Nigeria’s Modern Building Boom: Are We Sacrificing Function for Form

As an architect and an observer of architectural trends, I have noticed the recent increase in the popularity of a certain architectural style. In fact, it has become the fad among successful architects in Nigerian Residential Buildings.

Modern architecture as we call it stems from a period in architecture where design style was characterized by prominent horizontal and/or vertical elements, flat roofs and large windows. Today, a lot of contemporary materials such as steel, glass, concrete etc are used in its construction.

In Nigeria, these building types are becoming prevalent among young clients/architects, perhaps because of their unique look, i.e. their unusual and stylistic appeal. Which often creates a sense of ‘Brand’ for both its owners and designers.

However, my concerns are about how suitable these buildings are to the Nigerian climate and how easily maintainable they are.

Is it mostly a case of function following form or the architect forcing his ideas on society at any expense Furthermore, I am curious to know the perception of the public toward these kinds of buildings.

When we look at the general appeal of modern architecture – of both its interior and exterior form, we are fascinated, especially by those that are well-designed and built. Buildings with this style stand out.

Most architects and clients who patronize this style of architecture share similar traits with the style. Traits such as sophistication and simplicity.

Often, this architectural style creates a sense of brand for its owners and designers.

Nevertheless, how often do we ponder on the suitability of these building types to the Nigerian climate and what are the levels of comfort, especially thermal comfort achievable in these buildings?

Firstly, a defining characteristic of modern architecture is its flat roof. To achieve this, most architects will use outright flat concrete slabs or conceal a roof within tall parapet walls with hidden roof gutters or have a visible lean-to single slope roof over the building.

From observations, the first roof is unsuitable for our climate because it causes interior spaces to heat up faster than any of the other roof types. It is also prone to leakages caused by consistent rainwater accumulation on concrete and requires frequent and expensive maintenance.

The second roof also requires periodic maintenance especially the roof gutters while the third roof requires the least maintenance and is very effective in taking rainwater completely away from the building top just like the Hip Roof.

However, when the roof slope is too gentle it doesn’t do this effectively and thus, easily gets damaged by the accumulated water that should otherwise have been quickly discharged.

This, therefore, raises questions on the suitability of concrete flat roofs to our climate. Secondly, interior spaces that should normally be completely shaded from the scorching sun and drenching rain are often compromised in order to achieve aesthetics.

A common example of these is roof terraces or balconies. They are often fully/partially exposed allowing both heat and rain to not only access these spaces but discomfort users in these spaces. Unnecessary exposure of certain buildings’ parts to the elements can compromise their structure and materials.

Lastly, Large and full-length windows are also characteristics of modern architecture. It allows the designer to emphasize his vertical elements, however, these windows are retainers of heat within the building. Most of the locally available glasses and window types are made from normal glass of single pane which are good conductors and retainers of heat, just like the greenhouse. The thermal windows on the other hand are expensive and not readily available.

The deficiencies and unsuitability of most of these roof types and interior spaces are known facts to architects, nonetheless, some still insist on using them. Thus, raising the maintenance cost, thermal discomfort, and energy cost (as a result of increased mechanical cooling) on the part of the client.

This makes me ask if it is a case of function following form for architects, that is, is he more interested in making an aesthetic statement at the expense of functionality and maintainability? As for the public perception of these buildings, I will say that generally, they admire them, however, I can’t say if they desire them too.

A few people I spoke with appreciated the architectural style but showed no interest in owning one. No doubt this style is elitist, so the demography I spoke with may not be a true reflection of public opinions. But from my own perspective, I admire this style of design (and i often engage in it).

However, I am bothered that most of those who engage in it as well may not be considering other factors such as climate, maintainability and energy consumption of these buildings when designing and thus, creating design doesn’t solve local problems.

In addition, the hue of paints used on most of them are shades of grey, white and a dominant black/red/orange etc which for me doesn’t integrate these buildings well into their natural environment. Lastly, someone, I know once described the interiors of these types of architecture as ‘Cold’ that does not have a homely or residential ambiance when in fact their function is residential.

This is so because the interiors and exteriors are mostly made of ‘visually cold’ materials such as stainless steel, glass and white/shades of grey painted walls, ceilings and floors.

In summary, the widespread adaptation of modern architectural style in residential buildings is admirable, in fact, its aesthetics and class have endeared it to the most sophisticated, simple and young clients/designers.

However, my concern is in the suitability of this piece of architecture to the Nigerian climate. It is evident that the flat roof characteristics of this design type, coupled with its large glass coverage expose it to maintainability issues, increased energy consumption and rainwater leakages. Also, some of its interior spaces are disadvantaged by the quest for aesthetics. The public perception of modern architecture is that even though they are a breath of fresh air, they should also be designed to have seamless integration with the natural environment and be made more homely.

In conclusion, while modern architecture may appeal to clients and architects due to its unique look, it is important to consider its suitability to the Nigerian climate and ease of maintenance. The use of flat roofs and large windows can lead to issues with thermal comfort and leaks, which can be costly to maintain. As architects, it is important to consider the function of the building before focusing on its form and to take into account the public’s perception of these buildings. It’s important to balance aesthetic appeal with practicality and sustainability. It’s also important to consider the materials and technologies available in the local context to reduce maintenance costs and increase the thermal comfort and energy efficiency of the building.

1 thought on “Nigeria’s Modern Building Boom: Are We Sacrificing Function for Form”

  1. Nnamdi Nweke Ilozue

    I would wish our Nigerian Architects- very creative & intelligent lot, would explore more into Modern styling in home Designs. To achieve the desired match of Functionality and Aesthetic Form. I desire that this would happen soonest.

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