Coined as the Silicon Valley of Lagos, Yaba has been rebranded into Lagos’s startup and technology hub, drawing attention to the future of the area. As one of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods, it has a long history and remnants of a colonial past. Pieces of its railway almost peek out behind walls, as children play ‘hide and seek’, weary of the possibility of being discovered – though not at first.
The railway was an important means of transport for the British for moving goods to and from Lagos and the rest of the country. However, following Nigeria’s independence, the railway fell into disuse. Though some of the train routes have been reopened, people have abandoned the tracks in favour of transportation by road.
The Ebute-Metta railway compound, though long past its glory days, has in some ways experienced a reawakening. The restored train routes, complete with modern train carriages and other rehabilitation projects such as Legacy 1995, which are currently engaged in the documentation and preservation of historic materials within the compound, have beckoned new users.
Lagos, a metropolis of over 20 million people, is currently being expanded through the reclamation of land by the Atlantic Ocean. This expansion has overshadowed opportunities for redevelopment in already established towns in the state, but as the rich move into the new developments, it is the poor who have taken ownership of the abandoned spaces, giving birth to new communities.
Having grown up in Harrow, England, railways have long been a part of my identity. Heading to school, work, church or family visits, I loved and at the same time dreaded my daily commutes. Living at the end of a train line, I have become accustomed to viewing stations not only as stops, but as a space binding the diverse identities of all those who fall within its scape into one communal unit. Over the years, families and communities have not just passed through the Ebute-Metta railway compound, journey bound, but have also made the site their final stop, setting up homes and social amenities within its unused spaces.
The recently concluded [A]FA Legacy Lab was aimed at examining the railway compound as it related to Scale, Heritage, and Terrain Vague. It was the Ignasi de Solà-Morales-coined term ‘terrain vague’, focused on “abandoned areas, on obsolete and unproductive spaces and buildings, often undefined and without specific limits”, which fascinated me. Otherwise abandoned, these train carriages and the railway shed have become the village square for the residents who currently utilise the space. Carriages flicker between social and living zones and a hierarchy of order lingers about the communal areas. Here, children are bathed while others run around their makeshift football pitch, laughter is heard, and much is discussed.
It was important that the project did not disrupt the community but instead reacted to its demands through architectural and artistic means. However, according to Solà-Morales, it was impossible for an architectural intervention to occur without impacting the environment quite drastically. It was his belief that “When architecture and urban design project their desire onto a vacant space, a terrain vague, they seem incapable of doing anything other than introducing violent transformations, changing estrangement into citizenship, and striving at all costs to dissolve the uncontaminated magic of the obsolete in the realism of efficacy”.
Stephanie Rizai’s “Hanging out with Nature” played on the idea of home and social space by producing hammocks “where people could chill” – a description attributed to the shed by the young men who used the space. It would be interesting to see what they would make of the installation and the recycled material used to create the structure. Would the hammocks be a permanent intervention or merely a visiting piece and could this be described as the violent transformation that Solà-Morales was describing in his essay?
“Carriage”, a film by Tito Aderemi-Ibitola, which captures conversations on government, power, and colonialism, was screened within the abandoned train carriages. We became familiar with the cast – members of the community, Nature, KS Owo ni Koko, Idris, and others, who performed and became exhibition guides in a way during the public viewing. Two weeks earlier, their knowledge of the shed was shared with the excited participating artists and architects exploring the space for the first time.
None of the magic of the shed was lost as the lab allowed for the participants to spend time in dialogue with the communities, documenting collective histories, current and previous utilisation of the space, as well as their hopes for the future. Some of the conversations were unspoken, exploring the collision of various visual narratives told through displays of tropical fruit, Ankara fabric stalls, and even bags of water that were hawked as commuters made their way along the rail line. Cansu Ergun’s “Ivy” was a sculptural interpretation of her discovery of the city, a mettise of her pre- and post-Lagos Legacy Lab experience. She was able to capture the imprint of the city’s kaleidoscopic quality in a 3D pattern that made its way through the vegetation into the confines of the shed.
Despite all the chaos that is often attributed to the city of Lagos, guests were invited to experience a moment of calm in the “Ori” installation by Aderemi Adegbite and Jon Krizan, although an air of tension still remained. A heavy rock hanging dangerously close to the delicate foray below and a pathway lined with caged animals weary of their fate threatened what otherwise would have been a serene moment. Such was the balance of Nature in its human, environmental, and spiritual form that left some guests hoping that the ‘gods were appeased’.
The opportunity for students to draw inspiration from the communities, cultures, and environment they encountered via the [A]FA lab encourages a contemporary dialogue that can be documented and referenced as Africa continues to assert itself within positive global narratives. Baerbel Mueller and her team have embarked on an exciting journey that opens the eyes of young architects to an intimate discovery of Sub-Saharan Africa as makers and historians.
Ignasi de Solá-Morales Rubio, “Terrain Vague”, in: Cynthia Davidson (ed.), Anyplace, Anyone Corporation, MIT Press, New York/Cambridge, Mass. 1995, pp. 118-123.