Interview with ; Baba Oladeji
How important is the understanding of culture in architecture?
Culture is about people and I agree with Francis Kere when he says architecture is about people. I think architecture has no meaning when people are not in the picture. We need to house people, and each project starts gathering information from a person i.e. the Client approaching you as a practitioner to do a job. You design a building; people live in it or work in it.
Some people prefer to look at culture as decorative, so their interpretation is through materiality. Some others choose to look at culture as the way people think, and their architectural interpretation is probably and usually abstract. This can be through the articulation or definition of spaces.
Both approaches say one clear thing: people will interchangeably refer to as culture and take the lead in all architecture decision making. What I am trying to say is that we need to understand people.
And for me, I pride myself on being a people watcher. This helps me reach the right scheme or design.
You are one of the “5 Nigerian architects one should know”. Why?
I honestly do not know why. You’d have to ask Sophie Breitmaster of Conde Nast who wrote the article. I was happy to create political work at the time, and I think it caught attention of a few. I am very honored by the recognition but above of all I attribute it to God.
What are your challenges for the near future?
First, is using local technology to match the pace of architecture. I mean local technology in the way drawings are made and directly simulating a building e.g. additive manufacturing.
Second, is breaking down this big thing called ‘architecture’ into parts and maybe becoming producers and merchants of building materials and components. I think this helps us to match wide-scale poverty with lower price spots in Africa.
Third, is guiding clients to embrace designs that are more sensitive to the environment. I mean balancing our commitment as architects to the environment and clients.
Lastly will be debunking a singular narrative about African architecture and educating Clients about what architecture really is. This is something I embarked on since 2017 with my writings and a nonprofit project I lead – A3: Archives of African Architectures.
And how can you contribute to improve the urban environment in your country?
By planning agile communities: buildings that can touch ground lightly and are flexible, we need to be closer to work linking buildings. Our approach as Ministry of Architecture is also to look beyond design, advocating novel policies that promote land rents, raising green capital and even re-educating younger architects to earn these skills because we need an army to sustain any of our contributions.
What does a typical day look like in your job?
To be honest, it’s a little bit of everything, like a salad. There’s usually a time to secure new business through design proposals/RFBs, some time to inspire our largely freelance team, time for client / site visits, packages of writing about architecture, and a topping of Netflix, as I try to watch more films as a breathing space from work.
Can you tell us the top 5 things one visiting your city should do?
Anyone visiting Lagos should witness the glam and the harshness. Go glam with a day to experiment the culture of the city including a trip to places such as Onikan, Ikoyi and Victoria Island.
I suggest a day to see the harshness, where people are surviving with a smile. Places on the Lagos mainland such as bus stops, or a bus trip to Oshodi, Agege, Ajegunle.
I also suggest visiting the waterbodies, Lagos is lucky to be one of Nigeria’s coastal cities with abundant water. Depending on your appetite for tranquility, there are beaches along the Lekki or Apapa axis.
I would also suggest Lagos Island because I particularly like watch buildings around Broad Street and Ikoyi with their rich history.
Lastly, I think it is important to see how Lagos is bursting: through events, parties, regattas and fashion shows where Lagos shows up clearly and vibrantly. This is where the true spirit of the city comes aglow.
If we were to visit your city in a business trip. Where would you recommend us to have breakfast, lunch, and dinner? And why?
I will recommend The Saraya Deli at Wheatbaker Hotel, Ikoyi Lagos to have breakfast. I think it is an intimate place for audible discussions.
Nok by Alara in Victoria Island is great for discussions too and has a lot of art to feed the eyes.
For dinner, go to Kingfisher in Lekki. I have recently discovered this location. It is also great to watch the lights of the city and the views to the Lagoon.
Interview by Gerardo Mingo