Sunday20 August 2017

Building a Library 46: An Introduction to Nigerian Traditional Architecture

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An Introduction to Nigerian Traditional Architecture
By ZR Dmochowski, 1990

Robert Harbison picks 50 books that should feature in any architectural library.

The story of how this book came to be is inspiring in more than one way. Its author had surveyed Polish traditional architecture before the second world war. When invalided out of the Polish Army in 1942, he began lecturing in the Polish School of Architecture in Liverpool. Then in 1958 he took up a post with the Department of Antiquities in Lagos.

Dmochowski devoted the next eight years to surveying traditional buildings all over Nigeria, training African students in methods he had perfected in Poland. During the civil war in the late 1960s, he retreated to the Technical University in Gdansk and drew up the survey results in the wonderful plans, sections and aerial perspectives which fill these volumes. In 1972 he returned to Nigeria to realise his dream of a museum of traditional buildings rescued from dereliction or copied on reduced scale, an idea which fell victim to a change of governments in the 1970s.

These three rich volumes were finally put together after Dmochowski’s premature death by dedicated folk at a small British publisher, Ethnographica. The first volume covers the fantastic mud architecture of the Hausa people of northern Nigeria. It includes the early 19th century mosque in Zaria, once the most beautiful building in sub-Saharan Africa, now defaced beyond recognition by an infusion of Saudi money. Also in Zaria are elaborate houses and palaces designed in the spirit of this building by descendants of the mosque’s architect. Dmochowski’s photographs record vaulted interiors with built-in furniture like sculpture, decorated with patterns scored deep in the clay.

He also converted the ruined compound of a high official in Kano to house a local museum. A series of photos and cutaways shows all stages of this rebuilding, the nearest thing to a course in how to build a mud monument of your own.
Robert Harbison


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