Building Lagos

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Building Lagos 2017-04-22T21:48:51+00:00


Three events, the quarrel between Oba Akintoye and his nephew, Prince Kosoko, which cost the latter his throne; the arrival of immigrants from South America and the coming of the missionaries were mitigating factors in the harsh rule of the Obas. During his reign which began in 1845, Oba Akintoye decided to invite Prince Kosoko to return to Lagos and end his voluntary exile as a gesture of affection and to restore goodwill within the family. This was against the advice of his Chief Counselor and Kingmaker, the powerful but ageing Elelu Odibo who was a sworn enemy of Prince Kosoko.

Prince Kosoko accepted the invitation and was given a truly royal reception on his return. Oba Akitoye went as far as to confer on him the specially created title of Oloja of Ereko, an area of the island which became the domain of the Prince. In protest the Eretu Odibo went to voluntary exile at Badagry before the arrival of his enemy. As things turned out Oba Akintoye’s gesture was exploited by the cunning and unscrupulous Prince who at the instigation of his followers waged war against his uncle and drove him from the throne. Oba Kosoko ruled for five years before the British helped Oba Akintoye in getting back his throne. This was in 1851. the first thing Captain later Sir John Glover the consul did was to send to Rev. Golmer in Abeokuta some sixty miles away asking him for missionaries to spread the word of God in the den of iniquity and barbarity that the island was.

And this was no exaggeration for during his reign Oba Kosoko, who was a slave dealer, encouraged the inhuman traffic and discouraged immigrants to the island. The immigrants were either emancipated Yoruba slaves from Brazil and Cuba or liberated captives from Sierra Leone. The former, known as Agudas, had learnt a trade during their life of bandage and acquired skill particularly in bricklaying, carpentry and cabinet making and after getting their emancipation they pooled their resources and chattered the-ship that brought them to Lagos. The latter, known as Saros, were saved from slavery by the British Navy and given the opportunity of acquiring liberal education and absorbing western civilization.

When Oba Akintoye was restored on the throne the immigrants began to arrive in a steady flow. Rev. Golmer, on the other hand, responded to Captain Glover and sent a Catechist, an African, Mr. White, early in 1852. Eventually a mission station was established in Lagos. The immigrants lived as separate communities in different parts of the island and being strangers they were to build better houses.

The Agudas settled in the area known as the Brazilian quarter which was centrally situated; the saros, on the other hand, lived in Saro town, an area in the west end of the island which was granted to them in 1852 by Oba Akintoye. The houses of the Agudas definitely showed Brazilian influence while that of the Saros, as to a expected, reflected western influence. Another factor that influenced building in this period was the presence of British missionaries who in 1852 introduced the first story house to the island. Known as Ile Alapako or House on planks, because it was mainly built of timber; the house was prefabricated in England and was brought to Lagos from Badagry when the Yoruba mission decided to move its headquarters

Owing to the high cost of building materials which had be imported, wastage and delay caused by workers not fully trained in European techniques, the immigrants for a while lived in mud houses, the roofs of which were made of palm leaves. However, after the annexation of the island by the British Government in 1861 the roofs were replaced, under the pressure of Government Ordinance, by iron. Moreover, in 1857 a Sardinian, called Scale, started to make bricks and tiles. This enabled the immigrant with limited means to build a single storey house with four rooms side by side; each room opening to a verandah had two additional rooms at either end. The kitchen was a separate building across the yard from the house. In the yard, which was fenced were the privy and various other buildings. The size of the yard was generally 262 feet by 112 feet (80 by 34)

From 1880 onwards the Saros had became either affluent of prosperous merchants and were, consequently, in a position to build better houses. Furthermore, skilled African artisans were available and local labour was getting acquainted with European building techniques. An affluent Saro wished to maintain his social prestige lived in a two storey brick house measuring about 36 feet by 18 feet (11m by 5.5m) reaching the total height of 20 feet (6m). Each ceiling was nine feet high. The walls were whitewashed and plastered both outside and inside. On the front and back of the houses wooden verandahs each eight feet (2.4m) wide and had five large windows. Four other windows, each four feet eight inches (1.4) in height and three feet 1m wide and divided in the middle vertically were distributed between the two.

