Clementine Blakemore Architects gives new skin and purpose to derelict barns
by Dhwani ShanghviFeb 16, 2023
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
by Pallavi MehraPublished on : Feb 28, 2023
Located in the village of Ikise in southwestern Nigeria, is a rugged barn house. This unique building situated on 54 acres of farmland, is part of Ecology Green Farm, a new artist residency space founded by renowned British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare. The country retreat, known as the Farm House, is surrounded by verdant grasslands, featuring a studio and living spaces to host Shonibare's artists-in-residence programme, beginning in the spring of 2023. The multi-use spaces will host multidisciplinary artists, researchers, and curators from all over the world, in awarded residencies for up to three months. "We should all be closer to nature. It's an excellent environment for artists to be inspired and work, and to have some quiet. Here, people from around the world can really experience Nigeria, meet people and also understand the culture, and possibly learn from creatives on the ground," shares Shonibare.
Additionally, the artists will also have the option of doing their residency programme in Nigeria's largest city Lagos. Ecology Green Farm and the location in Lagos are both run by Nigeria-based Guest Artists Space (G.A.S.) Foundation, sister organisation to the Yinka Shonibare Foundation. The G.A.S. Foundation, a non-profit founded in 2019, by Shonibare, hopes to break down traditional barriers of privilege, wealth, and lack of infrastructure, providing opportunities for both participants and the local community, with the support of international partnerships.
Nigerian architecture studio MOE+ Art Architecture, led by African architect and creative director Papa Omotayo, designed the Farm House, incorporating vernacular architecture, using locally sourced materials. Shonibare wanted a building reminiscent of a British barn house while showcasing the design style of the Yoruba ethnic group of southwestern Nigeria. Omotayo executed Shonibare’s vision by designing a barn-style brick architecture with a pitched roof and a rectangular form. The distinctive building has a south-facing entrance, which opens into a studio between twin courtyards. “The project drew inspiration from the surrounding local community and the way that they traditionally build low-cost, sustainable housing. It was important to design something simple and familiar, as central to the project was the idea of local hands building the project. Moreover, when you are in the space, you can look from one end to the other through the garden spaces, and that brings the outside inside. You are constantly reminded that you are on this farm and that you have all these beautiful views of the landscape," mentions Omotayo.
The Farm House comprises three primary spaces—a living area, a working studio, and bedrooms, separated by three courtyards. The design is a simple rectangular form, like a barn house or a storage structure, focusing primarily on creating a contained space, which has a relationship with its landscape; while allowing for privacy and serenity. The building was constructed using indigenous, sustainable materials, associated with African architecture and employed local workers. An important factor behind the architectural intent was the need for it to feel handmade, tactile, and real. This presents itself in the building, owing to the fact that it was made by people from the community, albeit with some design guidance from MOE+ Art Architecture.
The brick walls of the Farm House are made from stabilised earth bricks, and the roof frame is Akala timber and R&G timber cladding. The external façade utilises burnt bamboo screens and the floors were cast with terrazzo slabs with aluminium windows and roof. The walls of the building were finished with laterite plaster that creates a naturally smooth finish, and the screen walls and hallways have exposed clay bricks. Laterite, traditionally used in construction in pre-colonial Nigeria, exists in abundance in the region allowing the architect to source a sustainable material.
“The structure was built with a double skin of laterite, using about 40,000 handmade earth bricks reinforced with small quantities of cement. These take on an array of tones, from a warm reddish-brown hue in the shade to gold bathed in the sun’s rays and a cool orange on softly lit surfaces. On the way to the farm, everywhere is red earth. You go past laterite deposit after laterite deposit, so laterite made absolute sense. Around 256 square metres of cast-in-situ terrazzo flooring extends throughout the space, in a mix of white cement and recycled natural stone and marble, with delicate flecks of browns and greys set in a soft white base. We started to think about how to take very localised elements of our cultural heritage, materials, and processes and apply them to a bigger scale with architecture,” adds Omotayo.
The interior design of the Farm House was conceptualised by Yinka’s niece—Temitayo Shonibare. Inspired by Mexican, Brazilian, and Sri Lankan furniture pieces from the 1960s, Temitayo worked with local artisans to custom-build the furniture. Approximately 90 per cent of the furnishings were locally made or sourced. The furniture design was intentionally minimalist, to highlight the architecture of the building.
“The interiors aimed to reflect the overall building ethos of natural materials and neutral colours, wood and clay tiles in the bathroom. Akala timber doors and white terrazzo floors with recycled marble offcuts. The furniture designed by Temitayo Shonibare for the visiting residents, are well-detailed minimalist pieces that also reflect the material palette of the local environment,” mentions Omotayo.
Shonibare’s aim for Ecology Green Farm is for it to become a self-sustaining space, one which also strengthens food security in the country. The sustainable architecture of Farm House is encircled by six gardens, two of which will grow food for the residents. The additional farmland will produce fruits and vegetables, to be sold commercially.
“The project sits within an existing local farming community, yet it intends to also be a space that brings artists from all over the world through the G.A.S residency program. It was therefore important from the onset that it felt of the place. The very rural nature of the site makes it hard to access and it seemed extravagant to ‘ship’ in skills when there was an existing community that was familiar with the materials and proposals that the project wanted to adopt. The building is also set at Ecology Farm, which is promoting the importance of food security, and I think working with local artisans and using local materials felt very true to that ethos,” concludes Omotayo.
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