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ADS9: Aura - A Call for An Open Architecture

Folasade Okunribido

Folasade completed a BSc in Architecture at the University of Bath in 2017 before which she had worked for SRA Architects, Bath and Cove Burgess Architects, London. After completing her first degree, Folasade spent a year working at AHMM Architects, London and sustained a part-time job with the practice throughout her Master’s degree at the RCA. Folasade was awarded a RIBA West Student Prize for outstanding work in 2019 and is now looking forward to furthering her career in the field of Architecture. 


Design Strategy - December 2019

History and Theory Essay

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Degree Details

School of Architecture

ADS9: Aura - A Call for An Open Architecture

This year I have been motivated to draw on my ancestral history through the lens of my people - the Yoruba. Having been born, brought up and lived in the UK, I have often wondered and wished to know more about my ancestral history, in terms of the relationship between the culture and the architectural achievements. After attending the first few History and Theory lectures, I began to ask myself where did Yoruba people dwell? What were the deep-seated traditions, beliefs and ways of life? How did Yoruba’s traditionally plan and organise their houses, towns and cities before ‘The scramble for Africa’.   

My History and Theory project has acted as a springboard, to invite and stimulate a pride that comes with knowing one’s history. I have been propelled to recognise, study and ultimately share a glimpse into the pre-existing knowledge of traditional Yoruba architecture and its former role within Yoruba society. I explored how the Yoruba hierarchical, social-political structure could be read through the spatial organisation of the town, afin (palace), principal market and kinship dwellings. After learning of the sheer beauty and complexity of these spaces I decided to use my findings for my final year thesis where I designed a new afin inspired by counter-cultural communities such as the Alté. 

I hope to continue to explore and elevate African History through the lens of architecture and space as I continue in my work. 



Yara (room) on the periphery

Ọdẹdẹ (corridor) intersection

Drawing Summary
The project is an afin (palace)(1) which reveres the form and organisation of the traditional Yoruba afin, whilst subverting its hierarchical roots. The structure sits in the Old Quarter, inner-city slum of Ibadan, where tradition remains ancestrally intact. The building is a massive abstract array of clay elements, overshadowing an area of 10,875 sqm, towards the centre of the city, above the rough ground of the shallow and muddy Kudeti River. One can enter on all sides. Throughout, the structural elements are rotated to reflect light and alter visibility. All spaces are enclosed - yet never sealed from the rest of the building, leaving gaps for others to both see and enter in, leaving few moments of complete separation.

The building maintains the collective use of the afin’s characteristic àgbàlá (courtyard) and yara (rooms) with a complex of intersections and entanglements - the ọdẹdẹ (corridor) that have the potential for special moments of interaction between the contrasting cultures.

In traditional Yoruba society, the Oba (King) was at the top and his afin (palace) was shielded at the centre of the city. The afin was a place of concerted ceremony, debate, sanctity and a solace for the afflicted. In reclaiming the form and organisation of the traditional notion of the afin, the project creates a backdrop for communities like the Alté, who celebrate the political edge that music and performance can play in its ability to bring people together, to live collectively, whilst subverting traditional societal hierarchy. 150 young people will live, preside over, develop and freely express themselves in this protected space.

The afin is placed in a valley, with a shifting ground plane and three equal single storey levels, punctured by a series of centralised àgbàlá positioned in the roof for an uninterrupted view and exposure to the sky.

The colour of the sky and the sea,
Cannot be touched and disappears when close.
It surrounds us - constantly shifting and changing.(2)

In Yoruba, there was no word for blue, like many languages blue was one of the last to be described with words. Blue was unbound by language, thus possessing its own kind of freedom. Free from preconceptions, free from ideologies.

Each element uses the phenomena of light interference through structural colour, to create a shifting blue colour which intensifies as one moves deeper into the building. On the periphery the blue is subtle with the elements large and rough to match the tone and terrain of the city, providing screening and protection from the outside. In the yara the elements are angled downwards to reduce the reflection of blue light. Past the ọdẹdẹ, the intensity surrounding the àgbàlá increases with the elements angled to reduce visibility whilst creating further blue contrasts. At the centre - for those marginalised, the elements are delicate and dissipate into the sky, here treasured nature of the space is revealed, reflecting the character of those within it.

1. G.J.Afolabi Ojo, Yoruba Palaces (London: University of London Press LTD, 1966).
2. David Batchelor, Chromophobia (London: Reaktion, 2000) p.73-94.

Ground Floor Plan — The thick solid walls of the traditional afin are countered with an abstract massive array of elements, filtering light, creating a porous and lighter structural form and a greater sense of collectivity.

First Floor Plan — Upper levels can be accessed and used by many within the community, subverting the tradition that only the Oba would have a room above one storey. On the first floor, elements surrounding the yara are continuous, large and more dense for increased privacy, separation, and reduced light.

Long Section — Afin awon aniyan is placed in a valley, reducing its prominence in the city, countering the traditional organisation within the city. The 3 equal single storey levels, lightly hold the centralised àgbàlá which are none hierarchical in their layout and positioned in the roof for an uninterrupted view and exposure to the sky.

Long Elevation — Similar to the traditional afin, the rhythmic layering of the elements expresses vastness and rigour, yet the building is not solid, it is entirely exposed to the outside, with only a series of elements creating a distance

Periphery Perspective Section

Courtyard Section

Main àgbàlá — The àgbàlá - with the most in intense blue, open and vast where the elements seem to merge into the sky, angled at 53 degrees allowing the vibrancy of colour and continuous screening to shield the community within the city. On a macroscale the amalgamation of elements gives the building an oscillating presence on the site, together the colours shift and change, reflecting the character of those within it.

Final Model — A descriptive short walk through the building - There is a change in how one experiences the blue. On the outside, the blue is subtle, leaving the handmade clay elements rough to match the tone and terrain of the city, imprinted in resemblance to the traditional Yoruba clay heads. Into the periphery, the blue begins to intensify bringing more porosity, openness and energy to the internal spaces. At the centre, for the marginalised, is a collective space where the intensity and treasured nature of the building is revealed.

Model tests — The project uses blue as an aura in the form of structural colour, the phenomenon allows light to interfere and diffract with periodic nanostructures, causing the appearance of bright shifting colours. Similar to the wings of a morpho butterfly, the clay elements of the building are embedded with a translucent mica powder medium, which allows each element to manipulate light causing the reflection of a range of colours. The base colour for mica powder of 450nm is blue and its intensity varies depending on the background colour and the angle of the light.

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