Wilberforce house in the Olowogbowo area of the island occupied an area that extended from Isa Williams street at Apongbon Street along Apongbon Street. It was indeed a classical building of majestic appearances and magnificent structure containing about twenty-three rooms in three storey and domestic architectural beauty enhanced by a flower garden, tennis courts, tiled pathway, out houses, stables, walls with iron railing and gates. Lavishly but tastefully furnished the house dominated the area and was next to none on the island.

A characteristic feature of the houses belonging to immigrants merchants is the use of the ground floor as shops and offices. This they shared in common with European traders who first arrived on the island in 1852. There were five of them and in the following year two more arrived. English, German, Austrian and Italian traders had their stores and offices on the ground floor of their two storey building with overhanging wooden balconies on the first floor where they lived and compounds used for assembling barrels etc. on the other hand when European firms established on the islands, their houses were built on the same patterns but without balconies. These houses were noted for their staircases, which were many, and economy in the use of space.

In the field of building the Agudas were craftsmen whose skill was next to none on the island. Master masons like Senior Lazaro Borges da Silva, Senior Francisco Nobre and Senior Juan Baptist da Costa; master carpenter and cabinet makers like Senior Balthazar dos Reis and master painter Senior Walter Paul Siffre enriched the island with works of architectural beauty some of which are still existing. State House on the Marina, the Central Mosque in Nnamdi Azikiwe (formerly Victoria) Street and Shitta Mosque along Martins Street are examples of these.

A direct effect of the Second World War on the architectural development of Lagos was to bring it almost to a stand-till. As most of the materials used in building were imported and every available ship used for carrying essential war goods or troops, there was, in consequence, a scarcity which led to either the suspension or the abandonment of committed building projects. What buildings were erected was generally wooden and considered to be temporary. A number of these are still in existence. During the war years the colonial office appointed a wife and husband team as Planning officers for the British West African Colonies as Sierra Leone, Gold Coast, (now Ghana) Gambia and Nigeria were then called. It was this that brought modern architecture to Nigeria. The design of their early buildings was a starting point in the search for knowledge about comfort control, use of materials and planning in a tropical environment in relation to modern buildings.

Max Fry, a pioneer of Modern Architecture in the United Kingdom. Was one of the most brilliant exponents of the Modern Movement. The Modern Movement, dedicated to the use of industrial products in building in period (1918-1939) between the two world wars, was centered in Germany until the rise of the Nazi regime which tried to foster a national style with disastrous results: consequently, their most brilliant modern architects scattered. Max Fry joined Walter Gropius when the latter migrated to Britain. Later Gropius went to the United States of America where he was responsible for many buildings, became Professor of Architectures at Harvard University and set up a firm of Architects Collaborative which was invited to design the Nigerian Houses of Parliament. This invitation came to nothing but their successors designed the core of the University of Lagos. In the United Kingdom in the late 1930’s motifs of the Modern Movement had begun to be popular, but were generally used as cliches with little understanding of the philosophy which gave rise to them. The modern flat roof, for example, allows a greater flexibility of planning buildings a larger area than the traditional flat roof. This construction in Lagos is generally a concrete structural roof with bituminous felt with concrete slabs set on blocks to give a four inch (20cm) air space to cool the roof and prevent excessive movement of the structure. Unless designed and built with greatest care it can give even more trouble than its European counterpart.

When the war ended in 1945, the British Government, in order to alley the fears of her colonial peoples who were agitating for freedom from subjugation, appointed a Commission, under a very distinguished Scotsman, Colonel Walter Elliot, to assess the needs of the colonies in higher education. In its forthright, the Commission strongly recommended the establishment of local institutions of higher learning in the various colonies as a matter of urgency and vital necessity. It argued that British Universities and other institutions of higher learning could not cope with the needs of the colonies. This recommendation was accepted and its implementation in Nigeria was the decision to build an institution of higher learning at Ibadan, the second largest city in Africa. It is the first institution of its kind in Nigeria.

