Monthly Archives: May 2013

With the current array of communication media available in today’s world – the electronic or email, the short message service or SMS, voice and video calls, sharing and exchanging of information and ideas through social media – it is becoming increasingly difficult to imagine a world where most of these did not exist. It is also of interest that a good number of the media have only come into use in the last twenty years approximately.

1901 one shilling southern Nigeria postage stamp

1901 one Shilling Southern Nigeria postage stamp

Communication has always been a top priority of the human existence. This is perhaps attested to by the picture writings of archeological findings on ancient cave walls. Postal communications (and the radiotelegraph developed later) were probably the only means of long distance communication in Nigeria during the early and mid-twentieth century period of colonial rule. It may also appear that next in the line of priorities after hospitals, was the development of the colonial Post Office. The provision of hospitals and health care infrastructure were of top priority. The first few years of European presence had resulted in so many deaths for the new settlers, it unfortunately earned the African continent the sobriquet “white man’s grave.”

Post offices were of almost equal importance. They provided an undisrupted flow of communication between the colonial office and the administration in Nigeria, and thereby represented a pivotal tool in the colonial administrative process. Their function was however not limited to providing postal services; the post offices were also often equipped with telephone exchange facilities. Aside from their role in relaying official correspondences, post offices equally helped colonial civil servants, service personnel of the Royal West African frontier force (RWAFF) and other settlers of the time keep constant touch with families back home.


The ‘Sorting’ office

The Public Works Department (PWD) had designed and built these post offices across Nigeria as part of the wider colonial building program. As with most other public buildings of the time, the designs were based on ‘Type’ categories. These categories had perhaps reflected the postal requirements of various settlement types. This ranged from village, to native administration center, division, provincial headquarters and colony. Like the example shown below, the post offices were mostly designed in simple geometric open plan forms. The postage and package sorting office is the focus of activities, and has a larger dimension than the other spaces. The entrance features an open porch, fronted by a classical archway and topped by a parapet. The hipped roof form provides a conical, prism shaped backdrop, that makes the design exude a note of brilliance, simplicity and well-proportioned forms. 

post office

1946 PWD Post Office drawing


‘changing my situation’

Here’s another excerpt from an interview with Jean-Philippe Vassal, carried out in 2006 as part of a research project funded by the Franco-British Union of Architects. Vassal talks more about the references to ‘far-away’ places within their architecture and the influence of Africa…

13.5.14 LV Bordeaux

Management Sciences University Building, Bordeaux. Lacaton & Vassal, completed 2006.             Roses climb up and across a grid of wires to create a facade of flowers.

JH            Because the Union encourages relations between the French and British in terms of architecture it is perhaps pertinent to ask whether you consider your work to be typically French in any way?

JPV         Perhaps there is a part, yes, but I don’t know… What I do know is that I have travelled quite a lot, I have lived in Africa and I am very curious of different things. I like changing my situation, to see new things and sometimes I am frightened by the fact that architecture could fix you somewhere. Each time I have the possibility of creating a new project somewhere else or the possibility in my work to take something from a different place – like flowers, like Turkish tiles [at the Architekturzentrum cafe in Vienna] – to make this connection with another country, to escape. Very often, with flowers.

JH           Like your University building in Grenoble, for example?

JPV         Yes, where we use tropical flowers. We have also just finished a big building in Bordeaux with roses as a background. We have 700 climbing rose trees with beautiful flowers and yes, to find something that creates distance from the architecture, from materiality.

JH           Do you think this comes from [your] living in Morocco? I’ve read that Casablanca is a city where French [culture] and the West meets with Islamic culture…

JPV         Yes, this confrontation occurs. In Casablanca you have a lot of incredible, modern architecture of the 1950s, the ’70s – really beautiful buildings and at the same time you have the medina, you have this mix. It is very interesting and there is a sort of… old and new things touch, there are different styles very close to each other.

In the 2G book [Lacaton and Vassal by Ilka and Andreas Ruby] there is an image of a nomadic school in the Sahara. There is nothing around the school, it is just a hut and we don’t know where the parents of the children are, but we imagine the children travelling long distances to arrive at the school. It is, I don’t know, a structure of 80 metres square, about 1.5 or 1.6 metres high – not very tall – and made of branches in the sand. So when it is really hot and bright outside, inside the hut it is dark and cool. The plants allow strips of light in and you enter this place to go to school. There are twenty school children, 6 or 7 years old, sitting in the sand all looking in one direction at a TV screen with a programme on – no teacher, you don’t need a teacher, just a TV. There are batteries and the TV which are linked to a solar panel on the roof and it is in the middle of the desert! And for me, it’s really the embodiment of modernity: architecture and modernity are precisely this. This mix of situation, place and these elements create – very efficiently, but also with a lot of poetry – this story.

JH           Does this place exist now?

JPV         Yes, it exists. Maybe for three years and then the wind blows it down and they just build another… And the children, you can go in and they don’t care, they just focus on the TV screen and the programme they are watching.

JH         And so they learn maths and science through TV.

JPV       Yes. For me, this is precisely architecture because here in Europe you could not imagine this happening. I like to imagine this cross fertilisation of things. Here you say no, I cannot employ straw as a roofing material, I cannot have a TV if there is no window… You can adapt very traditional things with more modern things; it is very easy.

Call for Papers Reminder

Jane and Max on beach in N Wales001





For over fifty years, E. Maxwell Fry (1899–1987) and Jane B. Drew (1911–96) were integral members of the English architectural avant-garde. The Fry and Drew partnership – in its various incarnations – was a magnet for architects and architectural students from all over the world, giving the practice a distinctly international outlook. Their built works, from the 1920s to the 1980s, cross the globe from Europe to South-east Asia.

This conference seeks to investigate the themes and movements of twentieth century architecture and town planning that have been influenced by the work of Fry and Drew, and vice versa. What is the context of Fry and Drew’s architecture? Is it possible to identify a FryDrew strand of Modernism or a house style? What is their architectural legacy?

We welcome papers from scholars and practitioners, and encourage proposals from early career researchers and graduate students. Papers might address, but are not limited to:

  • Inter-war Modernism – early influences, the rise of Modernism in England, collaborators and creative networks (such as contractors, engineers, artist, patrons).
  • Post-war Modernism – the Festival of Britain style, the Brutalist movement and younger British modernists, questioning the modernist agenda, the work of Fry and Drew’s former employees.
  • Colonialism – comparisons of colonizers in architectural and theoretical terms, war-time postings, colonial frameworks (for example, the role of the Public Works Departments).
  • Post-colonialism – tradition and modernity, design and identity, cultural colonialism. For example, Fry and Drew’s work at Chandigarh, in West Africa, throughout the Middle East.
  • Tropical Architecture – the use of new technologies and design ideas, its network and legacy, reassessment of the tropical, tropical architecture pedagogies at the Architectural Association and beyond.
  • Town Planning – the Garden City model, the neighbourhood unit, modernist planning schemes, the New Towns and post-war rebuilding, the spread and implementation of CIAM guidelines.
  • Fry & Drew’s wider influence – their patronage of art, Drew’s significance for women (in architecture), influential personal or professional relationships, their published texts, their involvement in architectural design education.

We invite abstracts of up to 300 words for 20-minute papers. Please email Jessica Holland and Iain Jackson at by Sunday 2nd June 2013.

See the conference page for further details.