Why are Nigerian buildings so hot?

One of my recent observations has been how hot many Nigerian buildings tend to get without an air conditioner – and it seems perverse that with the sun being the one environmental factor we can take for granted on the continent and architecturally this wasn’t factored into modern building methods.  It prompted a conversation with architect Giles Omezi, founder of the architecture and urban design firm, Laterite. Below is a summary of our conversation, which started off from my inkling that cement might be a problematic building material.

Is cement the ideal building material?

Cement is not the problem; actually it’s a very responsive material. Essentially the issue you have is that buildings are not designed around the peculiarities of our environment – anymore.

What is the problem?

What you’ll find is that the old buildings – like you would find in many a village, are always very cool; In the rural areas, traditional buildings are responsive to the sub climates they exist in; it’s blazing hot outside – and you find that you step inside and the space is cool – and dark. That’s because the principles used are to build around the constraints of the environment.

But are there examples in Modern African architecture?

Very much so yes, you can build modern buildings on those principles, so that the building benefits from passive cooling; the whole tropical architecture movement actually started very much as an English thing – and very much before the introduction of air-conditioning as a major technology. So for example if you go to a number of the buildings at University of Lagos or Ibadan from the 1960s – you will find that they are cool, because of the way they have been built – to be spaces in which there is passive cooling. These were built by a variety of architects, for example, Godwin Hopwood, Maxwell Fry & Jane Drew.

Are there examples of African architects?
Yes, the work of Demas Nwoko – his buildings are technically accomplished, and designed to be cool even in the heat; there are examples – though not many examples of African contemporary design. For example, we’re also building this school in Benin – which is designed to cool passively – single storey quadrangles, simple straightforward, passively ventilated, utilising solar energy and collecting rainwater, all laudable environmentally sustainable intentions, but one can argue, critical in our environment.

Is the problem architects or consumers?
The problem is that we don’t engage with architecture so much in Nigeria – except in terms of aesthetics; clients are resistant to suggestions that might seem over-elaborate – and we tend to design with off the shelf technical solutions, for example the air conditioner, rather than building around our constraints, which are the heat and other factors. Then there is the cultural and aspirational factor, technology is viewed as somewhat progressive, therefore your average client won’t permit any experiments with passive energy buildings.

So it’s possible to build with cement, and get a building that cools without air-conditioning?
The short answer? Yes

 

 

1. 100 Essential Non-Fiction Books: How Europe Underdeveloped Africa By Walter Rodney

Written by one of the most celebrated thinkers in the tumultuous decades following Africa’s independence struggles, this is a book to read both for its romance, as well as its insight. First published in 1979, Walter Rodney’s dissection of the west’s imperial domination and deliberate under-development of  Africa is a classic of anti-imperialist literature. Since its publication, it has given intellectual ballast to African examination of the experience of colonialism and its aftermath; Rodney’s examination of the relation between Europe and Africa through the prism of historical materialism is both bold and rich, with a bracing articulation of what development is, and how Africa was denied it. Seizing on the Marxist concept of the dialectic, Rodney adopts and expands on the idea of capitalism as a system of domination in which the profit of the capitalist is based on the exploitation of the worker – Africa, both as place and metaphor, Rodney argued was the exploited in a relationship that privileged Europe, and the west more broadly.

Perhaps, the most crucial and enduring contributions of this book is the articulation of African development prior to the encounter with Europe in the 15th century, and the demonstration of the slave trade’s devastating impact on African social, economic and technological progress. In articulating this, as well as a roadmap for correcting Africa’s development through anti-imperialist struggle, Rodney contributed powerfully to the conviction that Africa’s underdevelopment was not an inherent quality of destiny and geographic, but of social and historical forces that could and should be overcome or overthrown.

A range of other books are in the tradition that Rodney established, even those coming from a very different intellectual direction like Dambisa Moyo’s Dead Aid, and more aligned to Rodney, Ha Joon Chang’s 23 Things they don’t tell you about Capitalism.

How Ghana Got Its Groove Back

 

Ghana, first post-independence black republic, has always had a special place in the heart of Africans and Africanists the world over. Despite this, it’s never been quite cool.  It’s always been a popular destination for African-Americans, partly because of its historical associations with the upheavals of 17-19th century Africa more clearly marked in a place that has more reverence for history than some other countries, and partly because of its aforementioned vanguard position in the pan-Africanist movement. In fact, you could say Ghana was cool back then – when its president Nkrumah was calling for a United States of Africa. The leaders of other countries that shall remain nameless till later on were tepidly arguing for less. It’s the place Fela fled when he was escaping the Nigerian state. It’s where W.B DuBois, Maya Angelou, and a host of other African-American exiles went to rememorize Africa as the civil rights movement turned from its determined anger to the righteous rage of the black power movement. Yet, despite all that until recently, what can one say, there wasn’t that ineffable coolness that seems to rub off on the denizens of a country either through dint of history, achievement or sheer power. Now things seem to have changed.