The nucleus of the Unibadan was the Higher College at Yaba on the mainland of Lagos. Technical Colleges were also set up at Zaria, Ibadan and Enugu. These became the nucleus of Ahmadu Bello, Ife Universities and the University of Nigeria. At first Architecture was taught at Ibadan Technical College but later it was moved to Zaria. The first batch of Architectural Students sent to Zaria were returning there a long vacation when the train carrying them plunged into a river killing most of them. Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew were commissioned for the proposed University College of Ibadan which was started in 1951. Today, the college, now a full fledged University is, in its design a landmark of modern Architecture in Nigeria initiating a style which could be identified as ‘West African’, Max Fry’s landmark on Lagos island is the imposing Co-Operation Bank along the Marina near the Cathedral Church of Christ. His successor Fry drew Atkinson built the Tafawa Belewa complex.

After the cessation of hostilities there was only a mere handful of building contractors with the requisite skill and ability. The public works Department had its own building organization which could only cope with a modest programme of new building. It therefore concentrated its activities on the maintenance of existing government buildings. Furthermore, as there had been no grate demand for developing techniques and skills in the building industry, building materials in Lagos were, with the exception of timber, stone and sand, imported. Nevertheless, the Public Works Department built an addition to the Secretariat in Joseph Street extending to the Marina. The improvement of the economic situation of the country brought about by the cocoa boom provided funds for building projects which started slowly but soon gathered momentum. Furthermore, the demands for self-government and the implementations of independence made the erection of new buildings an urgent necessity. By 1953 the political situation in Nigeria had reached the transitional stage between a colonial dependency and a sovereign state. A lot of work had been done to assess the needs of the country and her peoples, particularly, the Ashby Report which stressed the importance of improving the educational facilities in the country if prosperity was to be ensured.

Appropriately entitled ‘Investment in Education’ the report set the pace in major building projects which at first concentrated in education. But not for long. Nearly all governments departments required accommodation in line with their ever expanding role. Consequently, there was a spate of building projects by the government which was quickly followed in the commercial and industrial sectors. These were exciting years for architects because building in the tropics presented a type of architecture that was still very much in its infancy. The horizon seemed limitless and there was the added challenge of pioneering. It must, howe4ver, be made abundantly clear that prevailing conditions at the initial stage of this period provided little scope for the professional architect who, if a government official, dealt mainly with routine work and if a private practitioner operated from abroad as there was no enough work for him in Lagos to set up a practice.

Furthermore, the general preference for a profession was beginning to shift from medicine and law to building and as such no pressure for architects was exerted within the country. Consequently, the early architects had little local knowledge to draw upon to meet the problems of new design and they had to make their own assessment of the problems involved. They learnt a good deal from each other and from their mistakes and success. These, in turn, produced a healthy rivalry which forced the pace of the development of new ideas. The physical development of Lagos which began during the administration of Governor Macgregor with the draining of the Okokomaiko marshes along the Marina and reclaimtion of the Oke-Suna area of the island, as well as the allocation of a free plot on condition that the owner reclaimed it and other projects to make the island sanitary and more habitable continued into the 1950’s with two important projects. One was the recliamation of South East and South West Ikoyi by Dutch dredging firms which pumped tons of sand on swampland. The poor nature of the reclaimed land required raft or piled foundations for quite modest buildings. The other project was the slum clearance in the central part of the island.

Building activity began to gather momentum. Wooden houses and offices which in spite of prejudice against timber were pulled down not because of the ravages of insects and fungus but to make way for larger building. That year saw the completion of the former High Court of Lagos which was designed by an architect who won a competition held in 1938, sited at Tafawa Belewa Square. In the commercial sector the Union Trading Company building on the Marina was erected. Five tears later the House of Representatives at Tafawa Belewa Square was built by the Public Works Department and the Shell Company moved into its new headquarters on the Marina. The contrast between the building erected by the Public Works D4epartment and house by commercial companies is marked. While the former were solid structure of formal designs on orthodox lines, the later were modern edifices with innovations and devices adapted to suit the climate. In other words, Lagos was in the throes of the modern Movement which attempted to honestly use the materials of the first machine age which were generally linear, like steel girders or sheets like glass and plywood. Attempts to rationalize traditional wall construction by the use of cement and other soil stabilizers did not lead to their general use.

