My lockdown story and the tears of the Nigerian house

by Yakubu Paul for REPLAYNGA

As my window embraces the sun, its sharp rays fall in love with my mirror and they both make me the common enemy. This is now my new alarm, but I snub them with my blanket and wake up 20 minutes later. Those minutes used to be the best part of my sleep, now I don’t own them anymore. My mind is in full control, it constantly reminds me I’ve lost my purpose, it comforts me that I am still alone (yes, the whole world is hiding too) and convinces me that today is just a new yesterday. Now I’m fully awake, the quarantine alarms me of my constant quest for new interiors, of my adventure to find public life in the few spaces of my apartment. To make abrupt meanings of the small journeys within these spaces and the collusions of architecture with furniture, objects, textiles and everything else. I quickly get to it. From leaving the bed (my new safe space) which is now my new bedroom or you could say my new home, to entering the bus with twitter, getting to the office at my room desk and trying to feel in public with those zoom meetings. Many times, this circle continues. At some point, it isn’t enough and like the breaks you need in that 9–5, I need to leave this place. Then comes those pointless journeys I usually make around the house but nowadays I am frightened by them. At every step, I remember the crack at the top-right end of the wall that whispers my name, the peeping cobweb at the lobby, the smear that screams at the kitchen counter and the paint stain that attacks me at the entrance door. I have stayed here so long that I not only notice all the details, but the world is now so silent, I hear their voices. In my quest to find public life, make meanings and experience all parts of these spaces, I’m now not only tired of them, but I’m also afraid of them because they are now tired of me. The house (spaces) now feels hunted, by me, looking for me, but to save me, from me. Still, I can’t leave because Corona is still outside.

Blaise Pascal once wrote that “all humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone”. I’m beginning to think it’s not just the man, but also the space. At some point, they need a break from us. Can these few spaces in our homes survive the many questions we ask of it this period? To be my house, my school, my office, church, club. I even want to feel all parts of the city with them: the roads, transport, people and everything about public life. They need a break; they need to breathe. This looks too much but the question is how would they adapt. The limits of residential houses have changed and we need to rethink its boundaries.

We need them to be spaces that mediate between private and public life, between the architecture of a house and the rest of the city, between the outer and inner environments and like a friend of mine popularly says “to be outside and inside at the same time”. This lockdown has shown me that the basic answers are quite glaring and perfectly rooted in our traditional architecture. The courtyard. The Nigerian house misses the courtyard. The ability to mediate between interior and exterior life was the superpower of our traditional architecture. It satisfied the need for private life and the yearning for public life within the same dwelling. Not only did it make the house a flexible space that could easily adapt to any typology(house-school-market-shrine-owambe), it was also the breath of fresh air and the break spaces needed from humans. It moved the idea of the house from an enclosure to a living thing. We need that feature back, in whatever size, shape or form, crafted to fit the needs of our present homes. It’s clear that the current urban fabric is tight and this is one of the reasons that has alienated the basic rectangular courtyard. I think rather than ignore, it should be a challenge to rethink the idea of the courtyard to fit the present narrative. It could be 3-dimensional, atriums, semi-closed, small urban-courtyards or even merged with spaces. One thing is clear, the Nigerian house is in earnest need of the courtyard, it is the first step in redesigning this typology to finally fit our context.

Tato architects courtyard house from https://www.designboom.com/

I guess even though I fight with my spaces every day during this quarantine, one positive is that I can hear their cries, learn from it and hope we can all meet outside soon. For now, stay safe guys, Corona is still outside.