|The Annual International Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectural Design Excellence 2023|
[ID:1880] Bakassi Resettlement Village
Social plights, like a migraine that will not abate, are always an indication of underlying causative problems which are beneath the surface and elude our immediate perception. These underlying problems—political, economic or even ecological in nature—generate internal pressures,
which rupture the surface and leave the social plights and hardships we often see. Globally, many communities are affected by these plights and their local economies are hardly ever spared. Their heritage, peace, and general wellbeing are shattered and left in fragments, even after the underlying causative problem has been solved. These communities usually require an organised restoration, and the fragmented pieces of their system have to be carefully mosaicked so that the once colourful and vibrant social fabric can slowly re-emerge. However, to create a whole piece reverent to cultural sequence,which will not disintegrate along the erstwhile fault lines; the people of the community involved must be influential in every decision made, and carried along in its dutiful implementation.
To heal an ailing social system successfully, it is vital to address themes particularly cherished by its people, and also, to resolve essential issues that will appeal to their hearts, as a favourite tune is to the ear. As lofty as addressing these themes may seem, depending on the scale of the task, and as quickly as the essential issues may be dismissed as monetary hardships which adequate funds can alleviate, it is pertinent to note that many social plights transcend financial solutions—though a financial provision may be a quick palliative measure. Many social plights have culture, ethnic identity, religion and communal ideals as minor appendages of the problem body. All these attachments have to be considered when tackling a social plight regardless of the method you intend to tackle it with—even if it is architecture.
My country, Nigeria, is a vast geographical entity, which for the ease of governance is divided into 36 states in six geo-political zones. I reside in the South-South zone of the country, and situated there, is the oil-endowed Bakassi Peninsula nestled between the Nigerian and Cameroonian borders. The subject of the peninsula’s true political ownership has often generated palpable diplomatic heat between Nigeria and Cameroon; consequently, the International Court of Justice was made the final arbiter by both countries and each accepted responsibly its ruling, which declared Cameroon the legal owner of the peninsula. Hitherto, the peninsula was inhabited by over
The inhabitants were given a choice: to either stay behind in the peninsula thereby changing nationality, or to relocate to Nigeria—about 7,000 people have chosen the latter. This choice has caused a huge influx of people to the South-South zone of the country. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, returnees have camped out in tent cities which have become awash with illness and atrocities, and about a dozen people have died in these camps while awaiting reintegration. This is a conservative estimate.
Some of the returnees were forced to flee the peninsula due to the harshness meted out to them by Cameroonian troops. Samson, a fisherman, who fled Bakassi said, “The gendarmes [armed police] came repeatedly to our town, they seized our fishing boats and nets saying we owed tax for the 13 years Nigeria was here.” (irinnews.org 2006). Baring an impression borne by many of his people, Chief Edet, the Supreme Leader of the Bakassi declared: “The total derision with which the collective feelings of the people have been treated…up to this moment when our fate was sealed without our consent, leaves us with no choice other than to take our destiny into our hands...”(Ozoemena 2006). Returnees have protested publicly outpouring dissatisfaction with the squalid state of their camps, announcing the neglect and escalating need for medical attention. Noticeably, the displacement has brought social repercussions within the Bakassi population. Hence, to halt their rising distress, expunge malaise from their midst, reinvigorate and unite them once again as a people; the place of a resettlement village project becomes self-asserting.
Culture is the way of life of a people and shelter has always been a fundamental necessity for life. Whenever this necessity is unaddressed, problems sprout. The style, form, and use of shelter: reflect the vision a people bear about themselves, re-emphasizes their ideals, and often
captures their history. These symbolisms and the traditional concept of being that cosy encasement where socialization starts, have transformed shelters into homes. Espousing a similar idea, Spencer and Thomas (1978) wrote: “As cultures developed, the concept of shelter was
extended from simple physical protection from cold…and sun toward an increasingly complex set of cultural traits centered around the growing idea of the ‘family home’.” When therefore, a need arises to provide shelter for a people due to a stinging lack, reaffirming cultural identity is a prerequisite for that provision, and also, the encouragement of flourishing homes. Achieving this
is subtly more complex than just arranging walls and demarcating spaces.
