It was during a discussion about the economic potentials of Lagos that I first heard about Open House Lagos.
My initial sense of the term being a reference to the usual owanbe parties that anyone who had spent a weekend in Lagos knows to be a commonality faded as the people I was talking to explained that the term is actually straightforward: Open House – Private Citizens, Businesses, and Government giving the public access to iconic buildings across Lagos.
Aside from being intrigued by the fact that someone was thinking about buildings in Lagos not just as a place to work, sleep or transact business, but as curiosities, I was also taken by the huge potential inherent.
As you may know, unlike countries in North, East and Southern Africa, Nigeria doesn’t make any significant foreign exchange from tourism. The other regions mentioned benefit from a tourism industry in which people thinking of Safari think the Serengeti and other places where wild game and golden sunsets abound. The evening skies across Nigeria do throw up golden sunsets, but herds of zebras and buffaloes are sadly not features of the country’s 21st-century landscape.
But where we can’t compete with wildlife safari, the concept of Open House Lagos presents a very viable alternative that has an impact that surely extends beyond tourism. I am thinking about one phrase Nigerians are forever complaining about: maintenance culture.
In the US and other parts of the world, historic buildings are usually seen as national treasures to be preserved for posterity. In Nigeria, buildings are more likely to be respected for only their economic potential, which mostly has to do with how much rent can be gotten from them or how liveable they are. Now, people will begin to see that even that old crumbly building has a purpose too and thus will move to maintain it.
Further engagement of the project showed that my layman’s views were not farfetched — Open House Lagos essentially tries to engage with the sustainability of urban architecture by opening up the built environment to the general public.
It is hoped that when people partake in the guided tours of the 30 iconic buildings that are normally selected as part of the Open House Lagos project, they would get a sense of why buildings evolve, the logic of urban planning and the evolution of design.
The first edition of Open House Lagos took place in the last weekend of April 2016.
The project started off as a British Council Nigeria legacy project and was part of the UK/NG2015-2016 event and featured themed bus tours that fit with the peculiar mobility that Lagos responds to, and a fringe element that involved symposiums on the urban landscape.
How do we entrench a culture of sustainability in our urban architecture to the point where we can leave a legacy that would see future generations enjoying our iconic buildings in real time, instead of through the pages of historical texts or slides? This perhaps was the question in the minds of the initiators of Open house Lagos and why there was a collaboration with Legacy 1995, a body that seeks to preserve colonial buildings with historical significance.
Essentially, historic buildings were included in the Open House Lagos tours, as were religious buildings, modern buildings, personal or commercial buildings of architectural interest and buildings that were built with ecology (green buildings) in mind. These tours are grouped into 12 categories, each catering to a concept – for example, the Renaissance Tour, which focuses on historical buildings.
Through this experience – the first of its kind in Africa by its first edition, the visitors not only got to visit the buildings and learn about their architecture, they were also encouraged to appreciate the social, economic and political impact of these buildings.
With 30 buildings opened to the public as part of the tour in 2016 and 2017, it is no shock to learn that 2018 will witness another edition of Open House Lagos and other Nigerian cities are looking to key in. However, there is a benchmark of 30 iconic building that any city looking to have an Open House event must meet.
It is a testament to its sustainability that the project manager of the Open House Lagos (OHL), Olamide Udoma-Ejorh posits that “the Open House Lagos festival has continued to happen outside the season and is going ahead to stand as an independent entity,”
Olamide Udoma-Ejorh also speaks of innovating along the lines of “working towards creating Virtual Reality videos to cater to those who cannot physically visit the buildings and spaces.”
Some of the buildings that have featured in the tours are The Holy Cross Cathedral, Radisson Blu, British Council Office, Alara Store, Nigerian Railway Corporation Compound in Yaba,
Surely with projects such as Open House Lagos (OHL), we can create more sustainable cities, if more people are encouraged and given reasons to care about the buildings around them and the ones they live in.
I am looking forward to the 2018 edition of Open House Lagos, which promises to be as impactful as the previous ones.
Open House Lagos (OHL) is part of the Open House World Wide brand which started in 2010, and connects a community of over 30 cities, organising annual events with the same model, with an audience of over 1 million people who participate in Open House events worldwide.
Open House Lagos was part of the UK/Nigeria 2015–16 season, which was a major season of arts in Nigeria aimed at building new audiences, creating new collaborations and strengthening relationships between the UK and Nigeria