Old Houses

This post was inspired by Kelechi Anabaraonye’s love for old houses and how he’s turned it into a consuming passion. My attention is easily hijacked and so I’ve subconsciously begun to seek out pre-1960 houses wherever I go.

Recently also, I stumbled upon this story of a woman who’s caused a stir blogging about tasteless mansions in the US. Combine the two and what you get is a fascination that has had me turning my head left and right while driving, as my attention is drawn towards remarkable buildings.

I took this photo last December in Yaba, Lagos and loved everything about the house, so much so that I made it my twitter avatar.

What’s not to like about a sturdy, perfectly symmetrical house? Throw in the yellow paint and green trim, those curved balconies, the beautiful fence, and the bas-relief plaque and it’s a pure charmer.

Yaba was built in the 1930s as a natural extension of Lagos city. The plan was residential, at a time when we had not yet evolved a separate set of standards, lower than the rest of the world’s. A respectable middle class was evolving and they built proud, sensible houses as you’d expect they would.

It’s a bygone era now. Apart from a few infrequent beauties like this one, the district has retained little of its old charm.

There exists a very thrilling enjoyment of antiquatedness that rivals perhaps every other one of life’s pleasures. It’s an affliction that manifests to varying degrees, whose sufferers identify one another with glances that range from gleeful to deranged.

Sadly, it’s not popular in our country. Our conception of progress is so garish it’s almost incompatible with vintage. The mark of success in our culture is to discard the old for the new and shiny. And we’re not even that old, a 100-year old structure is a wonder here.

It’s cannibalism.

In a brassy, post-merit present, the old represents harmony and solid nostalgia. At this point, I have to mention the greatest thing on facebook, a group called The Nigerian Nostalgia Project. If you love history and you never heard of it, I demand my reward right now.

So I like old stuff. And since Yaba is old by Lagos standards, I like Yaba. And Apapa, and Ebute Metta, and Ikoyi. But there’s a lot to be said about the city’s penchant for demolishing its old treasures like a crazed maniac.

Last year, Olaiya house was demolished. It has to be said that the house was in utter shithole condition by the time, but then this 161-year old building was designated a national monument in 1956. It’s only one out of a long list of senseless aggressions against monuments that ideally should be painstakingly restored and preserved.

Lagos’ oldest, grandest buildings are to be found on Lagos Island. There are old churches, monuments, and colonial relics. There are samples of interesting architecture to be found in the Brazilian quarter. There is history escaping from every street corner.

And I’ll be visiting soon.

Because it’s one thing to live in Lagos, but another thing entirely to look through tourist eyes. It’s a city of 15 million people who practically never stop and smell the roses. Old, crumbling concrete roses.