African Architecture And The Hut: The Evolution Of The World's Perfect Building



Ebi Bozimo, an architect, promotes a primary vision of architecture centered on exploring and providing contextual, climatic, culturally relevant and sustainable developoment solutions for the built environment. He can be reached at ebi@primavis.com

Prompted by an on-going discussion on the Main Square of The Nigerian Village Square  (NVS) titled 'American Shopping Center Opens In Lagos',   I seek to explore the  image of African, or more specifically, Nigerian architecture.

On that thread, it appeared the initial poster sought, with that title, to intrigue readers with the allure he associates with the facility - the 'hype'. Many responses later, I came to believe the main issue he sought to communicate was that a commercial retail facility exhibiting a certain appearance - often termed big box in the United States - is inherently American. Others, including me, argued that mere appearance does not an American facility make; neither is an elevated vibrancy, volume and variety of commercial transactions uniquely American.

In any event, it begs the question: What traits are associated with an 'American' Hypermart? Why is it 'American' as opposed to 'western'? Or 'Nigerian'? The question of whether or not I should celebrate its debut in Lagos could be the topic of another conversation. The corollary underlying question is 'what is associated with African (or Nigerian) architecture?

The following is the beginning of what will be primarily a visual excursion into African architectural antecedents in which I seek to explore the built form, it's effect on the entire built environment and expressions of the cultural identity of it's creators.

Architecture, termed the ultimate expression of all arts, is best appreciated visually. I therefore crave the indulgence of the website proprietors to permit me attach a few images to this article to, perhaps, stimulate discourse. In every event, I have attempted to credit pictures to their source. Any omissions or faults are mine alone.

Background
A cursory google search on November 17, 2005 titled 'African Architecture' yields the usual suspects: huts, both rudimentary and ornate, a few dwellings and some Egyptian pyramids. A similar search for 'hut' or 'hut building' yielded little or nothing to do with buildings, African or otherwise on the first page!

While it appears there is no dearth of study on the subject, little seems to have emerged or been recorded or retained about architecture from Africa, south of the Sahara, suggesting therefore that all the people in those regions (including the precursors to 130 million Nigerians today), spent their entire lives beneath the benevolent canopy of the clear blue sky. Alternately, they could have lived and slept in trees or caves. Small wonder today that one regularly and routinely has to respond calmly and creatively to questions alluding to the perceived absence from Africa of "houses like, y'know, the ones we have here".

A google definition of hut (google/define: hut) revealed:
temporary military shelter
hovel: small crude shelter used as a dwelling

Webster's definition yielded:
1 : an often small and temporary dwelling of simple construction : SHACK
2 : a simple shelter from the elements

In each definition instance above, a hut is associated necessarily with transience, simplicity or crudity. There is little to indicate that a hut could aspire any goals higher than basic shelter.

Does this mean that while African architecture is automatically associated with huts, huts themselves are not associated with African architecture, or Africa? If huts are African architecture and Africans themselves aren't even associated with said huts, is it fair to say Africans and Africa have no widely perceived and appreciated architectural identity? Why not?

The attached images show many different 'flavors' of huts obtained from the web. Interestingly enough, most of them were from different locations the world over with no discernible preponderance of African sources. I have a list of links at the end of the article for further investigation.


Suffice it to say Africans utilized structures and dwellings to carry out their various activities before the advent of colonialism. The effect and impact of colonialism on our self-perception and the nature and quality of spaces we create is undeniable. I would argue however that many of the buildings, forms and shapes some of us most readily associate with other cultures today are derived from our indigenous forms. Simply put, the history of Africa did not begin with the advent of colonialism on the continent.

I must admit to a personally aversion for the word 'indigenous' because of it's loose and generic association with the term 'primitive', but I use it in this context to refer to the forms, buildings and spaces that emerged as a result of efforts of Africans past to respond to the exigencies, realities and requirements of their times.

Today, the African architectural identity is most readily associated with and summarized by the small, square or round HUT. If that is what the African architectural identity is perceived to center upon, it is imperative going forward, to take ownership of both the term and the form.

HUT: Defining And Describing.
I will henceforth define the HUT as a Housing UniT catering to the defined and diverse functional and social needs of its creators.

I dispute the disdain inherent in the descriptions of the HUT and aver that it is the PERFECT building for many reasons, including the following.

