Widely recognised as ‘Nigeria’s foremost female Architect’ and the face of Architecture in Nigeria, Olajumoke Adenowo, a multiple award-winning Architect is a child prodigy. She was admitted to the University of Ife to study Architecture at the age of 14 where she graduated with a BSc. (Hons) and subsequently attained a record breaking distinction in Masters of Science (MSc) in Architecture. As a Chartered Architect, she worked with Femi Majekodunmi Associates where she had the privilege of designing the Federal Ministry of Finance, Abuja.
She later started her own Architecture and Interior Architecture firm, AD Consulting with just 400 USD in 1994. She is also involved in charity work, and in 1999, she founded Awesome Treasures Foundation to raise Transformational Leaders.
She is a speaker of note in demand at summits and conferences including the Harvard Business School (African Business Club), the Inspiring Woman Businessday Series, churches, and media platforms. In this interview, she told VIVIAN ONYEBUKWA her journey to the world of Architecture, her multiple awards and Architecture generally. Olajumoke is married to Olukorede and they are blessed with two sons.
And Architecture is a kind of course that incapsulates evrything-Law, Maths and Chemistry. You definitely have some Physics in it so we are not responsible for collapsing buildings. These are Structural Engineers. There is also history in it. You have to understand that it is artistic and creative. So, it is arts and science that deal with society. It was a kind of course that could engage me and challenge me enough.
Can you mention some of the projects you have been involved in both locally and internationally?
This firm is 20 years old, so we have done quite a few projects in Lagos and outside Ngeria. We ‘ve worked even on governor’s lodges before. We work on the diversity of projects but what marks all our work is that it is very detailed especially when we work with a designing client.
What role do you think Architecture can play in nation building?
Nigerian Architecture has been recognised internationally in select circles well before now. I mentioned that some countries give national honours to architects, even knighthoods but we all know what obtains in Nigeria. Architects are interpreters of the spirit of the age. Every visionary leader has an architect who translates his vision to built form. Napoleon had his architects and city planners who built the Arc de Triomphe and planned Pares, Hitler had his Albert Speer who designed every set he spoke from. This is architecture deployed at the lofty level of vision, not to talk of the nitty-gritty of developmental issues such as housing the masses sustainably and affordably. The architecture of a nation is its defining feature.
The Sydney Opera House is the symbol of Sydney and by extension of Australia; The skyline of Manhattan defines the city, the Tower Eiffel is synonymous with Paris Fledgling. Emerging nations who understand the power of architecturede liberately seek global share of mind with their buildings. Burj El Araband now Burj Khalifa for Dubai, Petronas Towers for Malaysia…need I go on?
In terms of reward how has it been to you?
I will like to state categorically it is the way the client feel, and the edifics when it is standing, because architecture is an art you can live in. Nobody can take that away from you. I was in a project in Lekki recently and I was looking at another project I designed that the client was too squint to allow us to supervise. They ruined the back of his house. Forever it stands like that, but when a client allows us, appreciate professionalism to allow us to do what is right and the building turns out right, the job itself is its own reward. Nobody can take it away from you, even if they didn’t pay you. What are the drawbacks? Philistinic clients.
What is your view over the seeming influx of foreign practitioners into the country? Are they a threat or asset to the indigenous practitioners?
The world is a global village. Therefore, ideally we should have partnerships between Nigerians and non-Nigerians and AD has had opportunities for collaboration. So, I can say confidently that Nigerian architects can hold their own anywhere in the world. However, there is a vast difference between the way some clients treat the Nigerian architects and the way they treat non-Nigerians. While the clients typically pay the foreigner the fees he demands gladly, they don’t even want to pay the Nigerian on the basis of a 17-year-old inflation eroded fee scale and one thing leads to another. The foreigner who is paid will then devote enough of his time and resources to the project, the Nigerian who must juggle up to 10 projects to earn as much as the foreigner cannot.
However, we don’t take any project we can’t devote our attention to. One of our foreign collaborations who does a lot of work for a popular hotel chain saw our design for a hotel and gasped. I was worried so I asked if everything was ok. He said verbatim: “This is so good! This is 150 per cent better than any work I have seen from Nigeria”. They work with Nigerian developers on so many hotel projects so this comment was very affirming.
