How They’re Made: Traditional building systems in Nigeria

Nigeria is a country with a population of about one hundred and thirty-five (135) million people and over 250 ethnic groups whose culture reflects African, Islamic, and European influences. In Northern Nigeria, Islam has shaped architecture and calligraphy. As Islam traditionally forbids the representation of people and animals, art forms such as ceremonial carvings are virtually absent in the north. However, these handmade mud houses are decorated using molded or painted designs. Initially confined to the interiors, these designs were used on the outside of the houses and may have been something of a status symbol. These designs usually consist of geometric designs and Islamic emblems and depending on the weather, must be renewed regularly. Another major defining characteristic of the Hausa mud house is the mud dome and vault which can be traced to its Islamic connection.  In the South-west, the traditional architecture of the Yoruba was characterized especially by the courtyard system of design that involved the four units of the rectangular house facing the courtyard and sometimes included a family shrine and storage ‘tank’ for collecting rain water. Unlike in the mostly Hausa North’s system, the courtyard had more of a social function than a private section of the home. The earlier palaces called ‘aafin’ were ornamented by carved pillars and caryatids. Also, the use of paint on walls was popular. With the advent of Brazilian architecture, the legacy of freed slaves from Brazil, the use of Baroque inspired moldings became commonplace amongst the Yoruba and eventually other parts of the country. The predominantly Igbo Eastern region, created varying forms of architecture dependent on location and consequently available materials. However, characteristics include verandahs, carved doors, obu/obi meeting houses and geometric designs.

In following weeks, in our How They’re Made series, we’ll be studying the traditionally predominant tribes in these regions and looking at the systems and technology used to create the buildings so particular to them.

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