Nigeria Architecture Design
Although modern Nigeria is almost entirely represented by 21st-century architecture, it was not always like this. Nigeria is the most ethnically diverse nation in Africa, and this influenced traditional Nigeria architecture.
With 300 ethnic tribes speaking at least 500 languages, it is not surprising that African architecture was quite diverse in this region. However, the greatest influence on pre-colonial Nigeria architecture were the numerous kingdoms and tribal states.
The various kingdoms had peculiar African architecture, which fascinated many African architects. The structures were not just beautiful, but they considered Nigeria’s climate and people’s cultural beliefs.
Most structures in the various kingdoms were built using earth, grass and stone, common materials used in African architecture. While African architects chose the materials because they were readily available, the structures were designed to primarily repel invaders from other tribes.
While the various tribes had their unique aspects of African architecture, the three popular tribes, Hausa, Yoruba, and Igbo, had some of the most noticeable and popular architecture that defined Nigeria’s traditional architecture.
Hausa is one of the largest communities in Nigeria, with approximately 30 million people. This has always been a large community and quite influential, even in the pre-colonial era.
The Hausa African architecture can be categorized into three main areas; surface design, calligraphy and ornamental. The African architects used the Hausa architecture in most of the northern cities, including the Emir palaces.
The buildings were primarily circular, and the African architects used stones, grass, mud, straws, and corn sticks. The mud was creatively turned into tubali-sun-dried bricks. In some cases, African architects used mud and straw as wall plaster.
This African architecture was adopted for housing units and cultural structures. The Hausa households were traditionally polygamous, so the houses were large enough to accommodate the wives and children.
Some of the distinct features of this community’s African architecture that have defined Nigeria architecture include the Dakis (rooms) based on the number of wives in the household, Darki Girki (kitchen), Rumfa (shade) for entertaining, the Shago (room for mature unmarried male), and the Rijiya (well at the centre of the house).
In some households, members of the extended family lived together in what was commonly referred to as a compound with multiple housing units. African architects fenced the compound, and a gate was placed at the entrance to ensure easy monitoring of movement into and out of the compound.
When the Hausa took on Islam as their religion, their African architecture was tweaked to reflect their Islam beliefs. For example, an Azure, a male section in the house, was introduced to keep women away when male visitors were around.
Polygamous households also introduced rooms separate from the main house for privacy. The African architects introduced decorations with multiple colours on the walls. Traditional African architects moulded mud into Islamic symbols and plastered them on the walls. Mosques, such as the old Zaria Mosque, were also built. Mud vaults and domes were features used to distinguish mosques from other buildings.
The Yoruba African architecture is slightly similar to that of the Hausa community, where African architects constructed several housing units within a compound. However, instead of single units, this African architecture involved constructing several houses as one continuous building. This style was known as Orowa. Each room in the house was a standard size, usually 10 ft (ese bata mewa).
The other interesting feature of this Nigeria architecture is the palace (afin) and market were centrally located. African architects constructed the homes around the palace and market. Ultimately, a small town would emerge. This is the reason the Yoruba people predominantly live in urban centres. Since the housing units surround the palace and market, the urban clusters are circular.
The size of land had a hierarchy of sorts, where the king occupied the largest compound, followed by the chiefs, eldest members of the family and so on. Once African architects finished constructing a compound, it was named after the family’s head to identify where each family lived easily.
The housing units in each compound were constructed in a specific way, where an open courtyard was the focal point for social gatherings. African architects built the interconnected houses in a quad shape so that each household had easy access to the courtyard, which was also used for craft making, socializing, and cooking. An area of the courtyard was set aside for storage of farm implements and livestock rearing.
The main building materials used by African architects included moulded mud sourced from laterite soils, bamboo rafters, and termite-resistant wood. The moulded mud was used to build walls and for the floor. The houses had no windows.
African architects chose roofing materials according to the environmental condition. The Yoruba living close to the Atlantic coast used palm leaves, while those in the northern regions opted to use treated wood.
The roof of each house was continuous to allow for easy collection of rainwater. African architects decorated the palace using animal murals and carved posts to distinguish it from other houses in the area. These decorative features were also used on the shrines.
The Igbo Architecture
Unlike the other communities, the Igbo had no central ruling system. They had no kings, but heads of clans were in charge of their households.
African architects built traditional Igbo houses using mud for the walls and grass to thatch the roofs. The roofs were A-pitched. The African architects started by building the roof’s skeletal by weaving bamboo poles. They were then covered with palm fronds before thatching with grass. Wood and bamboo were used as beams to support the structure.
Members of the same family, like the other communities, lived in the same compound. However, each household had its own house. Each compound had one entrance and exit for easy monitoring.
Since the Igbo were a polygamous community, the African architecture dictated that the families have a meeting house, where the entire household had free access. The wives had separate houses. Men in the household had their own space, while the children had shared housing facilities, separate from the adults.