How will you rate the patronage by governments at all levels in the award of contracts to foreigners over the Nigerian architects?
It is embarrassing for example that the symbol of Lagos – The National Theatre was done by a foreigner and quite a few other iconic buildings in Nigeria. In essence, we are saying we don’t know who we are and we need foreigners to define who we are to us. Collaborations are good but we need to value and celebrate what is ours. The fashion for foreign imports should not go that far.
Which project(s) have you handled that excite you most?
The next one.
How many awards have you received so far and which of them excite you most?
For architecture, about fourteen. The IDEA Awards (Best Interior Architects) 2013 excites me most because it is really validating because we pioneered interior architecture in Nigeria.
What are the challenges confronting Architectural practice in Nigeria today?
Practising architecture in Nigeria is tough generally because the society is still not sophisticated enough to understand that you should pay more for ideas (intellectual property) than for tangibles. We are especially affected by the lack of respect for ideas. This is the reason people scramble and kill for extractive resources like oil and diamonds all over Africa while other nations like Singapore develop their human capital and outperform. We need to evolve to realise that ideas govern the tangible. When we celebrate men and women of intellectual capacity who add value by their ideas, the nation will finally start moving forward again. This is why we work only with discerning clients. We design for the discerning who understand that an artist is paid for her vision ad not her labour.
Architecture seems like a male dominated profession, what would be your advice to the younger/prospective female professionals that are into the profession?
I hear it is a male dominated field, my parents forgot to warn me. My advice to females is the same as the advice to males and every young professional. Make sure architecture is what you really want to do. AD is always full of young people interning with us- I call it “AD College”. However, I tell the younger people “there are easier ways to make money if money is your aim”. An architect is a noble artist, creating art to live in. The execution of your edifice should be in itself a huge part of your reward, like a woman is fulfilled at a fundamental level after she births a new life. If money is your real aim, become a contractor – that’s more lucrative.
Particularly for men and women in architecture, if you must marry then marry right. Make sure you marry someone who understands the demands and pressures of our profession and the sacrifice and patience it involves before your reward (or as we Nigerians put it “your breakthrough”) comes.
The incidence of building collapse is on the increase. As a professional in the industry, what do you see as a panacea to stem the tide?
I have said this so many times, it’s not an issue of not having enough laws; it’s an issue of compliance. Some people use non-certified engineers because they are cheaper, others use certified engineers but won’t pay them to supervise. We have had cause to leave a project because the client insisted on using a cheap (certified) engineer whose design was defective. The structural integrity of a building is the structural engineer’s purview but most people who should know better don’t know this. They think somehow the architect is responsible for the structures.
How are the old hands in the profession impacting on the younger ones? Are the younger ones benefitting from their experience or do they see the upcoming ones as a threat?
From 1991, I was blessed to work with one of the best bosses I could have had, Chief Femi Majekodunmi of FMA Architects. He was such an encouragement, he allowed me to express myself and challenged me and I love challenges. He was then President of the International Union of Architects and with his vast exposure to the world’s best, he told me I was the best designer he knew. That was humbling and extremely profound for me so I strived even more. It was unheard of allowing the youngest member of a firm touch a major design but he gave me the opportunity to design the Federal Ministry of Finance, Abuja. Now the mind blowing part is that he acknowledges the fact till today; I have been blessed by a good mentor. I, therefore, owe it to God to mentor others. So, in AD, young people work on projects they would not dream of elsewhere. If every “older hand” was like my own boss, the industry would progress. We must remember that no one owns the ages, we only trend in our seasons. If the preceding generation will be remembered in the future, it’s only through their relevance to the next generation. We must be generational in our thinking, even at the level of governance.
There is this rivalry among professionals in the construction industry as per whose role is more important. Do you see any basis for comparison?
The architect has always been the leader of the design team; however everyone’s role is equally important. All the body is not made up of a head; the body has many parts working in synergy. The hidden parts are even more vital to survival-we should take a cue from this and work as a team.
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