  • (a) The HUT Is Perfect Because It Is AFFORDABLE. Huts have abounded in most environments worldwide; they are readily affordable for the basic individual. They do meet the basic needs for shelter shared by all humanity in an effective, simple format.
  • (b) The HUT Is Perfect Because It Is SUSTAINABLE. The materials often used in creating the HUT are sourced from it's immediate environs and are the result of natural processes like deposits of earth, water from nearby streams, and branches, leaves and/or thatch from nearby trees. In addition, the materials used permit the building to 'breathe' and therefore the interior environment created is very comfortable in spite of prevailing weather conditions.
  • (c) The HUT Is Perfect Because It Is READILY DECORATED. Communities express and propagate their world view and values with a combination of oral, written and graphic traditions. A wealth of knowledge can be obtained about people by studying their symbols and aesthetic forms. Some of the huts pictured here and elsewhere are very beautifully adorned and merit separate study under different headings.
     
    (d) The HUT Is Perfect Because It Is CULTURALLY RELEVANT. Huts are often produced as a result of communal activity, which is the hallmark of the normal, rational African lifestyle. The community rallies around, often in a festive setting, to assist members of their community to build their dwellings as they commence adult life. These dwellings may stand-alone or be inter-connected with other buildings to form larger compounds. The construction process in which the men provide some of the 'heavy lifting' and the women provide some food and exterior decoration promotes social interaction and a strengthening of community bonds.

The foregoing is not to imply that huts have no drawbacks; they may not lend themselves to some functions, construction methods or aesthetics. In addition, in their most basic form they may require considerable time devoted to maintenance. It is however possible to marry the fundamental reasons for the hut's perfection to updated expressions of its form.

HUT: The Form.
The hut is typically rectilinear or circular and often found arranged in clusters to create compounds of associated buildings. Since the hut is considered African, and life originated in Africa, the first 'designers' were necessarily therefore African. Everything that followed therefore had African antecedents. It would be safe to assert then that every rectilinear building originated from the 'lowly' African hut and that every 'modern' building is thus African in origin. One could assert further that every circular building or collection of buildings arranged in a deliberate and interconnected manner also had African origins, making the modern 'plaza' an updated expression of an African solution.

As I see it, the problem is that all too often, Africa and architects of African origin are associated with the BEGINNINGS of the hut but never with various creative interpretations and possible forms of its evolution and expression. I will therefore seek to examine the evolution of the simple hut.

DISCLAIMER: In the following sketches, no intention implied or otherwise is made to suggest their suitability for use in any application whatsoever. They are included merely as visual aids to this discussion of the hut's evolution.


The Evolution Of The Basic Hut:
The hut is depicted in its rectilinear, simple form. This version often has the hip end roof all round to aid in shedding water. The form is recognizable and construction is simple. As the images show, huts are sometimes decoratively finished on the outside.

In the next iteration of the hut, the floor area is expanded to meet the requirements of the owner/occupant. This has the effect of creating distinct front and back yards and thus expanding the amount and functionality of available spaces. The roof form may be modified to add more interest.

As complexity increases and depending on the climate, culture, context and aesthetic inclinations of the owners, different roof forms may be introduced and utilized including flat and shed roofs, gable ends and pyramidal roof forms.

In the final iteration, a portion of the 'hut' is built on two levels and the roofing form, slope and spans are more ambitious. Suddenly the 'common' hut doesn't look so common anymore and it is possible to see how more complex forms of construction can emerge from it!

While this simple presentation seeks to illustrate the hut as the inspiration for many building forms that we associate with other people today, the question still remains unanswered: What IS African architecture? I intend to examine that in a subsequent write up.

