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Shifting space in African design with AAND


A section of works on display during the photography exhibition of AAND

A section of works on display during the photography exhibition of AAND

Courtesy of new generation of indigenous architects comes a shift from the intimidating textures of foreign designs such as the Gothic, Victorian and Portuguese, that have infested the Lagos architectural landscape over the centuries.

The architects: Tosin Oshinowo, Seun Oduwole and Papa Omotayo who just had a group photography exhibition of some designs, are projecting local contents via a professional gathering called African Alliance for New Design (AAND). On display inside WhiteSpace, Ikoyi, Lagos and presented in pictures of both finished and process imageries, the exhibition, which was organised as part of activities slated for Open House Lagos, basically, attempted to redefine African architecture along the local challenges of functionality.

As far as African or native contents design becomes issue, Demas Nwoko, whose works are widely known to celebrate indigenous design remains an icon on the Nigerian architectural environment. But these new generation architects are taking the African architecture identity further into the future.

The Nigerian architectural space has always been rich of creativity, but the issue of African originality would keep resurfacing. In fact, members of AAND have expanded the debate. Omotayo noted that being an African architect, “is to be knowledgeable enough to inspire your work.” He argued that though indigenous architecture in Nigeria has been active in the past 20 years, “but it’s just in recent times that we have been getting contents that connect with the people.” He disclosed that the aim of AAND is to change perception that foreign architects are superior to local professionals.” And looking into the future, the ultimate goal of the group “is to create new generation of architects.”

Really, is there any identity such as African architecture? Yes, there existed an identity, at least, in the pre-modern era, Oduwole, a Principal Architect at SI.SA stated during a phone chat about the mission of AAND. Historically, he explained how the various textures of architecture designs in Nigeria have been influenced, for example, in northern Nigeria by Sudanese culture and western part of the country by British colonial and Brazilian factors, of post-slave trade. He therefore argued that “African architecture only existed in pre-colonial period.”

In redefining African contents, within the context of AAND context, materials, Oduwole disclosed that using materials comes as a vital outlet, particularly in the age of advancing technology. “We try to look at a lot of local and native materials like rock stones, and woods.” He stressed that old materials can be used in modern ways. “You can have African contents using old materials.”

Between functionality and aesthetics, architecture appears to be struggling in striking a balance. But Oshinowo, a Principal Architect at cmDesign Atelier (cmD+A) said “architecture must have a purpose.”

On African content, she warned that it does not necessarily has to be visual like creating native motifs or signs. She also noted that the environmental factors are crucial in defining African contents, “particularly ventilation in a tropical setting.”

Between the Nigerian architectural space and creative contents in public buildings, designers seem to have blurred the importance of art in visual context. Quite a lot of public buildings are desolate of art contents. For Oshinowo who has been involved in designing spaces for LagosPhoto Festival, her involvement in a current project at the ongoing Maryland Shopping Mall promises to make a lot of difference. “As architect, we are sculptors as well,” she noted while displaying soft images of artist, Dudu Emmanuel’s sculpture Give n’ Take, a 10 x 8 meter piece as part of embellishments for the mall.

“Everybody in the project wanted to celebrate Nigerian contents,” Oshinowo disclosed.” Also involved in the Maryland Mall “is designer, Jade Folawiyo who brings ankara design for the lighting installation.”

For Omotayo, art has not been far from his design principles. In fact, he is the designer of two of the new generation art galleries in Ikoyi: Rele, at Onikan and Mode, Parkview Estate. “The architect forgets that he is first of all an artist,” Omotayo argued and explained that “a building is though functional, but spiritual and art in content.”

Via workshops and exhibitions, AAND members hope to engage young architects and other professionals in promoting the group’s definition of African design contents.

From the architects’ bios: Oshinowo is a registered architect in Nigeria and since 2012 has been Principal Architect at cmDesign Atelier (cmD+A), an architecture design practice based in Lagos.

She completed her architecture education at the prestigious Architecture Association London and also holds a Master’s Degree in Urban Design from the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London.

Oduwwole, a graduate of the University of Nottingham, his career was shaped by experience in leading UK firms such as Sir Michael Hopkins & Partners, Benoy and Sheppard Robson where he designed and executed award winning projects. He returned to Nigeria as founding partner at Brown in, before leaving to start SI.SA.

A RIBA graduate of the Welsh School of Architecture, Cardiff University, UK. Omotayo’s focus and current portfolio can be defined as an architecture searching to redefine a pragmatic African modernism through collaboration with contemporary artists. Papa desires to work with a strong focus on context, culture and nature, creating architecture that tries to give a little meaning to the everyday, beyond the realms of form, function and even technology.

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