‘Appropriate materials positively eliminate maintenance costs’
Our greatest challenge is the non-recognition of the roles architecture must play from design conception to project execution. This is the principal reason why quality is dwindling, while cost increases, says President, Nigerian Institute of Architects (NIA), WAHEED NIYI BRIMMO. In this interview with The Guardian’s Tunde Alao, he spoke on those challenges and probable solutions and how the institute plans to revolutionise architecture profession in Nigeria and other sundry issues
What has been NIA’s influence on government’s policy and which solutions are you offering to help architects produce better buildings and communities?
As you know, our Annual Conference provides unique opportunity for exchange of ideas, professional development, deep review of current or future challenges facing the nation and evolution of sustainable and culturally relevant solution(s). At the end of each conference communiqué is released. In 2010 we were concerned with new frontiers for which our members in practice, research, education and public service must be adequately prepared.
Last year at Ilorin the interconnectedness of architecture, culture and urbanism was explored. We advocated that government should ensure policy responsiveness in urban planning and also it should encourage the utilization of urban planning policies as a means of socio-economic empowerment. Such policies should seek to provide infrastructural facilities aimed at achieving sustainable urban environment.
You can see that we have been deeply concerned with application of our peculiar knowledge and skill to transforming the nation. There lays our constant aims at influencing government policies. Also whenever occasion arises we have always made formal and informal responses to guide policies. Equally we collaborate with other professionals in the building industry to lobby for passage of bills that will encourage, protect and promote sustainable development, indigenous professionals and construction firms.
Much however depends on those in charge of drafting and implementation of government policies. Additional solutions to help architects produce better buildings and communities include ensuring standard, up-to date formal education and training in schools of architecture through comprehensive and periodic accreditation; maintaining robust processes of membership recruitment and conducting Continuous Professional Development programs. For example, between January this year we organized a Technical Workshop in partnership with COSTECH Computers Limited on Tools for the Modern Architect. The workshop was actually aimed at developing the capacity, competence and competitiveness of our members.
There has also been a call for the development of low cost housing in the country, what is your organization doing to ensure affordable housing, especially in creating low cost designs?
I am delighted you mentioned low cost design. I want design underlined. In the 80s the Institute made designs available, especially for those who could not patronize architects as the devastating effect of lack of design began to be visible in the emerging urbanscapes. The rest is history and the results are starring us in the face. Some of our members have in research or practice made bold initiatives. However, as an Institute, we are willing to make available up to date and culturally relevant solutions when approached with sincerity of purpose and determination for success by governments, parastatals, corporate organizations or communities.
Annually, we organize expositions on building materials, components, equipment and processes with emphasis on local content and capacity building. Through this, we bring manufacturers, importers, contractors, researchers, investors, developers, architects and other consultants together to exchange ideas. This always translates to better understanding of materials and methods and ultimately design decisions are influenced leading to cost effectiveness. We are concerned with holistic concept of cost. For example appropriate selection of materials positively enhances lifespan and eliminates or reduces maintenance costs.
Our Continuous Professional Development Programmes also include green designs/ sustainability and energy issues, development and application of new materials, application of new software that reduces design period and improve accuracy among other benefits. All these are key cost reduction factors.
Nigerian architects, like its counterparts all over the world is dedicated to producing and disseminating knowledge related to real estate decision-making and the function of real estate markets. What part has NIA played in all these?
The NIA through its members help clients take the right decisions especially at the project inception stage having understood Clients requirements. Such supports include decisions on the type of building, location, selection of site, and the preparation of feasibility report before concluding on the appropriate strategies for the project procurement route.
Among other things, your organization is supposed to encourage research and promote education in real estate. What have happened in this regard?
Architecture addresses human needs from the micro (interiors) to the macro (urbanscapes). In other words all forms of improvements to land in forms of buildings (including houses), landscapes, and spaces between buildings among others. As a profession, we believe issues must be addressed holistically and that is why we are encouraging research and education in the broad spectrum of architectural disciplines. In the past five years, we have intensified efforts towards creation of Faculties of Architecture in our higher Institutions because these spheres of knowledge need to be greatly deepened. You can see that real estate is adequately captured.
How will you assess the synergy existing between the NIA and its Africa’s Architect’s body and other sister organisations all over the world?
You are talking about African Union of Architects first and of course Commonwealth Association of Architects (CAA) and International Union of Architects (UIA). NIA is an active member of all these bodies. We are represented on their working groups/ committees and attend their general assemblies. Notwithstanding our independence as an institute, we operate charters/ accords that are binding on members. It will interest you that at one time or the other our members have occupied high positions even as President in each of these bodies. So there is the goodwill generously extended to us. Last November, we were at the UIA Congress and in June we will be in London to participate in the General Assembly and Conference, which incidentally is the 50th anniversary of the association.
