European modernism, French villas, Spanish haciendas: like many aspects of American culture, the roots of local architecture in the United States tend to have originated elsewhere. It makes a New York Times story about a pressing preservation issue in Sierra Leone all the more interesting, because it concerns vernacular building traditions from the United States that were exported overseas. Board Houses (known as bod ose in the local Krio language), are wooden structures built by freed Americans slaves that still stand to this day, some dating back to 1792, when the first freed slaves arrived in Freetown. Structures such as the single-story Freetown Board House resemble colonial-era dwellings found on the Eastern seaboard (some of the older homes are even built from Canadian pine, which was stored in ship ballasts). Many, sadly, have rotted through in the ensuing decades, with some covered in sheets of corrugated zinc to hold the walls together. Modernization, urbanization, and neglect have led numerous bod ose in the capital city to be demolished and replaced, enough so that preservationists fear the disappearance of this important link to the past.
The Architectural Field Office map project, which seeks to record the locations and stories of Freetown's Board Houses.
Currently, two organizations are working to help restore and protect these historic homes. The country's Monuments and Relics Commission, which has struggled to protect these aged structures in the face of an ever-crowded city, rising land values, and its own limited budget, and the Architectural Field Office, a non-profit seeking to create a multimedia map of the remaining board houses to bring more attention to the issue and present a case for better preservation.
While many obstacles stand in the way of supporters saving more of the remaining Board Houses, both organizations express hope. Killian Doherty, who runs Architectural Field Office, told The Times that they're at an advantage because they aren't merely empty relics, but homes in use. He considers them a "declaration of independence" that needs to be saved.
One of the video interviews included in the Architectural Field Office's multimedia map project.