The displaced Bakassi people have made enormous sacrifices for peace and to retain their nationality, but they bear a bruised spirit due to the despair they have faced. My project would provide permanent homes for living in, but it needs to stimulate an ambient healing effect to address this hurt. It has to be able to smother any upsetting nostalgia while breathing fresh hope into the community; also, it must give its inhabitants a feeling of arriving home, while looking back at the peninsula as a place of sojourn. For the village to embody all of these, the people and their way of life have to be paramountly placed.
My project would be built in two phases, this creates a platform where the most urgent need for living spaces is promptly addressed, and then, the population’s reaction to the first phase can be studied to determine what things should be added, removed, or consolidated upon in the second phase of the project. My project is a village with a total of 500 residential units. The first phase of the project comprises of 150 residential units. Each unit is a 3-bedroom detached bungalow with other basic rooms required in a home such as bathrooms, a kitchen and the living area. The two phases would cater for a total of 500 households—equivalent to the number of houses. I am working with the approximation of five people in a household; this places the total number to be housed by the project at 2,500 people. This project would be a model village which can be reproduced elsewhere to house other returnees. In defining a household, the Social Science
Encyclopedia (1985) writes: “Households are task-oriented social units larger than the individual, but smaller than the neighbourhood, community or town.” A size-based order—like a social pyramid—emerges from this definition. The individual is clearly the basic building block of a social system; from the individual, other more complex social units are formed until an entire system exists. Thus logically, to empower a community as a social unit, the individuals which make up that community have to be empowered. This percolates through the pyramidal structure.
In constructing this village, there will be an active participation of community members to foster such an empowerment. Builders and artisans from the community will be employed during construction; those who do not have such skills can be hired as unskilled labourers, or given an on-the-job training in skills such as brick making. The acquisition of these skills provides an auxiliary trade which community members can practice along with their major trade. This is of economic value to the individual.
Similarly, the involvement of community members as co-creators of their own village would build self-esteem, and nourish an emotional bond between the village and the community which makes it easier for them to stay and call the new place home.
Apart from being a pattern of life, the Encyclopedia of Psychology (1984) defines culture further as “…the tools or methods with which they [a people] extract a livelihood from their environment.” The primary source of livelihood in the Bakassi culture is fishing. This trade involves the catching, preservation, and sale of fish. The principle methods of traditional fish preservation, usually done by the women, are salting and smoking. Smoking is more widely used. Traditionally, smoking of fish is done in a segment of the house; this causes a lot of discomfort and reduces usable space. My project, therefore, includes an outdoor cooking area aligned with and accessible from the kitchen. This outdoor area would be between 9 to 12 square metres and would have a screen wall which would prevent intrusive smoke from entering into the house. This outdoor cooking area, apart from being an area for smoking fish, will also serve as an area where housewives can pound yam, cassava, and potatoes. These tubers are staple food items of the region and pounding cooked slices, in a mortar, is a general method of preparation before eating. However, this pounding creates an unpleasant noise when done within the house. The outdoor-cooking area can serve this purpose appropriately and prevent invasive noise from busy housewives. Fishing, as the Bakassi people practice it, requires several equipment: fishnets, fish traps, ropes, materials for building weirs, and baskets. These equipment require storage space, so a large integrated store is going to be provided. The store will be accessible from the kitchen and the exterior of the house; this would make the placement of implements into the store easier. The South-South zone of the country gets a very high amount of rainfall due to its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean; the rainy season lasts for 10 months annually. The homes will be fitted with perimeter roof drains to collect rainwater for use and to minimize surface runoff.
The village is going to be a new construction for permanent housing: based on this, the residential units of the settlement have to be arranged in a manner that encourages a continuous interaction amongst the people. Continuous interaction is an attribute of their daily lives and it is filled with elements of learning, work, and play. This creates a rich system of social relationships. My project attempts to perpetuate this by creating an open network of interconnecting streets, pedestrian paths and recreational spaces, without cul-de-sacs [dead-end roads]. This would reduce the occurrence of isolated houses. Planned footpaths placed between houses and beside roads would forestall the creation of detours by pedestrians while encouraging the existing cultural trait of walking over to a neighbour’s house or trading pleasantries over a low hedge.
