Architect: Ehrlich Architects
Location: Abuja, Nigeria
Client: Government of Nigeria
During his years in the Peace Corps, Steven Ehrlich absorbed the lessons and imagery of African vernacular architecture and then he designed an open-air university theater workshop in Nigeria while he was teaching there in the mid 1970s. Now he has returned to the source with a competition-winning design for a symbolic gateway to Abuja, the new capital of Nigeria.
In contrast to the village-like character of his theater workshop, the new project is a soaring abstract form that was inspired by the traditional bow harp and the looms on which Nigerians weave colorful fabrics. Its centerpiece is a footbridge over the expressway that links the city to the airport, oriented north-south to symbolize national unity.
Working with project architect Patricia Rhee and Nigerian firm Triad Associates, Ehrlich sketched elements that would sit lightly on the land and provide a forum for arts and recreation, as well as a ceremonial reception hall for visiting heads of state. Flags will be strung along the tensile cables supporting the walkway while a bowed canopy of photovoltaic panels will shade the 800-seat amphitheater.
The concrete structure, with its canted pylon, will be stained dark red, the color of the native clay. Sinuous walkways and ramps will tie the complex together and carry people over a water cascade. The 98-acre site will include a marketplace, playing fields, a gymnasium and a children’s zoo to make it a year-round destination easily reached by bus from the city center six miles away.