For additional illumination, I list below some websites depicting and purporting to depict African architecture:

http://www.southernsahara.com/
http://www.africanarchitecture.com/
http://www.pitt.edu/~tokerism/0040/africa.html
http://www.historyforkids.org/learn/africa/architecture/
http://www.junglephotos.com/africa/afpeople/afwork/hutconstructmore.shtml
http://www.euronet.nl/users/arold/hut.html
http://www.rondaval.com/
http://www.oldgloryminiatures.com/detail.asp?product_id=MCB-01
http://www.thebestkidsbooksite.com/craftdetails3.cfm?CraftID=654
http://community.webshots.com/photo/381939590/381947681AihHyA
http://www.aiaphila.org/aie/new-stuff/gallery-section/summer-exhibit/fleisher_3.html
http://www.anwanya.com/leisure.htm
http://www.reason8.com.au/multimedia/flash/africanhut-final.swf






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Re: .African Architecture And The Hut: The Evolution Of The World`s Perfect Building
Meticulous posted on 11-19-2005, 12:06:15 PM
WoW! Interesting article and picture. You look very familiar!
Re: .African Architecture And The Hut: The Evolution Of The World`s Perfect Building
DeepThought posted on 11-19-2005, 12:33:27 PM
Oga shine shine head, excellent article. Now we must get the Americans to pay royalty on our patent!!!

I will publish the other article soon. And no , there will be no pictures of my head O!

Thanks
Re: .African Architecture And The Hut: The Evolution Of The World`s Perfect Building
Palamedes posted on 11-19-2005, 12:41:38 PM
This is not a criticism, but whether by design or chance, the huts in the photos look "cut off". What is missing is the African compound. You would agree with me that a hut is not a home if it is not part of a compound.

I call for a radical departure from the current architectural inclinations: I would like African streets to be renamed compounds, and houses to be build in compounds. This will bring back the community spirit of our people into our lives whether you leave in the city or village. In the West, one hardly knows ones neighbour.

It is healthy to object to architectural style with roots in distant culture, tradition and environment. American architecture? The Europeans - particularly, the French would have none of it. I would like to see our own architectural style evolve - driven by our cultural, traditional and environmental requirements.

Given what we know about our rudimentary architecture, it is easy to use computer simulation to fast forward our architectural style into modernity. We can start with a conceptual model of African compound and huts - as you have shown, and evolve it, by simulation, into say skyscrapers, supermarkets, hypermarkets, schools, hospital buildings et cetera.

Before, I go, allow me to explain what I mean by computer simulation: Not exactly, but similar idea is used to recreate faces to show how, for example, a young person would appear in old age.

That is all I have to say.


Palamedes
Re: .African Architecture And The Hut: The Evolution Of The World`s Perfect Building
Uche Nworah posted on 11-19-2005, 13:05:57 PM
Eezeebee

The big challenge facing Architects in Africa is not so much creativity in design, (that they can they can do very well) but rather in working with other stakeholders in the building industry to harness local materials that if used in a building will stand the harsh African weather. Please tell me the reason why for instance you see buildings in Europe and America that are over 100 years old and they still stand, but we can not honestly swear that a 5 year-old building in Nigeria is actually that old.
Re: .African Architecture And The Hut: The Evolution Of The World`s Perfect Building
Picasso posted on 11-19-2005, 13:13:33 PM
aahh.... oga Big K, na work you wan put me so o. Dis one wey all of una dey show una handsome faces so, abeg make I jeje dey enjoy my anonimity o

Looking good, EZB and great article too.
.African Architecture And The Hut: The Evolution Of The World`s Perfect Building
Ebi Bozimo posted on 11-19-2005, 13:14:40 PM



Ebi
Bozimo, an architect, promotes a primary vision of architecture
centered on exploring and providing contextual, climatic, culturally
relevant and sustainable developoment solutions for the built
environment. He can be reached at
ebi@primavis.com



Prompted by an on-going discussion on the Main Square of The Nigerian Village Square  (NVS) titled 'American Shopping Center Opens In Lagos',   I seek to explore the  image of African, or more specifically, Nigerian architecture.

On
that thread, it appeared the initial poster sought, with that title, to
intrigue readers with the allure he associates with the facility - the
'hype'. Many responses later, I came to believe the main issue he
sought to communicate was that a commercial retail facility exhibiting
a certain appearance - often termed big box in the United States - is
inherently American. Others, including me, argued that mere appearance
does not an American facility make; neither is an elevated vibrancy,
volume and variety of commercial transactions uniquely American.

In
any event, it begs the question: What traits are associated with an
'American' Hypermart? Why is it 'American' as opposed to 'western'? Or
'Nigerian'? The question of whether or not I should celebrate its debut
in Lagos could be the topic of another conversation. The corollary
underlying question is 'what is associated with African (or Nigerian)
architecture?