Mentoring within the real estate profession appears to be dwindling. In UK for instance, RIBA awards scholarships and organize competition among students in tertiary institutions. What is NIA doing in that regard?
Our approach to mentoring is peculiar. We have Student’s Affair Committee, which solely and constantly attends to student matters. Also, we encourage students to participate in all NIA activities at the national and chapter levels. In local and national programmes organized on campus by students the Institute as much as practicable participates. In both cases mentoring is a critical aim. Also, we organized a series of competition during Archibuilt programme some years back targeted at students of architecture and secondary school students to expose the former and inspire the latter. We are currently re-strategizing to improve on this. We also encourage students to participate in international competition.
Looking at real estate today in Nigeria, what are the challenges that your association has identified and what are you doing to face such challenges?
Our greatest challenge is the non-recognition of the roles architecture must play from design conception to project execution. This is the principal reason why quality is dwindling, while cost increases. Economy of means and margin of profits undermine best decisions. There is the false believe in anything foreign is good or capital ‘gift’ or loan is development.
What we are doing is to insist that the right thing must be done and the right professional be employed from the seemingly small project to the multi-billion dollar (or naira) project.
Your organization has been talking about non-professionals handling your job, especially, draughts men. What are you doing to check their excesses?
It is important to make clear that whenever a draughtsman provides architectural services, that is quackery. His limitation is to draw (draught) designs made by architects. He has no capacity to design, as he has neither gone through requisite training nor through ‘licensing’. It is the architect that is trained to design, draw and ensure the realisation of the design idea. The word design encompasses many things that most people who patronize draughts men do not understand desire or appreciate. The criticality of that ability explains the duration of formal instructions in schools of architecture and the compulsory period of pupillage and certification.
We have a three-pronged approach, 3Es, Enlightenment, Enforcement and Enhancement.
Enlightenment is targeted at the Clients (private, corporate and government). They need to know that patronizing quacks constitute a dangerous gamble with hard earned resources even life and a willful destruction of our built environment. The best of their services keeps their clients shortchanged.
Enforcement of the relevant laws through diverse legal means in concert with the regulatory organ, that is Architects Registration Council of Nigeria (ARCON), while Enhancement is targeted at members. We encourage every member to constantly ensure that all services are best and timely.
As a follow-up to the above question, what are you doing to ensure that they fulfill their professional or technical deficiencies in a way that they would still remain in market?
You may clarify their job description before an informed advice can be given on deficiencies. I do not understand the desirability of their remaining in the market, as they are not legally permitted in the field where they currently operate. The society needs to be properly informed and guided to completely eliminate the menace. Any one desirous of becoming an architect should follow the universal laid down procedure. Those who are CADD literate can seek employment in architects’ offices from where they absconded.
In other climes, architects as specifiers are the project managers. Here is quite different. What is happening in the housing industry or is it how it has been structured?
Many current players in housing industry are businessmen, some driven by greed. Take time to critically assess the products and you will be able to differentiate the camps. Common sense dictates that the best interpreter of an idea is its owner. Of course, for some decades now professional ‘fractionalization’ and triumph of timelines and ‘profitism’ have propped up project management. It has its benefits, where the architect is given his due roles. You should note, however, that increasing number of project managers had qualified first as architects.
NIA has been in existence for some time now, what will make your regime stand out from your predecessor?
In all modesty the way NIA is structured it is difficult to arrogate some developments to oneself. Some successes of today might have been in the pipeline for some time. I have tried to touch all areas of the institute’s activities in fulfillment of our vision to mobilize informed membership. However I have been greatly concerned with increasing reasonably memberships in all categories and the number of Chapters on one hand and improvement of members’ welfare and sense of belonging on the other. All these require maintaining focus, mutual respect and co-operation in the Executive Committee and the Strategic Committee and proper functioning of the Secretariat.
Your first question touched on influencing government policies. Right? I have proposed the commencement of NIA Distinguished Lecture Series and it was well accepted by the Executive Council. The inaugural Lecture will by the grace of God hold on April 30, 2015. The speaker is Dr. Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme, an architect. It is an event that combines many goals and I am sure a new phase of our meaningful interrogation of national issues from architectural perspective will begin.
After leaving office, what would you want to be remembered for?
I want to be remembered as somebody who believes strongly that the institute is bigger than individual interests or preferences and will outlast all. This simply means that all must constantly, selflessly and vigorously pursue the laudable goals of the institute touching individual members, the nation and humanity.