This decade saw the influx of architects, who previously were mostly British, from Poland, the United States of America, Israel, Lebanon, Norway and Pakistan. The Nigeria Architects Registration Council of Nigeria was created by Decree No. 10 of 1969 to set up standard by which the title of Architect. (Abbreviation to Arc) may be used. Furthermore, Architectural students Olumoyiwa, Macgregor and Adeyemi in the United Kingdom formed their own association which in 1960 became the Nigerian Institution of Architects that superceded the Society of Professional Architects in Nigeria which had been formed about five years earlier. By the mid-fifties the standard of building had fallen so much that there was no lathe for turning wood. Nevertheless, the Six Storey building, the premises of John Holt and UTC Union Trading Company dominated the landmarks. The garden city movement which began at the end of the 19th century was reflected in the layout of the government houses which for sanitary reasons were built so that every officer’s house was his isolated castle. The typical house built by the ordinary citizen, reputedly Brazilian in origin, had a central corridor with rooms on either side and external bathrooms and kitchens.

The year 1957 saw the establishment of the modern style and most major subsequent buildings testified to this. Among them were the United States Embassy in Broad Street, the Bristol Hotel in Martins Street and British Petroleum Headquarters in Broad Street. The following year saw the completion of several buildings mostly by the government. It was a collection of buildings remarkable for its variety of architectural designs. The old, the new and a mixture of both. The Posts and Telegraph Headquarters in Tafawa Balewe Street was an entirely modern building. The Co-operative Bank in the Marina stood in a class by itself as being the first building movement, enhanced with African Art. The Godwin and Hopwood building in Boyle Street and Crusader House in Martins Street belonged to this period. Heralding Independence were the National Hall and the Independence house both in Tafawa Balewa Square, the Olowogbowo School in the Breadfruit area of the island, the contemporary Island Club at Onikan and the ultra-modern residence of the British High Commissioner of the Marina along the water-front, now converted to Nigeria Armey Officer’s Mess.

1959, the year before independence, saw the completion of the General Post Office on the Marina, the Imposing headquarters of Barclays Bank also on the Marina, the National Bank with its remarkable frontage in Broad Street and the Central Bank on the site of the former Police station. In a period of fifteen years Lagos became an island that was not by passed but shared in the architectural development in the wake of the Second World War Where before the landmarks on the Marina were the Cathedral Church of Christ and Government (now State) House, are now an urban skyline of tall buildings leading out to intention residence areas bounded by creeks and lagoons. In this post was phase the building industry grew into one of the largest in the country. The labour force itself acquired new skills and the standard of workmanship improved remarkably. From being masons, carpenters and plumbers, painters and electricians and finishers. Furthermore, Nigerian Architects were in positions where they could influence building projects, planning and the architectural development of the island.

A sticking feature of the most second world era was the introduction of air-conditioning as a means of comfort control. Previously the punkah usually operated by land with a cord, and later the electric fan were the only mechanical aids to comfort. During the short period leading to the attainment of the status of a Republic, there was a lot of building activities on the island notably the Mandilas and Karaberis buildings in Broad Street, Bishop’s Court on the Marina, Glover Hall in Customs Street, police headquarters in Moloney Street, Alagbon building in James George road and Cabinet office in Tafawa Balewe Square. The use of mechanical aids in building became widespread by Independence and the tendency is that it will become popular as inexpensive and liable plant backed by efficient servicing organizations become available. It has, indeed, been suggested that the effect of this will be to permit tighter planning and flexibility in orientation of walls and windows. This will in no way lessen the importance of sun shading and the reduction of solar heat load as well as the temperature differential between outside and inside which affects the problem of comfort control, however, is still complex and demands a great deal of intensive research before a criteria for design can be evolved and established.

Moreover, the advent of a new machine age symbolized by the computer and plastic augers limitless possibilities, for these objects make possible the utilization of the strong moulded forms that are so common in nature, snails shells and leaf structure for example. From time immemorial moulded forms have been used inn Africa. In the southern part of Nigeria in the true traditional building has almost disappeared, but many still linger ion in the north. If they could be ably recorded they might hold valuable lesson for the computer age. Nevertheless, it is no exaggeration to say that the buildings of contemporary architecture on Lagos Island give a representative cross section of the types and designs to be found in Nigeria though climatic conditions in the north have produced variants. Consequently Lagos Island can claim to be the centre of Architectural achievement in Nigeria.