Where is Igbo-Ukwu?

Retracing the Igbo culture through architecture

Cultural systems and identity of a people, expressed in their material and immaterial activities shape how they view and relate both with each other and their spaces. Cultural systems that are socially and environmentally positive deserve to be relevantly preserved through a reasonable interaction with other systems outside it.

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The Igbo people of south-eastern Nigeria had a very rich culture of community living and an efficient traditional building system, premised on a dynamic system of settlement where boundaries do not mean isolation. Availability of knowledge and building materials made building a community activity that is ecological and economical. Following foreign influences and fast growth of cities, isolating patterns of settlement has become the current practice. Igbo traditional architecture is now perceived as architecture for the poor. Foreign materials and building systems have replaced the local and the traditional, leading to a poor sense of community, unhealthy environment and high cost of building.

‘Where is Igbo-ukwu?’ analyses the community and building tradition of Igbo people, and how it can be used to retrace her culture. Located in Ibagwa Nike community, Enugu State, Nigeria, the project Propagates the gentle traditional transition from public to private spaces, as boundaries are marked with natural and open elements like trees, in contrast to the contemporary high fence walls that model isolation. Following a wave of city growth typified by deforestation, I integrated the trees at the heart of the community into the project and introduced new and organic pedestrian paths connecting old and new spaces, for direct and indirect communication across the community. The new buildings interact seamlessly with the existing dynamic system of settlement to create bubbles of shared spaces, for a good sense of community living. I designed a series of strategic programmes for community building, including a primary school for Ibagwa Nike community. The interaction would help the younger generation to appreciate their culture and environment in a more profound way than just through teaching history. It also includes a community college providing spaces for learning and performing various cultural activities, inspiring a re-connection to their common cultural ideas and ideals. The buildings will be built with traditional materials in a contemporary way, to achieve high performance with low resource use; rammed earth walls, with good thermal mass capacity and natural humidity regulation mechanism, a straw-bale roof for easy maintenance, protected from rain by another layer of metal sheets. Both layers separated by an open air space to avoid condensation and heat transfer. The metal sheets hosting solar panels for clean and constant energy supply. The design gives the community the opportunity to practice the building techniques periodically, enabling them to learn how it was done in the past and how it can be done better in the future. I initiated the project after some dialogue with some members of the community and their king. It is a project that will be constructed by the people for the people.