The following is the beginning of what will be
primarily a visual excursion into African architectural antecedents in
which I seek to explore the built form, it's effect on the entire built
environment and expressions of the cultural identity of it's creators.

Architecture,
termed the ultimate expression of all arts, is best appreciated
visually. I therefore crave the indulgence of the website proprietors
to permit me attach a few images to this article to, perhaps,
stimulate discourse. In every event, I have attempted to credit
pictures to their source. Any omissions or faults are mine alone.

Background
A
cursory google search on November 17, 2005 titled 'African
Architecture' yields the usual suspects: huts, both rudimentary and
ornate, a few dwellings and some Egyptian pyramids. A similar search
for 'hut' or 'hut building' yielded little or nothing to do with
buildings, African or otherwise on the first page!

While it
appears there is no dearth of study on the subject, little seems to
have emerged or been recorded or retained about architecture from
Africa, south of the Sahara, suggesting therefore that all the people
in those regions (including the precursors to 130 million Nigerians
today), spent their entire lives beneath the benevolent canopy of the
clear blue sky. Alternately, they could have lived and slept in trees
or caves. Small wonder today that one regularly and routinely has to
respond calmly and creatively to questions alluding to the perceived
absence from Africa of "houses like, y'know, the ones we have here".

A google definition of hut (google/define: hut) revealed:
temporary military shelter
hovel: small crude shelter used as a dwelling

Webster's definition yielded:
1 : an often small and temporary dwelling of simple construction : SHACK
2 : a simple shelter from the elements

In
each definition instance above, a hut is associated necessarily with
transience, simplicity or crudity. There is little to indicate that a
hut could aspire any goals higher than basic shelter.

Does this
mean that while African architecture is automatically associated with
huts, huts themselves are not associated with African architecture, or
Africa? If huts are African architecture and Africans themselves aren't
even associated with said huts, is it fair to say Africans and Africa
have no widely perceived and appreciated architectural identity? Why
not?

The attached images show many different 'flavors' of huts
obtained from the web. Interestingly enough, most of them were from
different locations the world over with no discernible preponderance of
African sources. I have a list of links at the end of the article for
further investigation.


Suffice
it to say Africans utilized structures and dwellings to carry out their
various activities before the advent of colonialism. The effect and
impact of colonialism on our self-perception and the nature and quality
of spaces we create is undeniable. I would argue however that many of
the buildings, forms and shapes some of us most readily associate with
other cultures today are derived from our indigenous forms. Simply put,
the history of Africa did not begin with the advent of colonialism on
the continent.

I must admit to a personally aversion for the word
'indigenous' because of it's loose and generic association with the
term 'primitive', but I use it in this context to refer to the forms,
buildings and spaces that emerged as a result of efforts of Africans
past to respond to the exigencies, realities and requirements of their
times.

Today, the African architectural identity is most readily
associated with and summarized by the small, square or round HUT. If
that is what the African architectural identity is perceived to center
upon, it is imperative going forward, to take ownership of both the
term and the form.

HUT: Defining And Describing.
I
will henceforth define the HUT as a Housing UniT catering to the
defined and diverse functional and social needs of its creators.

I
dispute the disdain inherent in the descriptions of the HUT and aver
that it is the PERFECT building for many reasons, including the
following.

  • (a) The HUT Is Perfect Because It Is AFFORDABLE.
    Huts have abounded in most environments worldwide; they are readily
    affordable for the basic individual. They do meet the basic needs for
    shelter shared by all humanity in an effective, simple format.
  • (b) The HUT Is Perfect Because It Is SUSTAINABLE.
    The materials often used in creating the HUT are sourced from it's
    immediate environs and are the result of natural processes like
    deposits of earth, water from nearby streams, and branches, leaves
    and/or thatch from nearby trees. In addition, the materials used permit
    the building to 'breathe' and therefore the interior environment
    created is very comfortable in spite of prevailing weather conditions.
  • © The HUT Is Perfect Because It Is READILY DECORATED.
    Communities express and propagate their world view and values with a
    combination of oral, written and graphic traditions. A wealth of
    knowledge can be obtained about people by studying their symbols and
    aesthetic forms. Some of the huts pictured here and elsewhere are very
    beautifully adorned and merit separate study under different headings.
     
