British Colonial Architecture: Current Research

Exports Only?

Export Architecture. To the casual reader, this phrase may come across as almost self-explanatory, devoid of any further need for clarification. Export, most will reason, literarily connotes the transfer of a product from its source of production to a foreign or external recipient, usually in exchange for a fee, charge or emolument. As for Architecture, the reader might almost think, well, we all know what architecture is! Caution is however advised, as such perceived ‘knowledge’ on architecture could often be very superficial.

In spite of the lack of complexity to the reasoning described above, it does provide a basic insight to export as a means of product transfer. The ‘Product’ here, is however largely limited to a perception of manufactured (or material) goods, but which exportation clearly transcends. Culture, lifestyle, language, and fashion among other things, are immaterial endeavours also exported across borders. Architecture, possibly rated material in terms of the physical building components it employs, and immaterial with regards to construction methods, building forms and functional requirements – has been exported all through history by explorers, adventurers, and new settlers.

Lagos European Quarters

The architecture established in Nigeria during the British colonial era could well be assumed a classic example of export architecture, with features that reflected architectural traits from the heart of empire and were alien to the prevailing indigenous buildings of the time. It may however constitute a very hasty and almost erroneous judgement to assume that all British colonial buildings were export products. Could there perhaps, have been instances where indigenous architectural style and features were adapted, or even wholly copied in colonial building?

Writing on the building works carried out by European builders in Nigeria, Arthur M. Foyle in a 1951 The Builder Journal, had noted the character of early houses for government staff in Nigeria. He observed that while they were built of timber in the south, in the north and in the more inaccessible areas, staff housing were usually constructed of local materials and often by local labour using traditional methods of construction.


Hausa Built form, Northern Nigeria

This ‘Type Mud brick European quarters’ designed by Nigeria’s colonial Public Works Department presented here, was sourced from a 1933 technical paper of the department, and rightly corroborates Foyle’s observation. The European quarters’ adapted features may perhaps, be better understood if analyzed on surviving Hausa built form models of Northern Nigeria. Although its plan retains a European model with a garage, hall, pantry, store and dressing room on the ground floor, and features a bedroom and bathroom upstairs, the quarters design largely adapts local form and materials to accommodate the colonial lifestyle.


1933 Drawing of European Quarters at Katsina

  1. ogeh patrick said:

    well done

    • Yemi Salami said:

      Thank you Ogeh Patrick.

  2. A Muhammad-Oumar said:

    I teach Nigerian traditional architecture. I would like to know more about your research if possible. If you will be so kind and contact me I’ll be very grateful. Thanks

  3. Yemi Salami said:

    Ok Mr Muhammad-Oumar, I will send you an email.

  4. Nasser Ahmed said:

    I am looking for colonial design plans for a building in Kano built around 1917/25 used as Office and Rest House for the Governor General. Close to the Golf course

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