tram lines cut through some residential apartments, the use of vegetation can help to diffuse the sound from traffic and the apartments are a reasonable distance away from the roads.

New York

The grid layout may not a very interesting picture from the aerial view, but it makes navigating amongst the hundreds of similar looking apartment buildings a lot easier, considering that Manhattan has a very high skyscraper/high riser line, and the high amount of enclosure by the walls of surrounding buildings can create a sense of claustrophobia, further explaning the need for better navigation. The city of Manhattan is an example of well-handled claustrophobic spaces.

A few reasons for its success is:

- It's location, it's an island, which means the light quality is good, its several ports mean great inports,
- It's road network, the streets are clearly labelled in a logical order, using numbers instead of names and blocks instead of streets/lanes,
- It's strict road network of one-way systems, traffic lights, parking restrictions prevent loitering cars and inappropriate parking,
- It has multiple systems of reliable public transport,
- Adequate lighting during night-time,
- Many areas that open at night, so city is not deserted and the presence of people increases the feeling of safety,
- The city inhabits some of the most successful people in the country, wealthier people can afford to have better security as they are willing to pay more and risk less,
- Since the city is mostly for working professionals, the inhabitants often work in high rise buildings that are only a few blocks away, discouraging the reliance on cars, further minimising congestion.
- And more..

The protected 'Central Park' provides a basic human necessity to maintain a relationship with nature. Imagine living in a skyscraper all your life, in an apartment on the twenty-something floor, being accustomed to being so high off the ground and never once seeing a tall tree. The urban landscape of Amsterdam encorporates greenery practically everywhere, and makes the most of being a coastal country.

Plants can soften a very serious environment and bring life to dull geometric surroundings. Aerial views of Lagos suggest that the importance of this is not currently being appreciated, instead buildings are crammed to fill up desirable locations in Lagos.


Light is vitally important in the world of architecture in cities, it can make a person feel safer, highlighted and watched or trapped in a box. It can make you feel warm, alternatively it can make you feel like you're a specimen under a microscope or in a hospital.

Still, without it there is no shadow, there is no line or curve, there is no shade or hue, there is no form and also there is no architecture. Hence it is a tool, which can allow you to manipulate the feelings of the person experiencing the space and the space itself. However the sun must sink, the moon must rise and night must fall. When this happens we must find another way to source light.

Artifical light is the obvious answer to this problem, usually only appreciated at night-time or in areas where the tasks being carried out require a certain level of accuracy. This transition between natural and artificial light is very important, for continuity, for safety and also for comfort. Let me ask you; do you feel more comfortable during the daytime or during the night time? The type of light is also very important.

In a city like Lagos, light is essential, since the current urban layout is slightly clumsy. A city of its size should allow strangers and visitors to navigate with relative ease around the city. Since this is not the case, and signage is still relatively premature, lighting of the different areas is even more essential.


To highlight something is to bring attention to it, to make it stand out. If we cannot provide light to all the areas in Nigeria, we can at least try and highlight the differences between them.
A person visiting a city should be made to feel safe, it is no longer acceptable to warn people to look out for certain dangerous situations, the city must also do its bit to contribute to the safety of the visitor. It's layout should allow easy navigation, wayfinding, entry and exit.

Areas should be well defined; a business park should look like a business park, a primary school should look like one, a zoo, a shopping centre. This way those who are not interested in business do not wander into the areas concerned and get lost, through good exterior design and layout, wayfinding can become a lot easier. A person should not have to enter a building to know what it is inside of it. When a person feels as if they are unexperienced in a city, they are limited to the few places they know, and their friends know, then sections in society begin to form and people do not interact with different people. Some people will always like the idea of privatising their spaces however, if a city is to thrive, there must be diversity but what is more important is to welcome this diversity, not to segregate it.

By defining areas, we can minimise wandering; by minimising wandering it is possible for a city to have subtle private and public spaces. The private spaces once well labelled can repel wanderers and so only those whose destination is the space enter the space and thus it is better managed in terms of traffic. A good example of this is when neighbourhoods and their streets are labelled, this is a subtle way of controlling who enters the neighbourhood space as only those who live in the neighbourhood or visiting relatives in the neighbourhood will enter it.

The idea is that if a complete stranger can feel comfortable and safe enough to navigate through the city, then it's better for everyone, including the locals.

by Tumi Jegede
The importance of wayfinding in Lagos: Layout, Landscaping and Light The importance of wayfinding in Lagos: Layout, Landscaping and Light Reviewed by NG on 8/08/2009 07:18:00 pm Rating: 5

1 comment:

Amela Jones said...

Are you going to do a follow up article? Would love to know what happens next.

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