    (d) The HUT Is Perfect Because It Is CULTURALLY RELEVANT.
    Huts are often produced as a result of communal activity, which is the
    hallmark of the normal, rational African lifestyle. The community
    rallies around, often in a festive setting, to assist members of their
    community to build their dwellings as they commence adult life. These
    dwellings may stand-alone or be inter-connected with other buildings to
    form larger compounds. The construction process in which the men
    provide some of the 'heavy lifting' and the women provide some food and
    exterior decoration promotes social interaction and a strengthening of
    community bonds.

The foregoing is not to imply that huts
have no drawbacks; they may not lend themselves to some functions,
construction methods or aesthetics. In addition, in their most basic
form they may require considerable time devoted to maintenance. It is
however possible to marry the fundamental reasons for the hut's
perfection to updated expressions of its form.

HUT: The Form.
The
hut is typically rectilinear or circular and often found arranged in
clusters to create compounds of associated buildings. Since the hut is
considered African, and life originated in Africa, the first
'designers' were necessarily therefore African. Everything that
followed therefore had African antecedents. It would be safe to assert
then that every rectilinear building originated from the 'lowly'
African hut and that every 'modern' building is thus African in origin.
One could assert further that every circular building or collection of
buildings arranged in a deliberate and interconnected manner also had
African origins, making the modern 'plaza' an updated expression of an
African solution.

As I see it, the problem is that all too often,
Africa and architects of African origin are associated with the
BEGINNINGS of the hut but never with various creative interpretations
and possible forms of its evolution and expression. I will therefore
seek to examine the evolution of the simple hut.

DISCLAIMER: In
the following sketches, no intention implied or otherwise is made to
suggest their suitability for use in any application whatsoever. They
are included merely as visual aids to this discussion of the hut's
evolution.


The Evolution Of The Basic Hut:
The
hut is depicted in its rectilinear, simple form. This version often has
the hip end roof all round to aid in shedding water. The form is
recognizable and construction is simple. As the images show, huts are
sometimes decoratively finished on the outside.

In the next
iteration of the hut, the floor area is expanded to meet the
requirements of the owner/occupant. This has the effect of creating
distinct front and back yards and thus expanding the amount and
functionality of available spaces. The roof form may be modified to add
more interest.

As complexity increases and depending on the
climate, culture, context and aesthetic inclinations of the owners,
different roof forms may be introduced and utilized including flat and
shed roofs, gable ends and pyramidal roof forms.

In the final
iteration, a portion of the 'hut' is built on two levels and the
roofing form, slope and spans are more ambitious. Suddenly the 'common'
hut doesn't look so common anymore and it is possible to see how more
complex forms of construction can emerge from it!

While this
simple presentation seeks to illustrate the hut as the inspiration for
many building forms that we associate with other people today, the
question still remains unanswered: What IS African architecture? I
intend to examine that in a subsequent write up.

For additional illumination, I list below some websites depicting and purporting to depict African architecture:

http://www.southernsahara.com/
http://www.africanarchitecture.com/
http://www.pitt.edu/~tokerism/0040/africa.html
http://www.historyforkids.org/learn/africa/architecture/
http://www.junglephotos.com/africa/afpeople/afwork/hutconstructmore.shtml
http://www.euronet.nl/users/arold/hut.html
http://www.rondaval.com/
http://www.oldgloryminiatures.com/detail.asp?product_id=MCB-01
http://www.thebestkidsbooksite.com/craftdetails3.cfm?CraftID=654
http://community.webshots.com/photo/381939590/381947681AihHyA
http://www.aiaphila.org/aie/new-stuff/gallery-section/summer-exhibit/fleisher_3.html
http://www.anwanya.com/leisure.htm
http://www.reason8.com.au/multimedia/flash/africanhut-final.swf







..Read the full article
Re: .African Architecture And The Hut: The Evolution Of The World`s Perfect Building
Palamedes posted on 11-19-2005, 17:49:41 PM
Uuche nworah ask: "Please tell me the reason why for instance you see buildings in Europe and America that are over 100 years old and they still stand, but we can not honestly swear that a 5 year-old building in Nigeria is actually that old."

