Professional architects have advocated remodeling historic buildings and structures to make them relevant for modern-day use, as traditional buildings have been abandoned in various cities and metropolitan centers across the country due to their outdated designs.
According to media reports, ancient structures, largely residential and commercial properties, litter highbrow areas like Ibadan, Lagos, Kaduna, Port Harcourt, Abeokuta, and Enugu, contributing to the country’s high vacancy rate. In other cases, renters were able to persuade property owners to give their structures a facelift.
According to statistics, the global average growth rate for commercial property or residential remodeling of buildings over the last decade has been 10%.
Due to a variety of circumstances such as a shortage of accessible space, restricted services like as bathrooms, walkways, recreational centers, parking spaces, and others, real estate investors in places such as Lagos are resorting to property refurbishment rather than new building.
Although such initiatives may not entail total demolition of existing structures, they do entail tearing down walls, ensuring the structural integrity of the building, improving energy efficiency, introducing new plumbing works, high-tech capability, and preserving historical features.
Experts claim that retrofitting commercial and residential buildings is the best method to adapt older spaces for modern demands while also revitalizing the communities in which they are located.
Building styles are dynamic, according to Enyi Ben-Eboh, president of the Nigerian Institute of Architects (NIA), but the bottom line is their functionality, sustainability, and fitness for purpose, which decides how long a style lasts.
Old buildings, according to Ben-Eboh, can be renovated to address issues such as energy efficiency, low greenhouse gas emissions, and enhanced facilities without losing their character, as each structure has its own story to tell.
“Our buildings not only shelter us but speak volumes of our civilisation and culture. Architecture like fashion and music is not static and evolves over time with frequent cases of a renaissance of styles hitherto thought to belong in the past. Le Corbusier, a renowned architect referred to a building as ‘a machine for living in’ and like machines, its efficiency does not depend so much on the outer shell which evolves with time, technology and materials availability.”
“This is why we have listed buildings, which are notable buildings identified and preserved as a memory to particular styles for posterity. Even when pulling down becomes an inevitable choice, their replacement should bear similar characteristics to the initial building.
He stated that, to the extent possible, it is always preferable to conserve structures in their original style because every structure has a history.
He did say, however, that buildings have a lifespan and that changing conditions may render them unsuitable for their current position.
“The older and rare an item gets, the greater the tendency for it to be more expensive if its likes are not easily available. It is also quite difficult to get a true replica of certain materials as they get older coupled with the fact that the required craftsmen may not be readily available with the advent of automation. This is why preservation and restoration is often a costly endeavour.”
“I have visited a cathedral in Milan, which took over 400 years to complete and in which all the elements of the building were done in articulately hand-crafted stone. Replicating such a cathedral in modern days will definitely be an expensive venture as most of the skilled artisans may now be endangered specie as a result of the automation of most processes now,” he said.
Speaking on the factors that can necessitate redesigning an old style of architecture structure to meet new needs, he said: “The concept of the redesign of an old building to a newer style is normally a combination of such factors as the owner’s discretion and applicable planning restrictions governing the jurisdiction within which such buildings are located amongst other reasons. Buildings age and deteriorate with time and most often to give the buildings the required new lease of life, some major adjustments will need to be made to bring them up to modern realities.
In this process, the building owner could decide to change the style or carry out the remodelling of the building, while still maintaining the initial style to a large extent. In some parts of the city of London for instance, there are strict regulations governing the limits of deviation (if any) from the original style of the building including colour and other such seemingly minute details.”
He went on to say that the first step in modernizing an older architecture structure is to seek planning information on what is permissible in the area of the subject property, that a structural integrity test must be performed on the building in addition to studying the structural elements of the building to ensure that no structural elements are compromised in the proposed redesign, and that when in doubt, independent structural provisions should be used.
“The electrical and mechanical services would also need to be appraised to check for signs of deterioration and if possible, independent provisions should be made for contemporary alternatives as these could constitute a major problem if not taken into consideration from the beginning. As much as possible, it is often better to maintain the initial character of the building or have a fusion of the old and new.
Whatever redesign is being proposed must take into consideration the as-built structural elements of the initial structure. It would not be advisable to introduce additional loading beyond what was initially envisaged and any recourse to an increase in loading as a result of a change of use/density or increase in the number of floors must be done under the strict advice and supervision of a registered structural engineer who must carry out the requisite tests and recommend the best way forward.”
Mr. Kitoyi Ibare-Akinsan, past president of the Association of Consulting Architects of Nigeria (ACAN), noted that not just design but also current engineering developments should lead the upgrading of existing buildings.
He noted that attempts to modernize heritage or existing structures do not necessitate entire demolition, but rather improvements to specific main components of the structure.
For example, he cites instances in Washington, D.C., where a new regulation mandates that all properties, whether existing or new, be solar-powered due to concerns about climate change and collateral damage from the use of fossil fuels, which is causing the earth to become hotter and causing other problems.
“If you want to use solar panel on a building, you will calculate how much load the building require to function. Once you do that, solar engineers will design what will provide the amount of power required. I will recommend solar power here in Nigeria because we are not using it enough. The fuel for solar power is free. All you need to pay for is the infrastructure elements and doesn’t require maintenance so frequently,” he said.
Mr. Sowunmi Williams, Managing Partner of Sowunmi Williams and Associates, an architecture business, noted that regardless of the present architecture design of a building, such as a commercial facility like a hotel, once the facilities became outdated, remodeling would be required.
“Remodeling means introducing new facilities to upgrade a building to the current market reality. Remodeling is different from renovation, renovation implies reversing to initial state but remodeling means upgrading to the market need. Remodeling affects the structural integrity most especially when a building does not have convertible use.
“For example, from residential to the hotel, there could be more loads, which can affect the structure. In the case of a project we did in Isolo, Lagos, it was remodeling of a hotel. We didn’t rely on the existing foundation but created another foundation for the upper two floors. There were only two stair cases as a means of circulation but we introduced two lifts into the building to aid circulation.”
He stated that by taking this strategy, the foundation’s status quo would not be disrupted. He emphasized that if the structural integrity of the building will be jeopardized, it is preferable to demolish everything and start over.
“If total demolition is done, it can affect the building and other existing buildings in a location where the property is located. There might be legal cases from the demolition,” he said.