There is a certain savoir-faire that Ghanaians themselves now seem to possess that wasn’t there before. A degree of economic prosperity and stability has something to do with it – but having discussed this some with Ghanaian friends we all agree the first football tournament on African Soil in 2010, when the Black Stars carried the hopes of many as African team after African team was knocked out before the ignominious finals – was the beginnings of a certain something. Admittedly, less to do with Ghanaians themselves, and more to do with the world switching on to Ghana’s cool. In music where the country has often seemed a poor cousin to the richer seam of music down in the Congo and up in Nigeria, Ghana has been making its mark in recent years.

The dance and music craze of Azonto, so influential it’s managed to shake the British establishment to its knees and produce paroxysms of movement from the Prime Minister and the heir to the throne, is the prime example. But even before Azonto made its impact, Ghanaian musicians had it going on, notably the hip-hop artists Mensa, and Wanlov Kubolor  – the duo known as FOKN BOIS.  Wanlov was brave and brazen enough to let it all hang out on national television – and the duo stepped up to the bigger, brasher, pretender to the giant of Africa throne on the song “Thank God We’re Not a Nigerians”, a song about all the things you want to tell Nigerians but were too shy to say. [I mean, I guess, it’s racist – but Nigerians should know they’ve arrived when their stereotype is so well drawn you can make a song out of it. Still, the Naija response was weak. Actually, can someone do a better Nigerian riposte?]

There are other musicians making their mark too, notably the singer, Efya, whose collaboration with the artist Oladipo is playful, sexy and elegant. [And she doesn’t seem to hold his Nigerianess against him].

And who switched us on to all these artists and musicians, some of the most interesting bloggers on the four ends of the continent; one of these bloggers, Kobina Graham, started and now edits Dust, probably one of Africa’s coolest magazines, chronicling Accra life and style, in a nattily creative and critical way.

The best of the blogs still has to be “Adventures from the Bedrooms of African Women” started by Nana Darkoa – which reveals and explores the sex lives of African women [and men] in an open, honest, and funny fashion.

To top it all, the country seems to be on a steady upward economic trajectory that it’s larger cousin and rival can only envy – and take advantage of for holidays, and homes away from home. The place is home to a university that actually has the objective of creating people who can think critically, and don’t just ‘sabi book’ – you have to admire a place with universities that are not just aiming to create ‘leaders’ but know what kind of leader they want to create.

All in all, Ghanaian cool seems to be based on something slightly different from Nigerian cool – [which is the ultimate arbiter, isn’t it?] – which seems to emerge out of the manifestation of a thousand fragile egos puffing themselves against the wind; “Ghanaian cool” seems to have a certain louche reserve about it, less brazen more regal, as if all this orderliness is effortless. It’s very polite. The question is, my fellow West Africans, can you maintain it once you get oil money?

Dele Meiji

What was the Worst Air Disaster in Nigerian History

What was the worst air disaster in Nigerian history? Like so much else, it depends on who you ask – but ask people about the worst one in living memory in Nigeria, and two tend to come up. The Sosoliso air crash in December 2005 and the Dana air crash in 2012. Despite the fact that shortly before the Sosoliso crash – Bellview Airlines Flight 210 crashed, killing all 117 passengers on board, among whom were some notable public figures, it is less remembered than the two crashes that followed it. The relatively recentness of both Dana Air and the Sosoliso crash certainly account to some extent for their hold on public memory, but perhaps so does the fact that both accidents seemed both a result and consequence of some of Nigeria’s deep rooted problems, and a manifestation of some of its worst fears, as well as being living metaphors for the squalid way the country seems to waste the potential of its large and youthful population; Sosoliso, which perished with the lives of over 60 young children returning home to their parents for the Christmas holidays was a tragedy of heightened poignancy, as those kids could not be said in any meaningful way to have had full lives. In the end, there was one sole survivor of the crash, Kechi Okwuchi, who recovered bravely from severe burns and continues to be an inspirational advocate for aviation safety in Nigeria.More than half a decade since both crashes, Nigeria still has a site reputation for air safety, albeit, thankfully one that hasn’t been tested lately.