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Waterhouses: Landscapes, Housing, and the Making of Modern Lagos

Author/EditorDuerksen, Mark (Author)
ISBN: 9780896803329
Pub Date13/08/2024
BindingPaperback
Pages304
Dimensions (mm)216(h) * 140(w)
How did Lagos, Nigeria, grow from a tiny island kingdom to a megalopolis famous for its frenetic and congested form of coastal urbanism? This first-of-its-kind history provides a comprehensive narrative for understanding one of Africa's largest cities-its buoyant vibrancy and its two-headed problem of housing shortages and rising seas-today.
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This sweeping history of urban change in Lagos, Nigeria, reveals how its landscapes of waterways and houses have together shaped the modern city.


Waterhouses is about the places the people of Lagos have inhabited, imagined, and made home for the past two centuries. It asks what a house in Lagos is and explores how the answer to that question has been historically constructed and reconstructed in turn with the city's changing landscapes. Written for historians of African and Atlantic history, scholars and practitioners of urbanism, and anyone looking to make sense of Africa's most populous metropolis today, the book is an approachable history of how houses and water have formed modern Lagos.


The book argues that in the coastlands from which Lagos rose, housing architectures were the single most important social, material, and political instruments for people hoping to contour the city's landscapes-both its ecology and its image-and its historical course. The forms and meanings of houses in Lagos have shifted dramatically over time and in ways that reveal how power, house making, visual perception, and the environment are entangled in modern cities.


The book's chapters encompass six eras and six waterscapes: sandbars, canals, swamps, lagoons, oceans, and floods. These spaces guide the book's exploration of how people saw and attempted to remake Lagos's environs in a process that invariably involved housing architectures. At its core, Lagos is a city built through the materials, relations, and powers contained in the dry, solid, and hospitable spaces of homes, which have long been scarce and culturally celebrated resources in the city's water-constricted setting. While shelter is integral to any city's development, houses have been particularly important and sought after in Lagos because of the city's land shortages and because of the societal influence and physical footprint of traditional Yoruba ile (family compounds), in which activities were historically organized and centered.


Through dozens of maps, photographs, and housing plans found in British and Nigerian archives, this book traces the relationship between Lagos's residential spaces and its urban landscapes across the rise, fall, and aftermath of British colonization. By showing how Yoruba visions of home-though often forgotten or misunderstood today-coexisted with European notions, Waterhouses offers urban planners, policy makers, and architects ideas for how the definingly human act of inhabiting a place might be grounded in practices of continuous custodianship rather than extractive possession.

This sweeping history of urban change in Lagos, Nigeria, reveals how its landscapes of waterways and houses have together shaped the modern city.


Waterhouses is about the places the people of Lagos have inhabited, imagined, and made home for the past two centuries. It asks what a house in Lagos is and explores how the answer to that question has been historically constructed and reconstructed in turn with the city's changing landscapes. Written for historians of African and Atlantic history, scholars and practitioners of urbanism, and anyone looking to make sense of Africa's most populous metropolis today, the book is an approachable history of how houses and water have formed modern Lagos.


The book argues that in the coastlands from which Lagos rose, housing architectures were the single most important social, material, and political instruments for people hoping to contour the city's landscapes-both its ecology and its image-and its historical course. The forms and meanings of houses in Lagos have shifted dramatically over time and in ways that reveal how power, house making, visual perception, and the environment are entangled in modern cities.


The book's chapters encompass six eras and six waterscapes: sandbars, canals, swamps, lagoons, oceans, and floods. These spaces guide the book's exploration of how people saw and attempted to remake Lagos's environs in a process that invariably involved housing architectures. At its core, Lagos is a city built through the materials, relations, and powers contained in the dry, solid, and hospitable spaces of homes, which have long been scarce and culturally celebrated resources in the city's water-constricted setting. While shelter is integral to any city's development, houses have been particularly important and sought after in Lagos because of the city's land shortages and because of the societal influence and physical footprint of traditional Yoruba ile (family compounds), in which activities were historically organized and centered.


Through dozens of maps, photographs, and housing plans found in British and Nigerian archives, this book traces the relationship between Lagos's residential spaces and its urban landscapes across the rise, fall, and aftermath of British colonization. By showing how Yoruba visions of home-though often forgotten or misunderstood today-coexisted with European notions, Waterhouses offers urban planners, policy makers, and architects ideas for how the definingly human act of inhabiting a place might be grounded in practices of continuous custodianship rather than extractive possession.

Mark Duerksen is a research associate at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies in Washington, DC. His work has appeared in the Journal of West African History and the Johannesburg Salon, as well as in dozens of publications for the Africa Center. His work aims to make Africa's histories and cities understandable (and visible) to a larger audience, particularly policymakers.

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