Villages, as communal social units in the African tradition, usually have a village square, which metaphorically lies in the centre of the village. This village square has a function similar to the Greek agora as a general meeting point —a recreational area. In a contemporary sense, it can be likened to a modern park with benches; however, the functions are more complex and it is usually less elaborate. My project includes a similar square at the centre of the village. This would serve all the traditional purposes of a village square and also function as a recreational area. It will be demarcated and properly defined using indigenous trees and plants. Other facilities for the village include: a dispensary and a crafts building. The crafts building is necessary for practicing ancillary trades associated with fishing; the most important ones are canoe and fishnet making.
Environmental sustainability will be bolstered and cost managed by: using local clay for bricks; utilizing indigenous wood and coastal sand; and interestingly, periwinkles are a delicacy here and the shells form suitable aggregate for concrete. It has scientifically-proven efficiency and its application would diminish the sparingly-used heaps that exist. The Niger-Delta Development Commission and the National Poverty Eradication Programme are Nigerian parastatals that can
support my project.
My selected team, Architects Without Borders (AWB), would definitely serve as a healer in my project. This duty may seem far-fetched and improbable; rather I see it as challenging and attainable. The displacement of the Bakassi people, and the coercive treatment received by some, have created noticeable rifts on the culture-scape—physical rifts on landscapes require bridges; but social rifts, like the ones appearing on the Bakassi fabric, require a seamless mend.
Comparing the roles of a regular and a social architect, the Adventures in Social Architecture web page states: “Whereas,…architects to date, have principally focused on functional specifications for buildings and a sense of place, the social architect is a culture crafter…” Furthermore, it affirms: “The social architect can also play a role in actual physical constructions, like buildings, when the space is needed to support a special set of being [existence] levels or special cultural bonding.” Evidently, for AWB to serve as a healer, they would have to properly merge the roles of regular and social architects. It is clear from their
approach, and mission statement published on their website that they are capable of doing this. Parts of the mission are: one, helping communities develop a self-directed sustainable program; two, developing visionary planning, leadership and self determination models upon which communities can define and achieve their own aspirations; three, building self-reliance and long-range viability responsive to socio-economic, community and cultural identity through participatory consensus building programs. These are only a few amongst several others. Their approach integrates local wisdom with their own collective wisdom, promotes economic development with long-term social equity, empowers communities, and preserves culture. Environmental sustainability is a major fulcrum for their operations.
AWB is a global coalition of professionals, practitioners, and students; this is part of who they are. Therefore, joining as a student member would be an achievable assignment. As a member, I would play the triple role of: a herald, a mediator, and an advisor; communication is a key substance for these roles. I would communicate with governmental and non-governmental organizations, who can fund the project and give micro-loans, and essentially also, with members of the community. Through communication: the particularity of their problems will be seen from their perspective, guidelines for solutions can be extracted from their culture, and a workable physical and social architectural design can then be effectively administered: after giving relevant advice to my team members. This would enhance an expeditious reintegration and rehabilitation.
The AWB project in Indonesia's Aceh province resonates in many ways with my project proposal—both regions have a similar tropical climate, the population to be catered for is as large, and both involve the building of correlating physical and social structures. The contrast though, is the underlying causative problem: the Aceh plight was precipitated by an ecological disaster; the Bakassi situation however, was politically induced. With the success achieved in Aceh, I am confident a similar feat can be delivered here.
Corsini, R.J. (ed.) 1984, Encyclopedia of psychology, vol. 1, John Wiley and Sons.
Kuper, A. and Kuper, J. (eds.) 1985, The social science encyclopedia, Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Ozoemena, C. 2006, ‘Obasanjo gives Bakassi residents options’, Vanguard, Thursday, June 15.
Spencer, J.E. and Thomas, W.L. 1978, Introducing cultural geography, 2nd edn, John Wiley and Sons.
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