26 January 2014

Nigeria: Designs of a Post-Oil City


An unusual touring photo exhibition has arrived in Lagos with the theme, Post-Oil City: The History of the City's Future. It is based on 11 current projects in the field of urban planning showing that the various developments today have their roots in the urban utopias of mid 20th century modernism. For the art enthusiasts at the opening of the show last week at the City Hall, Lagos who were expecting to see paintings, sculptures and other visual art forms, it was a moment of surprise to enter an exhibition hall full of large architectural designs accompanied by computer animations and video clips. The exhibition, which is funded by German Foreign Office, is organised by Institut fuer Auslandsbeziehungen (ifa), ARCH+ and Goethe Institute.

The exhibition rests strongly on the reality that more than half of the world's population is living in cities. In addition, climate change has profound impact on urban life and few existing art works are pre-occupied with themes of renewable energies and post-oil discourse. Hence, the exhibition shows how contemporary urban-planners are returning to those 20th century concepts and adapting them to the challenges posed by factors such as climate change, a limited supply of fossil fuels, economic recession as well as global systemic crisis.

Making Lagos as one of the host cities of this exhibition is apt considering the state government's concern for meeting the challenges of climate change as well as population explosion. Every design at the show relives a mental picture of Lagos and the emerging mega-city in view. The relevance of the exhibition is anchored on the issues raised in the designs on display such as urban landscape, and acupuncture, innovation, amongst others. The experiments discussed in Post-Oil City are Masdar City (Abu Dhabi), Xeriton (Dubai) and the NEST project in Ethiopia. Other samples of urban experimentation at the show include a network of electric cars with battery switch stations in Israel as well as the public transportation system in Curitiba's inner city.

The designs are arranged in timelines. These timelines include "Meta-Urban Structure", "The Participatory City", "Suburbanization", "Sustainability", "Post-Fossil Fuel Mobility" and more. In the timeline, "Urban Transit", emphasis is placed on conserving resources and developing urban planning that shortens the distance people travel. Ms. Aderinsola Ajao, a programme assistant at Goethe Institut, noted that the cities featured in the works shared similar themes related to urban developments.

"We are looking at cities where there are so many developments in transportation and health care," she said. "A city like Lagos for example is paying more attention to its waste management not just general waste but its toxic waste , chemical waste , e-waste all because Lagos sees itself as a city that should catch up with the future. "Anyone who looks at the economy of Nigeria definitely knows that Lagos is central to it. In this exhibition for instance, there is a city in Dubai and Ethiopia, we see how architects view their cities of the future. We see changes not just in the urban setting or just in physical structures but in the transport systems that show how the cities yield to the demands of the growing population especially with the realisation that everyone is migrating to the cities." "In one of the themes," she continued, "you can see the gas power tram and the electric power train. Lagos now has a light rail project and there is so much work going on with the water ways, rail and roads to make sure that they are maximised such that there are as much options for transportation as possible. I think this kind of exhibition becomes relevant to a city like Lagos in the context of changes in the world. "This is not the first initiative of this kind that we have done. We have organised workshops in partnership with Lagos State on renewable energy."

She also explained the rationale for displaying architectural pictures instead of other visual art forms in the touring exhibition. "It is not an exhibition in the visual aspect. It is an architectural-based project looking at the cities of the future, renewable energy, cheaper and ecology-friendly transportation. Rather than represent that with paintings or other abstract forms, we see the actual pictures of the people and cities we are discussing. As you can see, there are also video installations which give you the practical sense of what the cities are like. "The timelines for me are very important because they show that whatever it is we have today, someone thought of this centuries ago. One of the images is a prototype for a water-powered engine which was made in the 1800s even now we are yet to attain this. This exhibition that starts today (January 18) will end on February 21, 2014." The touring exhibition has as its curators Nikolaus Kuhnert and Anhlinh Ngo. In all, the projects presented in Post-Oil City are founded on the combination of reason, innovation and flexibility that future cities possess.

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