In Lagos, a city with a complex urban structure, including historic buildings and broad interpretations of modern architecture, is PatrickWaheed design consulting (PWDC). The design practice is co-led by Adeyemo Shokunbi and aims to create a Nigerian architecture language by reviving local materials. They have explored the potential of local Laterite as a natural pigment, found new ways to use its thermal properties, and are now building research prospects for other local materials. I spoke with Architect Shokunbi about the inspirations and initial investigations he conducted during the construction of the Abijo mosque in Lagos. These projects have brought Laterite to life and are helping build the case for an architectural language in Nigeria.
Building wall finishes in Nigeria heavily rely upon hand rendering to achieve smooth surfaces. These methods can result in uneven surfaces and imperfections. PWDC was motivated to adopt TyrolTyroleanshing in their initial design projects. “We wanted the imperfections of buildings to be hidden. How did we achieve this? Shokunbi says, “We textured the building using a rough texture.” “I found by covering these imperfections with something not perfectly smooth; it starts to give a building some level credibility.” He adds, noting that the technique was meant to create visual integrity.
The firm began using the Tyrolean Technique to experiment with darker colors. This would help combat Nigeria’s dusty climate and ensure the finish’s durability. Shokunbi said that this led to questions about the aesthetics and architectural languages of buildings in Nigeria. He said, “I think we are at a point where we can have our own language, one that is identifiable, based not only on the materials we have, but also our understanding and response to context.” He noted that music, fashion, and the arts are also distinct elements of culture in the country. The firm used this as the basis for exploring the use of Laterite in modern architecture as a finishing technique.
Laterite occurs naturally as a reddish clayey substance found in tropical soils. It is widely used in West African vernacular architectural techniques, including adobe, rammed walls, and integrated approaches such as wattle-and-daub houses. The PWDC team experimented first with Laterite in the Mad House project. This involved creating a stacking of containers for vocational spaces. The team used it initially as a simple rendering on a brick wall, but it was expensive to apply evenly. The team then used the tyrolean method to replace parts of the mix in various ratios with Laterite to test its spraying ability, bonding ability, toning, and durability. The team started with a mixture of 1 bag of cement, 1 part sharp sand, and three parts laterite (1:1;3). To aid in bonding, the glue was inflated in proportion. We noticed that adding more cement to the mix allowed us to bond the Laterite correctly. The mixture, however, lost its color, a very earthy, burnt tone, and became pale,” said Shokunbi.
To reduce the cement in the mixture, we tested a mix of 1/2 bag cement, 1/2 part sharp sand, and 1.5 parts Laterite (1/2: 1/2: 1.5). A mixture of 1/4 cement, one sharp sand, and three laterite parts (1/4:1;3) produced a good tone, while maintaining the properties of Laterite. The PWDC team continues to investigate the ratio of technique, as the consistency and bonding of Laterite depends on its source. The differences in the heads of Laterite can cause them to behave differently. The team expanded their scope of experiments and faced new challenges as they moved on to the next project: the Abijo mosque in Lagos.
The team had to overcome challenges during the rainy seasons because the finish washed off or distorted due to the rain. Polyvinyl Acetate (PVA), a sealant and binding agent, was added to the mix to protect the finish against harsh weather. This mosque is an example of Laterite Tyrolean as the finish wraps around the envelope, creating a unique visual. Shokunbi says that the language was inspired by Yoruba traditional mud houses, which reflect climate, culture, and beliefs. The Abijo Mosque project used Laterite to create a unique and beautiful design. The use of Laterite in the Abijo mosque project had a significant impact beyond visual aesthetics. It provided an excellent interior space and reduced energy consumption. To achieve this, the team investigated the use of Laterite for the container structures in their current projects. The team used techniques like wattle-and-daub to insulate interiors and created mud ball finishes for the containers to give them a unique look. They also experimented with “laterite paint,” which they created by mixing PVA with the material and applying it on the container’s surfaces. The surfaces were more receptive to receiving tyrolTyroleane architect in Nigeria believes there are still many opportunities to explore the use of laterite and local materials. He says that the goal was to develop a consciousness about how people used to build in the past, how they used the materials and the responsibility we have to our environment. The firm launched a new research unit called NANA Collaboration and Workshop to push the development of local materials. NANA stands for New Alternative Nigerian Aesthetic. The firm will develop innovative laterite walls and precast mud panels and then collaborate with other architects to create different techniques. In a recent collaboration between Tosin Oshinowo and her team at CmDesign Atelier and the United Nations Development Program, the Laterite tyrolean method was used in a housing project called Homes for Ngarannam.
The firm aims to contribute to defining a language for Nigerian Architecture. Shokunbi says, “We want to find innovative and new ways to use locally sourced materials in our architecture.” How can we use that language to develop our architecture? What principles can be drawn from traditional architecture? How can we incorporate these principles in buildings within urban constraints rather than rural areas? How can we combine that? How can we create a synergy between the two? “These are the questions that we must ask,” he continues. The PWDC team’s laterite exploration provides a model for rethinking using locally-sourced materials while maintaining their environmental benefits using modern techniques.