Of tasteful living

Nigeria has forced Nigerians to unlearn a lot of things. The “state of the nation” has reduced us to a people who no longer care about class and taste. I learnt to distinguish between the classy and the ordinary early in life and that fact still informs a lot of decisions in my life. I remember now what it was like growing up in upscale neighbourhoods in the ancient city of Ibadan. Each time the memory comes up, I feel like subjecting whatever (or whoever) is responsible for the erasure of the word “maintenance culture” from our dictionary to public execution. We are forced now to thrive on mere recollections of a bygone era.

I am definitely not going to blame our mediocre taste on the economy-the poor thing has borne the brunt of being blamed for all woes, just like the Devil. I choose instead to talk of the blatant absence of aesthetics in property development and why the economy has absolutely nothing to do with it. I am of the view that few things are indicative of one’s level of refinement and exposure and one of the most obvious (probably next to one’s fashion sense) is the level of detail applied to ensuring the beauty of one’s dwelling. I choose the word “dwelling” because it is synonymous with “living”-which is the whole purport of this write-up.

My earliest memories as a child, albeit somewhat inadequately captured in photographic lenses but still very fresh in my photographic memory, was of growing up in a colonial-style bungalow located in upscale Onireke GRA in Ibadan. I remember vividly how vast the grounds of that abode were and how convenient it was for us kids to play around in our underpants without being seen by neighbouring school mates passing by. Within that compound, I mastered the ways of the primate, hopping from tree to tree. I remember the mini-forest into which a headless chicken meant for our pots once disappeared. The mango trees, the pawpaw trees and the little farm we tried to develop…all are distant but vivid memories now.

That was prime property! Nobody “wastes” space like that anymore. Every square, every inch goes for the top naira these days. In metropolitan Lagos, huge buildings are cramped into spaces only suitable for miniature gardens and slabs meant to cover drainages are ingeniously converted to garages. The space in the front garden of my Onireke home could easily swallow 30 cars, that is, if I choose to conveniently forget the huge space at the back! No exaggeration here.

These days, nothing occupies its customary space anymore. The space hitherto reserved for toilets and stores has gone to the sitting, living and dining rooms. Patio, garden, pantry, music room, study…my, I’m indulging in pure grandiloquence! Those words are but classic Greek these days! Majority of properties these days are void and without form! Interior and exterior are incongruously designed!

I would rather spend N80 million of hard-earned money on constructing a simple abode of the sort I have described above than spend the same amount buying a miserable plot of land on an artificial island, all in the name of keeping up with the Joneses! It doesn’t end there, a further N200 million is spent on erecting eyesores. I don’t blame them. Most of the building owners acquired the money through unconventional means and thus are not expected to know how to spend it.

I know not whether to blame this development on the “paradigm shift” in Nigerian architectural science. I say “Nigerian” because architecture still maintains its flavour everywhere else-sheer artistry rather than “copy and paste” is what draws glances in architectural circles. I dare say that architecture is more of an art than a science. Maybe Nigerian architects are more of scientists than artists? But can we really blame the architects? If, for instance I want to build a “customized” house, how much of my input is required? I would say 80 percent! Why? The architect is just to express MY thoughts in drawings! So, I dare say that the paucity of simple art in our buildings these days is largely due to the bleakness of the building owner’s imagination.

But then, I digress! I do not intend to criticize architecture and architects, I intend to go the whole hog and criticize everything that makes up those new buildings that are springing up everywhere, from Lekki to Ikeja to the less elite areas like Akowonjo and Ikorodu. Lagos is where I choose to criticize because that is where the most development is going on. The Governor is doing his best to produce a hybrid Lagos by merging memories of the Lagos of his youth with images of modern mega cities he sees the world over. On the other hand, it doesn’t seem the people of Lagos share his vision, they seem so bent on achieving the very opposite. Previous governments did a lot of damage too by turning the State into one without any form of town planning.

Let Lekki be the guinea-pig in this experiment. Work takes me everyday to Lekki so I am in a good position to offer a critique. Sometimes, when I am weary of dwelling in the Silicon Valley, I move away from the screen and take a stroll. I have taken the stroll on countless occasions and not once have I come across a property that I truly desire to own. All I do is marvel at the amount of money that resides in this region. First of all, the houses there all look the same, an artless combination of rectangles and triangles on the outside. Inside, nothing changes, the interior décor and general designs are one-dimensional. One can easily predict what to expect inside any of these houses. I’ve been inside most. One thing I must give to some of these Lekki houses though is that what is lacking in terms of space outside is somewhat made up for inside.

