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Foreign incursion, regulatory laxity bane of architectural practice, says Ladega

By Bertram Nwannekanma
16 January 2023   |   4:11 am
It has been very interesting. I think the most interesting part of it is that those 70 years transversed periods of profound changes, both in the practice of architecture, procurement of buildings and even the means by which architects ...

Olusegun Ladega

Former president, Association of Consulting Architects Nigeria (ACAN) and Managing Director, Interstate Architects Limited, Mr. Olusegun Ladega, in this interview with BERTRAM NWANNEKANMA shares his knowledge about the architectural profession.

What has it been like in practice in the past 41 years and as head of a firm that is 70 years?
It has been very interesting. I think the most interesting part of it is that those 70 years transversed periods of profound changes, both in the practice of architecture, procurement of buildings and even the means by which architects carry out their works. Those 70 years transversed the period of profound shifts from analog hand drawing, simple calculation to mechanical drafting mechanisms, through the era of digital drafting and drawing. Now we’re in the era of Building Information Modelling (BIM). So, we are talking about a practice that has transversed this whole spectrum from analog basic hand drawings, with simple calculation devices like the slide rule and co, to the era of electronic calculator, to full digitisation of the whole process when computers became the means by which we carry out our work, it has also transitioned us from basic digital drawing to full building information modeling.

We’re in the realms where artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality (VR), are helping us to create digital twin of a building that is designed. It means that we have a standing building or that will eventually stand, a replica of it created a virtual reality in the virtual world that you can go in and interact with. That is where we are now. The procurement process from the simple or handshake transaction to very complex procurement processes, and even buildings have gone from buildings with just simple basic technology inside them.

So, we are now in the era of creating highly intelligent buildings that respond to the demands within and outside the environment that the building sits in. We have some technologies inculcated into buildings that enable us create a better level of comfort, higher level of efficiency and also respond to climate, environment and level of activity.

So, how does technology impact on architectural practice?
We’ve been able to become more efficient and accurate in our work, and we’ve been able to deliver well. The new technology makes collaboration very easy, more effective and efficient. The fact is that technology that we have available to us today, we all can work together, in a virtual space, all the members collaborating with the architects can work jointly. Collaboration has become much more effective, design process is also becoming highly automated and much more integrated making engineering much more effective and easier.

How do you relate that to the industry now?
A lot of our regulations, codes and standards were developed in the analog era, they still serve us largely in a number of area, especially when you look at codes and standards. But looking at regulations, there is a need for significant review, because the way we work is different from what a lot of those regulations envisaged. It’s quite possible now to have a building without issuing a paper to anyone whereas before it was otherwise. We had only one tracking system, building is a very complex organism, you have to go back to the drawing board if issues arise to make amendment.

The scenario now is sending a digital copy of printouts by uploading a PDF file, which you can get back with stamps on it and print out, and required to keep on site showing you have approval. But with digital technologies we have now, all these are not needed, I upload my model into a cloud space created by the government, those who need to interact and check out if correct can do it there. From the model, information can be sent to machines, even for setting out. We now have a situation whereby technology can do remote monitoring of a project in any country in the world. Simple GPS technology can be able to help monitor buildings and projects in Do the regulators have the manpower or personnel to do these things you’re saying?
Yes, the manpower is not the issue, those of us also handling the technology at this other end of the industry were not born with it, but as technology became available, we acquired and learnt it. I know that all public sectors in the country have annual provision of training budgets, the issue is never personnel.

Why is technology not taming building failures and collapses?
From my interaction with the system, I think there are small things that are preventing it. Simple basic resources have to be available, some things that may be regarded as almost insignificant become a stumbling block on the way. As far as we have the culture of impunity, where someone proves to be above the law , it is a bad thing. Some of the issues are that bureaucracy does not work to the level it needs to reach, their own economic interest is served at subverting the law, and they are so powerful.

After all they do it in the area of tax and revenue collection, they use a combination of their own personnel and external bodies, and even in tax compliance, so why can’t it be reproduced in other areas.

If they bring it to building control, we will From my understanding, your firm collaborated with foreign bodies to establishes a branch in Nigeria. These days, architects in Nigeria have been complaining of foreign incursion into the practice. From your perspective, how can local and foreign professionals collaborate?

Foreign incursion is something we are talking about and against it? Number one reason, there is an Act of Parliament, The Architect Registration Council Of Nigeria (ARCON) Act, and the Act is very clear as to who can practice in Nigeria. So, if a foreigner wants to come into Nigeria, you can come in and form partnership with Nigerians, and it will be majority Nigeria ownership, it will be a Nigeria controlled company.

So, first and foremost, there is a law that says there is a requirement of registration of both the individual practitioners that form the firm, both of them must meet the registration requirements and be fully registered, that is one.

As far as we are concerned, it’s a drain on our foreign reserves and exchange that you are going outside to procure consultancy services, consultancy services is basically a conceptual and intellectual work. So you were going outside to procure intellectual work, I think that is not only a drain on our foreign reserves, it is also an insult to our own citizens. It is not technology, it’s not that you are going out there to procure a technology that we don’t have. There are times when people go aboard for medical treatment, its not because we don’t have doctors that can treat them here, but it’s just that the technology to be applied to achieve the result does not exist yet.

First and foremost, as far as I am concerned, we need our registration council to be further reinvigorated. You see, whoever that has done it has broken the law, because he’s rendering a service that he is not licensed to render in Nigeria and will be arrested. To practice architecture in Nigeria you need license to practice without a licensed you’ve broken the law and we need a license architect to report that person because its not every infringement the police knows, someone has to report that person.

What is your outlook for architectural practice in 2023?
The outlook for architecture is very closely tied to the health of the economy and often to level of disposable incomes available within the economy. Our profession is closely tied to how buoyant the economy; and the fact is looking at our economy and Nigeria as a whole, there is a huge deficit in terms of the stock of building that we have for any type of activity. People talk generally about housing deficit, but look around there is even classroom deficit across our educational institutions, do we have enough classrooms for primary, secondary school, not to talk of university, whereby all our universities are overcrowded and the private ones have also limited capacity?

So, what about hospital beds, do we have enough and markets; do we still have enough? If you look across everything concerning building ,there is a gap between the number we have and numbers that are needed in the economy. So, the prospect in 2023 should look like this; it’s an election year, which means in January and February, there will not be enough decision made until the outcome of the election.

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