In December 2016, I embarked on a search for an apartment in Lagos, Nigeria. It was my first time engaging in this activity in the city and in searching, I was exposed to the severe lack of affordable and decent housing options in the city and also became more aware of the widening inequality gap between poor and rich and the city’s rising population.
My search focused on Obanikoro, a suburb in Shomulu local government area of Lagos state. Obanikoro has a large concentration of buildings constructed in the 60’s and 70’s. A common feature of the architecture of these buildings is the focus on ample space, natural ventilation and natural light. Most often, when ownership of these buildings change, structural renovations are made to them that unfortunately sacrifice sound design and spatial values for monetary gain; the correlation between living spaces and the mental and physical wellbeing of the occupants of these spaces isn’t much considered when the renovations are done. A rhetorical question one feels the redevelopers of these buildings ask is “ Of what value is space, natural light and ventilation when more people can be crammed into buildings and multiple account credit alerts can be gotten?.”
Despite the increasing focus on money over people in the making of architectural decisions, a building that stands out and serves as a beacon of hope in the Obanikoro area for its preservation of people-centered values in its architecture is the aptly named Beacon House. Located on Ajayi Ogedengbe street, the Beacon House is a private residence built in 1965. It features the clear lines and forms common to modernist architecture, top to bottom windows in some parts of the property, the use of a cantilever beam and a low fence. The compound in which the building is situated is also amply spaced and has a number of trees that aid ventilation.
Houses on the Lagos mainland from the 60’s and 70’s similar to the Beacon House in terms of their people-centered architecture are either been torn down or renovated and with each new construction or renovation, salient design values are sacrificed and the resultant buildings are usually out of reach to a large segment of the population due to their high rent and sale figures.
The housing crisis isn’t limited to Lagos, Nigeria it is one that can be experienced in the major cities of the world from New York, London to Berlin in varied and similar ways. More focus is been given to housing projects that only people who have high income levels can afford thereby fuelling class inequalities. How can houses seize to be a marker of status and go back to their basic function of providing shelter? How can we shift the focus from building luxury apartment blocks by the lagoon and exclusive apartments on hugely expensive reclaimed land on the atlantic to building more social housing projects like those instituted by Alhaji Lateef Jakande? Can a focus on collective housing projects be a possible solution to this problem?
The questions remain unanswered and at the moment, I’m still searching not for answers but, for an apartment.