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Can Flexible Architecture Solve Housing Problems in Nigeria? (3)

In the penultimate article in this series, I would be writing about Adaptable architecture. Architecture designed for adaptation accepts that the future is not finite and that change is inevitable. According to Schmidt III and Austin (2016), adaptability is defined as a combination of some essential characteristics: the ability of a building to accommodate changes effectively, thus maximising its value through life.

It is essentially a performance-based design that that maintains functionality with change over time. 

An important attribute of adaptable architecture is that it allows users of buildings to influence design decisions. The most formalised strategy for adaptive building design is the open building principle which designates distinct levels of intervention in the built environment that range from urban design at a city scale to the individual fit-out of rooms and spaces. (Kronenburg, 2007) 

A good example of the open building is the Quinta Monroy Homes by Elemental Architects in Chile. These were designed in 2004 by Alejandro Aravena. The budget for social housing, which was about $7500 per family, was insufficient. However, instead of the usual solution of relocating the residents to the outskirts, which will cut them off from their families, friends and jobs or building the regular high rise social housing complexes, the architect took a different path. The architects instead proposed design of connected two-story blocks, surrounding four courtyards. The buildings were designed with the skeletal framework which was a basic concrete frame which the families could expand over time as the budget could only cover construction costs for half a house and included the features that the architects felt were most difficult to construct – such as kitchens, bathrooms, stairs and party walls. (Mapping The Design World, 2013) (Elemental, 2018) 

Before meets after. Image by ELEMENTAL via Archdaily

The incremental houses proved to be a very low-cost social housing solution for the Chileans which could be implemented in Lagos. Seeing as the houses are not completely constructed, they are less expensive which helps to solve the problem of affordability. Another important attribute of the incremental houses was that the people were rehoused within the city centre where their slums or unplanned houses used to be (Busta, 2016). This is usually the opposite of what is done for most social housing projects as the people are usually rehoused far away from where they live, away from jobs, family and friends. the people then end up returning to the same places that they were moved from, this then causes the problem of slums to persist. 

In Lagos, the method of dealing with slums is quite different from the model described above. The dwellers are often forcefully evicted from their residences without proper structure for resettlement and in cases where they are resettled, this is done far away from the city centre and far from their friends, families and jobs. The consequence of this is a relapse as the evictees form slums in other areas or return to where they lived previously (World Bank, 2015). 

The outcome of this is that slums will continue to be a major problem especially because the eviction of the slum dwellers has previously often been to create apartment complexes for the high-income earners in Lagos (CNBC Africa, 2016). However, if efforts are made to review resettlement and slum removal policies, it will allow for the evacuated slum dwellers to be rehoused within the vicinity where they lived previously and possibly put a stop to slum formation.  put a stop to slum formation. 

In the final article, I would be discussing another method of applying adaptable architecture to the Lagos context.

But I would like to hear your thoughts. What do you think will be the greatest challenge to implementing incremental buildings here?

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