The first-part answer to your question is that, with reference to the UK, there are too many building regulations one has to meet in order to build a house. You need permission from the government to even add an extension to your own house. Even the size of your satellite dish comes under these regulations - everything is regulated.

The second-part answer is that institutions like the "English Heritage" spents vast sums of tax payers' money to preserve rotten buildings. I stop playing my meagre Ă‚ÂŁ1-a-week-lottery years ago when I realised that a significant chunk of the lottery money is siphoned off to restore mould and mildew ridden rotten buildings and furniture - all in the name of tradition and history. As long as you have the likes of English Heritage, lottery and tax payers, you will continue to find a 100, 200, 300, 1000 year old buildings - rotten white sepulchres, if you ask me.


Palamedes
Re: .African Architecture And The Hut: The Evolution Of The World`s Perfect Building
Unregistered posted on 11-19-2005, 18:56:08 PM
This article is knowlegeable but there is nothing great about it. I see this article as a reflection of other people's work. Plagarism? That might not be a good word. But before you term an article as super-b, there should be some form of originality to it.
Re: .African Architecture And The Hut: The Evolution Of The World`s Perfect Building
Unregistered posted on 11-19-2005, 19:41:55 PM
To the last commentator Unregistered 19.11.2005 19:56 ,


You obviously do not understand the meaning of plagiarism.
Re: .African Architecture And The Hut: The Evolution Of The World`s Perfect Building
EezeeBee posted on 11-20-2005, 07:55:27 AM
Sir Uche,

I believe there are three legs to the environmental tripod; The first is the activity (or inactivity) of the regulatory sector as noted by Palemedes. The next is the attitude of the owners and stakeholders themselves and the third a financial system (or lack thereof) to support development.

In many environments in the west, you are not permitted to even utilize a facility (home or commercial space) until ALL aspects of the structure on the site are COMPLETED - building, structure, landscaping AND finishes. What that means is that you cannot finish the boy's quarters, move in and continue building the main structure. To utilize a facility you require a Certificate of Occupancy. If you change or add to your project, you need to get a new C of O before you can legally utilize the new or additional space. As the name implies, a C of O is connected to the actual occupancy of the spaces. I don't imply that nobody creates additions/modifications without going through the right channels here; merely that there ARE established channels and penalties for violation. Most often though, the kinds of changes people carry out without regulatory oversight include all manner of internal modifications. It would be difficult to go undetected when constructing an addition.

We have the laws on the books; we just haven't been enforcing them. If the function of the structure should change, you need another C of O before you can begin utilizing the new structure or addition. Also, you don't need to go to the Governor's office to get a C of O, merely the local authorities (like Local Government).

In Nigeria, a C of O is a misnomer for what should really be called the Title Deed to your land. Perversely, you obtain a Certificate of Occupancy for an empty piece of land and can pretty much proceed with impunity to do anything you want with no regulatory oversight.

Of course the ability to finish an entire project is predicated upon the ability to finance projects at reasonable rates and within a reasonable time frame. It remains to be seen whether the ongoing bank consolidation will advance the cause of coherent development in Nigeria.

Nigerians are not crazy when they build BQ's, move in and continue with the main structure and other development; it's because we haven't been able to get loans up front to complete entire projects at reasonable rates. No be craze we dey craze!

On why buildings seem to deteriorate so quickly sometimes, I believe two things are responsible; sometimes insufficient care is taken in the design and detailing of the building initially and that is a two-pronged problem. When you point out the value and necessity of these processes to clients, they say 'abeg, just draw me plan, jo!'

They may not understand the value of all aspects of the architect's input. Whose fault? Both architect and client! Architects MUST take the time to educate their clients as it will enhance their enjoyment of the process, their accountability to their clients and their professional fulfillment.

Clients in their turn MUST realize that the services they seek from architects are best received in whole, not piecemeal. There is a reason why an architect suggests certain solutions. There are many processes that are brought to bear in the mind of the architect. The 'drawing' or plan is merely a means of communicating thoughts, processes, synthesized laws and regulations etc.

Lastly, building sometimes deteriorate quickly because the workmanship is not up to scratch. Some (I repeat, some) tradesmen and artisans do not utilize their best endeavors in doing their part of a project. Sometimes the majority of artisans may do their work but a critical part, like drainage or flashings may be done poorly and that can compromise the WHOLE project.
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