The Evolution of the Vernacular

When it comes to the history of architecture, those who work within the industry know very well the importance and the relevance of referring to the past; not only to prevent the repetition of the same mistakes, but also to remain grounded and to understand where one's ideas sit within the wider framework of things.

Though this is not a recent development, the issue of 'imported' architecture, has always brewed beneath the surface of personal discourse.

Today, the discussion is opened to allow those of you who have strong views about this to speak out.
Lagos; the old capital was a target for colonisation much also like many other major cities around the world, but now that we have entered the aftermath of this it's important to remember to continue to ask questions, for example; have we managed to regain our image and our identity.

Of course, the colonisation of Nigeria cannot be ignored, and in truth, it shouldn't, afterall history is history be it good or bad and perhaps this is what Nigeria needed in order to confront the development of its architecture.

It is also important to note that this conflict, of the colonial and vernacular, is not unique to Nigeria, many countries such as India and South Africa also struggled with this 'search for the contemporary identity'. There are opportunities to research and learn from their discoveries on their journey to finding their identity in architecture and another post has been dedicated to exploring these examples.

After all of this, you must still ask yourself; can you take a person to Lagos, and know that they would be able to grasp the genesis of Nigeria and of course, its evolution?

For example, the pictures below are of some of the wealthy places in Lagos, areas where it is evident that both time and money have gone into the development of the surrounding architecture.

Victoria Island

There is very little reference to the vernacular and even to the past. It may even look as if the architecture is a little too eager to jump to the future neglecting the need for research into specific terrain and weather needs and how to bring forward elements that our ancestors perfected and that work! Houses/apartments as pictured about are typical of places like America, and the 'mansion' lifestyle is glorified. Most Nigerian vernacular buildings hold strong relationships with their surroundings, and feature softer lines that reflect the method of construction - typically by hand and the available resources native to that area. Exterior markings and emblems on the outside dictate the hierarchy of a series of live-in spaces and overall there is a sense of flow and continuity with the surroundings.

The fear is that these gated community 'imported' designs, neglect to respond to the history of the land, and thus they seem temporary, they seem like they are merely sitting on the soil beneath, and not truly penetrating deep into the roots, into the earth, and into the people.
The Evolution of the Vernacular The Evolution of the Vernacular Reviewed by NG on 6/20/2010 02:15:00 am Rating: 5


Her-em-akhet said...

(1 of n)
I got so much opinions to what you wrote. I agree with your general direction in your comment. I will come back to that.

But I disagree with your details. That is, I disagree with your choice of words. I think you would agree that choice of words invoke certain images in our head, yes? Vernacular, tribe, bushman, native, warlord, ethnic, etcetera, are all words that are used to belittle us Afrikans. If it isn't used to belittle us, then let's refer to greek architecture and the tower of pisa as vernacular. Let's refer to western medicine as native medicine. Let's pay attention to the german tribe and french tribe and the ethnic tribe of britain. Let's refer to lugard and bush and napoloeon and hitler as warlords. Let's refer to the bush family as bushmen. Choice of words -- It's very important!

Moving on.

Secondly, can we really claim that there is anything called "Nigerian" Architecture? To rephrase it with a similar question, can we claim there is anything such as "precolonial" history of Nigeria? I mean, "Nigeria" did not exist BEFORE it was created by white people. So, precolonial history of "Nigeria" does not exist.

So, what is it that Afrikans in "Nigeria" currently build, that can be termed "Nigerian" architecture? And even the belittle-y termed "hut" cannot be called "Nigerian." We were doing those "huts" way before we were invaded by white people. So until Afrikans in "Nigeria" come up with something unique that has not been done anywhere in the world, then it cannot be called "Nigerian" architecture.

To rephrase it, Afrikans in "Nigeria" don't really have an identity in the broader sense; we have an identity crisis. What we think is an identity is multiple-faced, wishy-washy and self-defeating. We don't have an identity in the broader sense, hence, the reason why we don't have an indentity in architecture (architecture being ...

