The Evolution of Traditional Yoruba Architecture

By Adams Adeosun

The architecture of the ancient Yoruba of Southwest Nigeria was a communal endeavour and the house was a statement of ideological, economic and social position in the larger urban context. Adams Adeosun bemoans the fact that it is fast disappearing.

Universally, architecture is dependent on culture, which, in simple terms, embodies the way of life of a people. Even though factors such as climate, materials and methods directly influence building practices, they submit to the common denominator of culture. The traditional Yoruba man was a polygamist, counting his wives and children when numbering his properties - and his lifestyle fed into his building. Yoruba architecture is a family panegyric - it shouts the glory or misfortune of a family in clear structural language. Traditional Yoruba settlements were vast cities (as evidenced in Oyo, Ife and their sprawling counterparts) whose land-use patterns were confined to residences, markets, palaces, shrines and farmlands.

The Yoruba house as the physical manifestation of unity

In mainstream African cultures, the man is both arrowhead and anchor of the family. From this perspective, it is only sensible that the blessing and responsibility of owning a house is bestowed on him. In the past, whenever a Yoruba man decided to build a house, he began by informing his friends, who gathered their wives and children at the building site on a fixed date. Construction was hardly a vocation until much later. While the actual construction work fell to the men, the women and children were in charge of the catering and house finishing.