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Thursday, 21 July 2011

Concrete: Potentially the worst thing that could have happened to Nigeria.

Driving through the congested and tight cities along the south-west of Nigeria I can't help but notice the concrete, you see, I hold an opinion (or generalisation rather) that our use of concrete is largely inappropriate nor well executed.

Don't get me wrong, I understand that several structures exist which are in fact outstanding examples of concrete structures. Personally, I think if you are conscious that a building is concrete either in appearance or structure, then its use of concrete has probably not been successful.

What I am specifically referring to here is the aesthetics. Several buildings, especially high-rise buildings and skyscrapers would not be 'buildable' without it, and because of this, I am not discussing concrete structures, but instead, the aesthetic uses of concrete.

Let me start by showing two pictures:

Images from http://amightytree.org/

The first image was taken of Umu-Anyo Houses in Onitsha in 1961 and the second below is the same location in 1992.

Now, I don't know about the average observer but the first site, of a very vernacular setting is more pleasing to my eye than the second image, of the close concrete structures, leaning and slanting towards each other.

What I also realised was the shocking amount of concrete work everywhere that is done freehand, resulting in leaning windows that are meant to be square and bending walls that are meant to be straight, and the whole structure likening itself to a handmade piece of clay work magnified to human scale. In this case, that 'made by hand' quality that would normally be celebrated in sculpture and pottery making takes away from the beauty of the building, and wonky is a word that comes to mind.

I understand that maybe I am being overcritical, and that to some extent, indigenous architecture in Nigeria has never really celebrated orders like that of the ancient Romans and Greeks where columns and the notion of orders and geometries in Western architecture have been claimed to have originated from.

But, I think it would be better for us to develop our own traditional methods of construction to incorporate these modern materials or simply to improve the performance of our materials, rather that to adopt something that we can only implement half-heartedly. After all, what does the concrete say about the above place, concrete has its uses, but within the ruralscape, its overuse is detrimental!

2 opinions:

t said...

I agree with the ugliness of a lot of what passes for architecture, and your picture shows a relatively functional and even aesthetic example. Richer people build way uglier stuff.

P.S. Try commenting (Firefox) - there is a problem with posting comments, the send button is hidden.

NGArch blog Author said...

Thanks for letting me know!

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