Her-em-akhet said...

(2 of n)
... a narrow sense). Afrikans everywhere are currently a confused people, so everything we do is full of contradictions.

You can only speak of "Nigerian" anything if you are interested in referring to our confusion. So, I am admitting that certain things can be called "Nigerian." But they are usually bad things. I mean, this same thing applies to Afrikans anywhere in the world.

So, until we get our minds back, until we start thinking with our Afrikan minds again, we will continue to build "temporary" things which "merely [sit] on the soil beneath, and not truly penetrating deep into the roots, into the earth, and into the [Afrikan] people."

Until we re-learn how to think with our Afrikan minds, we will continue to build with materials that do not work with our weather, simply because we can't seem to think without asking white people for their opinion. We want to keep NOT developing our own airconditioners so we can buy from euro-asians, and put the A/C's in the heat-storages that we currently call houses.

PS: And frankly, granted that my nation -- along with other nations -- are caught inside that area that they call "Nigeria," I would not want to re-develop an Afrikan identity by sharing the same root word with 'nigger': "Nigeria" is from niger (latin word for black). Nigger is also from niger. lugard and his girlfriend knew this very well when they decided to call (with their tongue firmly in cheek) that boundary, Nigeria ... knowing very well they had succeeded in calling us niggers in our passports, while we continue to merry.

lugard, more than once, referred to us as idiots, so it makes sense that would have no problem with naming that boundary, "Nigger Area" (i.e. "Nigeria). As for them saying they named the country after river Niger, then remember that we Afrikans never called that river, Niger -- white people did. And again, why would I want to name my child baboon, simply because I saw a baboon around my house? Why would they name that boundary Nigeria, just because a racist called the river, Niger?

Feral Female said...

That is true, I laid my eyes on a map that labelled this area 'Negro land' (Ghana, Nigeria, Ivory Coast etc.

I agree with your clarification of the noun "Nigeria" AND the term "Nigerian Architecture".

In a way I try to discuss more so developments made within Yorubaland, Igboland, Hausaland etc.. without delving into politics on who owns what. However, you have made it very clear how personal architecture is, especially when studying its history. I too agree that there really wasn't "Nigerian Architecture" until the colonisation. However, we can choose the way we want to apply that word.

Some may believe that North America is too a result of South America, and these divides were certainly NOT natural, however in terms of modern classification and extrapolating that backwards into the past, the area known as Nigeria can be simply known as the area that is encompassed within the line that marks the border of the country.

Despite our determination to wish to separate ourselves from one-another and with some reasons and justifications this should be a right, we must accept the fact that there are many similarities between the tribes and areas encompassed by the borders that mark out Nigeria - the country.

With that being said, there are some obvious differences too, but finding differences seems to have always been in our nature. Nigeria would never have been discovered (and the same for many other African countries), instead we may have evolved to become interdependent colonies of tribes and families. The outcome of which I cannot guarantee.

I apologise for the waffle.

All in all, you've made some very valid points, a question to you is that now that we have been dealt these cards, what are going to do with them?

My suggestion lies that Nigeria should remain whole, but identify different tribes within itself which are relevant to different traditions, anybody who has travelled across Nigeria can see the differences in the different regions, and can appreciate how diverse the people are. I don't believe that removing the collective title of Nigeria is the solution.

A lot of this anxiety has to do with the demise of Nigeria, after all who wouldn't want to lay claim to success??

But to "corruption", "violence", and "indecency", it is clear to see why a person may want to be far from "Nigerian".

I apologise if I have dissolved the point, but I hope you have something to respond to.

Feral Female said...

Also, I understand your concerns for the Vernacular and its negative associations, would you consider using it more objectively, in the manner it is defined to be used, as to describe anything "native or indegenous to a place".

Bright lights could be a vernacular example of ornament frequent in Las Vegas, Nevada.

What do you sincerely think?

Which one matters the most to you?

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