Just in case you still don’t have an idea of what I’m talking about, take a trip to Ibadan and visit any of the GRAs there and you will understand me. We moved from our very desirable colonial Onireke abode (for it was official quarters) to a less spacious but modern Oluyole Estate property in the late eighties. My father never hesitated to express his yearning to purchase the former property each time we drove past Kudeti Avenue.

I have had the privilege of examining some of the choicest properties in Ibadan, One of such is “The Rock” owned by Chief Richard Akinjide. On the outside, it is simple but not bland. The garden is well-manicured and the peace is palpable. Go inside the building and you’re definitely in for a shocker. I simply can’t describe the beauty of the interior. Colours blend and the detail put to the décor is razor-sharp. I took in the beauty in the very short period of my first visit. A second visit ensured I made another discovery-this property had a garden house! The Chief and his wife (now deceased) were lounging there on this occasion and I could not but desire such for myself. Talk of people who knew how to live in style!

Another property well-worthy of mention is the New Culture Studios in Ibadan, owned by connoisseur, Professor Demas Nwoko. I am told that this masterpiece was originally designed both as an abode and a cultural centre of some sorts, thus the name of the property. The missing thing here is the fact that the beautiful amphitheatre it houses is sill uncompleted. This however does not take away from the overall beauty of the mansion. Here, the fact that red bricks are ageless is accentuated. The landscaping is garishly world-class.

Abeokuta has another architectural beauty in Professor Wole Soyinka’s specially constructed house. I have not been to this place but I’ve heard a lot about it. Located deep in the woods, this property is touted as exceptional, much like its owner. I am told that a visit to this home of art could leave one with the impression that some sort of whirlwind had taken one into some American woods. As a child born with an artistic mind, one of the houses that made an impression on my small mind was the Nobel Laureate’s Ibadan abode.-simple but classy and art-filled.

I am definitely not going to suggest that Lagos hasn’t got more than a fair share of choice properties. No! Apapa, Old Ikoyi, Ikeja GRA and Old Yaba adequately typify what I am carrying on about. The properties there are more of homes than houses. They remind me of Old Bodija, Iyaganku GRA, Jericho GRA, Onireke GRA and Oluyole Estate, all reserved areas in Ibadan.

I hesitate to talk about other parts of Lagos. I consider Surulere, for instance, a garrison. Apart from streets like Bode Thomas, Adeniran Ogunsanya, Eric Moore, Falolu, Ekololu, Ogunlana and a few other streets (which are no longer residential anyway), the other places are ghetto-like. There is absolutely no ventilation. Bungalows are divided into three parts and sold at outrageous prices. There is no space in between houses and definitely, there is no space inside the houses. Sometimes these Surulere houses remind me of Apongbon. Some of the “guilty” streets include Akerele, Gbaja, Randle, Adeniji, Bello, Fashola and Onitilo. Agreed, the houses in these areas were originally designed to accommodate low-income earners but I know these areas used to be beautiful. Unchecked structural alterations by residents ensured the rapid, unwelcome change.

I recently visited a friend at his Apapa home. He was not around as at the time I arrived so I indulged myself in viewing the building from just outside the fence. The grounds were vast but the house itself was not in a good state-at least from the outside. I later viewed the interior when my friend arrived and although my first impression was that of a neglected building, I later got to see the beauty of the building, even in neglect. The study, living room and sitting room downstairs were quite visible. Huge ones at that. The ceiling was made of wood which looked like it had been there for a century and showed no sign of being tired. It would probably last another double century. Refurbish that building and I would gladly buy it for N200 m. The wooden ceiling reminded me of the wooden floorboards at our Onireke home. I am sure the floors have been replaced now anyway. A dry-cleaning outfit now occupies that building and I cannot imagine the terrible changes that must have taken place inside the building all in the name of modernisation.

The difference between the Ibadan GRA and the Lagos GRA is in the fact that Lagos, being pressed for space, is slowly yielding to the temptation of modernising these old estates and the result is near disastrous. Lekki-like houses are slowly replacing the beautiful colonial homes and I don’t like it one bit. I am not against change or modernisation but my point is that modernisation should only do one thing, and that is to improve on the old. What I see these days is far from that. It is just a matter of time before the new buildings start showing signs of wear and tear because they are built from inferior building materials. I expect new money to do new things. We do not need drug money to build a home of good taste. There will always be something classy your money can afford you. Let’s not lose our creative minds.

1 comment

Anonymous said...

good investigative jornalism but some pictures wouldn't hurt

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