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Can Flexible Architecture Solve Housing Problems in Nigeria (1)

In 2016, the Commissioner for Housing, Mr. Gbolahan Lawal, said the state had a deficit of 2.5 million houses which is 14.7% of national deficit (This Day Newspaper, 2017). From these figures, it can be concluded that an urgent intervention is needed in the housing sector. It is perhaps expedient to step out and look for seemingly unconventional strategies for combating the problem.

This topic is something I am very passionate about. Initially, my architecture education was a do and pass thing but pursuing my master’s degree has changed my perspective. This essay is based on my dissertation that was written in the first year of my master’s education. In this article, I would be highlighting a few aspects of my essay that I believe are relevant in terms of the ideological solution and its possible application in Nigeria.

One of the tenets of social studies and science education is the discussion on the basic needs of man which are food, water and shelter. Shelter: meaning housing in whatever form is essential to protect humans, from the elements, hazardous conditions and in fact other humans in extreme circumstances.

The provision of housing is central to a city’s well-being, and particularly the supply of decent affordable housing. There are many factors that affect the housing market such as income of inhabitants, land use policy as well as the supply of the houses themselves. If the supply of housing does not meet demand, informal settlements will develop within or on the edge of fast-growing cities. This can be seen in Lagos, Johannesburg, Mumbai and many other rapidly developing urban centres around the world. Informal settlements exist in different forms but the most common forms are slums or shantytowns. They are residential areas not supported by infrastructure, services and green areas; and are often located in hazardous areas such as industrial areas or swamps. The conditions that the inhabitants of these settlements are exposed to often leads to poor health and a reduced life expectancy within these communities. In addition to the health hazards, lack of infrastructures such as proper roads and transportation means that access to jobs and other important opportunities is restricted. (Mehta & Dastur, 2008)

Governments around the world have attempted to solve housing problems. Some of the approaches have involved displacing slum dwellers while other governments have acted by upgrading the existing slums or building new houses for their citizens. Nevertheless, there is still a huge housing deficit around the world. In Lagos state, for example, a wide range of conventional solutions have been applied all having little to no impact. (Mayaki, 2009) The population of Lagos is projected to hit 24, 239,000 with an annual change rate of about 4.1% one of the highest in the world. (United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, 2016). These are alarming figures that the authorities are well aware of but what exactly are they doing to solve these problems?

In a newspaper interview by This Day Newspaper, the governor of Lagos State, Akinwunmi Ambode reiterated that Lagos, by estimate, now has a population of 23 million. He also noted that at least, about 86 persons migrate into the state every hour. This high influx has resulted in numerous challenges such as that of managing a daily increase in human and vehicular movement. (This Day Newspaper, 2017)

In 2016, the Commissioner for Housing, Mr Gbolahan Lawal, said the state had a deficit of 2.5 million houses which is 14.7% of national deficit (This Day Newspaper, 2017). From these figures, it can be concluded that an urgent intervention is needed in the housing sector. It is perhaps expedient to step out and look for seemingly unconventional strategies for combating the problem.

Some unconventional methods of housing provision around the world include the introduction of self-build houses, co-housing and flexible architecture to name a few.

Flexible architecture can be defined as housing that can adjust to changing needs and patterns, both social and technological. Flexible architecture exists in various forms such as adaptable architecture, transformable architecture, moveable architecture as well as interactive architecture.

rOBERT KRONENBURG

Adaptable architecture, according to Kronenburg’s ‘Flexible: An architecture that responds to change’, refers to an architecture that is designed for, and responds readily to different functions, patterns of use and specific users requirements. Transformable architecture, on the other hand, enables an alteration of structure, skin or internal surface, which changes the use, size, function or internal conditions of the building. while movable architecture can be defined as buildings that can be transported from one place to another so that they can fulfil their function better. Interactive buildings, finally, are intelligent buildings that integrate sensor systems to assess the internal and external environment and the condition of the building systems and then act on this stimuli to achieve maximum operational performance and comfort of the users.

Given the above definitions, flexible buildings could be said to bear a requirement to respond to an evolving environment of which Lagos is a fine example. In the case of Lagos, the varying patterns are mostly demographic as Lagos has experienced a large boom in its population in the last two decades which has resulted in some unfavourable conditions highlighted in earlier in the article.

However, in relating the principles of flexible architecture to the Lagos context, three of the four forms of flexible architecture will be examined. These are transformable, moveable and adaptable architecture.

The first is transformable architecture. As mentioned earlier, an application of transformable architecture is the conversion of old or abandoned factories, terraces, grain silos, water towers or even billboards into dwellings. An example of this is the Cigar Factory in Philadelphia which was converted to residential apartments (The Inquirer, 2016)

If old factories, buildings, towers and silos can be converted to residential dwellings around the world, this can be applied in Lagos. In Lagos, buildings are regularly given up, because of development or redevelopment, others demolished and many other run-down. According to a report by Vanguard Newspaper in 2017, on the Lagos Island axis alone, there are over 85 abandoned buildings. (Nwafor, 2017). There is however no accurate record of how many of such buildings exist in the Lagos mainland region. Although the total is put at about 1000 buildings including factories. These buildings are currently being occupied illegally by homeless people. They also currently serve as hideouts and meeting points for criminals. Some reports also record a lot of criminal activities such as rape, sale of illegal substances and kidnappings taking place in these buildings. The activities that currently take place in these buildings are not beneficial to society and contribute to an increased crime rate (Alao, et al., 2016). Therefore, efforts could be made for them to be reclaimed and converted to residential dwellings.

In the attempt to reclaim and renovate these buildings, it is important to note that, some of these buildings fall in the industrial estates and so may be subject to contamination, therefore, making them unfit for human habitation. Asides from this, some of them may also have weakened structures because of their previous use. If these constraints are considered, this may then leave the number of abandoned structures at about 900 buildings.

The average developed area of a building is given to be about 1000 square meters. The justification for this figure is because most of these buildings were designed for commercial or industrial purposes. This then gives a total of about 900,000 square meters of space that could be used for residential functions. The average size of a residential (family) dwelling in Nigeria is given to be about 100 square meters When these figures are computed, it gives a total of 9,000 residences. Although this is only a rough estimate, it still gives an idea of how many new dwellings could be yielded should this system be adopted.

The major advantage of this adaptable reuse of old and abandoned buildings is that solution would also tackle issues of infrastructure availability. This is because these structures are already existing and as so they are already connected to the basic infrastructure such as power, water and transportation.

The adaptive reuse of these abandoned buildings is one of the many unconventional ways that I believe can serve as a starting point to solve housing problems in Lagos. Other proposals would hopefully be examined in subsequent posts.

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  1. This is really really good Seeto!

    1. Thank you so much Mayowa xx