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The Face-Me-I-Face-You is still a predominant architectural style in Lagos, but Nigeria’s upper class has moved on to more modern buildings.

The Face-Me-I-Face-You is still a predominant architectural style in Lagos, but Nigeria’s upper class has moved on to more modern buildings.

Photographer: Mayowa Koleosho/EyeEm via Getty Images

CityLab
Design

How Face-Me-I-Face-You Homes Became a Way of Life in Lagos

Originally housing for Nigeria’s upper class, these homes have become overcrowded tenements, often in disrepair. Could the architectural style still offer lessons to a rapidly urbanizing city?

(This article is part of our ongoing series exploring the iconic home designs that shaped global cities. Read more from the series and sign up to get the next story sent directly to your inbox.) 

With new office towers, shopping malls and even entire neighborhoods sprouting up to accommodate a growing population, Lagos, Nigeria, has welcomed an array of architectural styles. But there is one traditional housing type that shows the many transformations the city has undergone in becoming West Africa’s largest metro area.

It’s a tenement whose vivid name expresses many residents’ love/hate relationship with it: the Face-Me-I-Face-You. Typically a one- or two-story house with rooms grouped around a gloomy central lobby, the structure features rooms whose doors face one another across an axial corridor— so that the first thing neighbors leaving in the morning see is each other. Found in Lagos’ core right to the outskirts of the city, these buildings were originally intended as individual houses for large families; today most are tenements for mixed groups of low-income renters, with shared kitchens and bathrooms in a separate service building behind the main house.