‘We’re committed to socially responsible architecture’
CHIEF TOKUNBO OMISORE is currently the President of the African Union of Architects (AUA). He had served as the AUA’s secretary general, and his firm built over 140 Mr. Biggs’s outlets, the La cour Boutique hotels chain in Ikoyi and the redevelopment of the Adeniran Ogunsanya Shopping Mall, among others. In this interview with The Guardian’s TUNDE ALAO, he spoke on the architects’ central role in planning, designing, commitment to sustainable and equitable future.
IN 2014, Africa Union of Architects celebrated her 34th anniversary. What notable strides have you recorded since inception?
Most notable is the Union’s recognition in representing the interest of the African architects on the Continent. On September 5, 2012, in Naples, Italy the AUA became a leading partner of the UN-Habitat World Urban Campaign at an event signed by the Chief Executive of the UN-Habitat, Joan Clos and the AUA President. Ever since, we have been participating on issues regarding the African Continent and providing our views on the African Urban Agenda, which demands more of a Rural-Urban Concept with respect to our different cultural values and level of developments.
Another notable stride was our Afribat Forum Tangier, Morocco June 20-23, 2013.
This event sponsored by the Moroccan Government was a platform that discussed in detail the need to support MADE IN AFRICA for sustainability. The aim was to unveil homemade concepts and ideas through innovation, education, infusing the African culture, but most importantly to create opportunities and employment.
Promotion of Sustainable and Responsible Architecture for our Continent remained the main strides of the AUA in recent times. We therefore coined the slogan “Instead of thinking of Africa as a place that needs to be more like others we should think about how others need to be more like Africa” this we believe will help our different governments to adopt affordable developments to eradicate Capital Flight and most importantly support poverty alleviation. As l often say at all presentations l make, “Africa cannot continue to BUY what it cannot AFFORD”. The AUA meetings and other events in member countries impacts on the need to make our Cities sustainable to enable our different Communities on the African Continent are provided with better lives. The AUA on May 16, 2015 at the American Institute of Architects Convention, Atlanta executed the Africa Sustainability Campaign Cooperation Agreement to support efforts towards achieving the following: Eradication of Poverty and Corruption; Research and Development (R&D) to support innovative ideas that will be beneficial to the different communities of the African continent; Empowerment of the Private Sector and creating employment opportunities; African architectural identity that reflects the cultural values and heritage of the different communities; Connecting of people, Ideas and provision of sustainable goods for the benefit of all and Recycled/regenerated energy to reduce the impact of the climatic change on the continent and the world at large.
Recognizing the architects’ central role in planning and designing the built environment, what is AUA commitment to sustainable and equitable future, especially on the need to reduce carbon emissions?
The AUA is committed to promote the following: Plan and design cities, towns, urban re-development and designs of new buildings to be carbon neutral; Renovation and rehabilitation of existing cities, towns, urban development and buildings to be carbon neutral whilst respecting their Cultural and Heritage values.
Besides, in those cases where reaching carbon neutral is not feasible or practical, the plan and design of cities, towns, urban development, new buildings and renovations are to be highly efficient with the capability to produce, or import, all their energy from renewable energy sources in the future.
We are also committed to the principle of engaging in research and setting targets towards meeting the 2050 goal and lately the Africa Agenda 2063; Advocate and promote socially responsible architecture for the community, develop and deliver equitable access to the information and tools needed to plan and design sustainable, resilient, inclusive and low- carbon /zero carbon built environments and design low -cost on-site renewable energy and natural resources systems (e.g. passive heating and cooling, water catchment and storage, solar hot water, day lighting and natural ventilation systems)
What has been the relationship between member nation’s institutes in term of Architectural development in the continent?
The Africa Union of Architects strongly promotes architectural education and facilitates exchange among architects of the member Institutes. We also intend in the nearest future to extend these to students and teachers of architecture worldwide.
This relationship has been developed strongly through our CPD programs, to ensure the continued development of professional methods while respecting the specificity of our different communities.
The AUA will continue to promote architects creative, technical and cultural talents and services they provide to the public, that is, Francis Kere from Bukina Faso is a good ambassador to this course.
In order to accomplish the mission it set to itself, the AUA has established a structural hierarchy that allows it to maintain permanent contact with professionals and representatives, and manage their relations at an African level, in a democratic and collegial manner. How far will you say the objective has been achieved?
The Africa Union of Architects operates through five regions, i.e. north, south, east, west and central. These five regions are headed by the five Vice Presidents of the Union and provide the Secretariat activities of member sections within their regions. In addition to the Vice Presidents, there are three council members per region elected from the member countries within same. There are also bureau members that comprises of the President, Immediate Past President, Vice Presidents, Secretary General, Asst Secretary General, Treasurer, Chairman Board of Education, Research & Technology that deliberate on matters on behalf of Council to later seek the approval of same or execute if already mandated.
There is a Constitution Review Committee of the Union that had spent the last four years in updating our constitution to relate to the challenges of the global architectural communities.
Housing is one of major challenges in most African countries, what is AUA doing to ameliorate the problem?
The AUA had carried out many studies on how housing can be provided to most and at affordable costs. The key to this is to develop the use of our Local materials and where this is yet to be achieved, only buy what is made in Africa that supports growth, creates opportunities and provides employment. In addition to this, we have guidelines from our continued professional development programmes that if adhered to by our different governments, will ensure solutions to these challenges in Africa. Our study and research ranges from slum upgrades, sociological studies of our different communities to developing our Research & Development (R&D) enhanced with Information Technology to achieve these.
What has been your relationship with the African Union in this regard? Have your organization submitted any proposal on meeting the housing challenges of the continent?
Through our involvement with the UN-Habitat as their lead partner on the World Urban Campaign we are providing our views to the Africa Urban Agenda for Habitat III and eventually the Africa 2063.
Housing is key while parameters to achieving this needs to be right and most importantly, If you provide a modern housing estate to a population that over forty per cent are unemployed you can be assured that the development will not only be unsustainable but one of further social imbalance.
Every three years, the AUA congress brings together hundreds of architects and students of architecture from all over the continent. How have members, especially, students in tertiary institutions benefited from such interaction?
In recent times with the assistance of telecommunication attendance of the Unions participation and congress attendance has been on a steady growth.
In December 2013 we set up the Africa Young Architects (AYA) website through the sponsorship of Nigerite Ltd as a platform for the African architectural students and young architects to interact after an African design competition on Beyond Housing also sponsored by the same company.
The AUA every three years at her Congress unites all architects, students and teachers of the profession. At the Congresses discussions are held on how to Raise Professionalism and Standard and Add Value for Practitioners.
Over the years, the need to protect jobs had always being an issue for discussion while lately the need to create opportunities
The 11th Congress of Africa Union of Architects is coming up in Kampala inAugust, how prepared are you for the congress and what are the agenda for the event?
The Uganda Society of Architects will host the 11th AUA Congress from August 3rd – 8th 2015 at the Speke Resort, Munyonyo located on the Shores of Lake Victoria in Kampala, Uganda.
The Congress under the theme “Our Architecture, Our Communities, Our Heritage”, will seek to explore and emphasize the importance of African heritage in architectural design in relation to the needs of our Communities and ensure sustainable developments.
At this Congress we will continue to advice our colleagues and leaders the need to ‘Plan with the People and not for the People’ to provide affordable and sustainable developments.