The Impact of Colonial Architecture by Cordelia O. Osasona
Cordelia O. Osasona is a professor of history of architecture at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife and pioneer Head of Architecture at the University of Ibadan, Ibadan. In the recent bauhaus imaginista symposium, Decolonizing the Campus held at the University of Lagos, Osasona discussed colonial architecture in Ile-Ife, Nigeria. In this interview, she shares with Omenka its impact on indigenous building typology.
What is the impact of Decolonizing the Campus in our society, and what do you hope to achieve with this symposium?
The first ‘impact’ is the creating of awareness that some of the archetypes we take for granted, are colonial in origin. With specific respect to my own presentation, it can now become better appreciated how we have come to ‘own’ the Boys’ Quarters (BQ). Generally, the symposium will probably make building practitioners more predisposed to harnessing the ‘good’ that has been highlighted as originating from the colonial (and re-appropriating/extrapolating for contemporary relevance) – rather than throwing the baby away with the bath water!
In your opinion what have been the effects of colonialism, positive and negative on our indigenous building typology, and how can we evolve from them?
The major negative effect on our indigenous typologies is the psychological re-conditioning that makes us look down on homegrown technologies and general practices. The average elite would feel HIGHLY offended if it is suggested that they use bricks for their personal residence – whereas, in the UK, till tomorrow, bricks are still a favoured material for construction (even in a corporate or institutional context)!
For ‘thinking’ (innovative) practitioners who do not have a complex about their cultural backgrounds, the general colonial experience (whereby educational/travel exposure, etc.), has made us ‘global citizens’. It has provided a general springboard from where such individuals can launch out in ‘re-contextualizing’ experiments, whereby the culturally familiar (and, probably, hitherto unsung) can be made workable, relevant and celebrated in a contemporary context. In the last 10 years, I have taken on the carved fascia board – in the context of the ‘exaggerated eave-projection’ typical of British colonial architecture (but which actually was the norm in traditional building culture, in southern Nigeria; I have integrated it into modern-day residences, providing the (original) needed shading for walls and interiors, and a defining aesthetic.
How have Nigerian and African architects embraced the concept of modernism, especially in relation to society’s changing conditions?
I believe that in terms of ‘holding their own’ (with respect to typologies handled), Nigerian/African architects have not been left too far behind. However, with respect to the centrality of green building and general sustainability issues, Nigeria is not on the map – at all! Most of the projects in the country that might have attained a certain measure of the requisite rating, were handled by foreigners.
Your research, The African Woman’s right to security through sanitation; from the dwelling unit to the neighbourhood, is exceptionally poignant in this climate change era, How are women disadvantaged and what sustainable measures should be adopted?
I do not see women being more peculiarly disadvantaged in this era of climate change, than ordinarily. The average African woman discussed in the paper is, of course, the low/no-income cadre person. If she builds for herself, it will, automatically be sustainable (as she will use what is readily available and affordable). If a corporate entity builds for her, the same rationale will be invoked! (Other principles of good, sustainable design, for example invoking appropriate landscaping, will probably be dismissed as ‘unnecessary’, for this class of building).
However, at the domestic level, she may face additional stress with greater exposure to house-flooding!
What indigenous architectural advancements across Africa would you like to see adapted and improved upon in Nigeria?
In the extremities of the continent (i.e. North and South Africa) architects are quite vibrant/progressive in their experiments to weave their architectural cultural roots into the fabric of the new national architectural genres. Tanzania has long used local themes/expressions in articulating even institutional buildings, while Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia routinely harness indigenous orientations in resolving modern housing schemes.
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