Adeyemo Shokunbi: Developing Environmentally Responsive Architecture—Part 1
by Ladun Ogidan
British-trained architect Adeyemo Shokunbi best describes himself as an architect-builder. He worked for a number of UK architecture practices before jointly setting-up CFA Interiors Ltd, an architecture and interior design office specialising in the design, building and refurbishment projects in the commercial and private sector across the UK.
In 2006, Shokunbi relocated to Lagos, where he founded Patrickwaheed Design Consultancy (PWDC) with Patrick Koshoni. In 2008, as an extension to the design practice, PWDC founded Artistic Licence, an art gallery established to showcase and champion contemporary Nigerian creative thinking and culture across a wide range of art forms. In this interview with Omenka, he talks about the importance of cultivating environmentally responsive architecture and shares his love for restoring historical buildings.
Tell us a bit about your background. In what way do you think your architectural style was influenced by your upbringing?
I was born in Manchester, United Kingdom but my family relocated to Nigeria when I was six years old. Though my formative education was in Nigeria, I returned to the UK to continue my higher education. From a young age, I always wanted to be an architect although I cannot say that I was inspired by any architectural style at the time. During my first year of undergraduate architectural school, I saw Lloyd’s building—home of the insurance institution Lloyd’s of London—designed by the British architect, Richard Rogers. It had such an overwhelming impact on me. I suppose—reminiscing now—it was the experience of different materiality on the surface and structure of this building for the first time, other than bricks that resonated deeply with me. This moment was a point of arrival, vividly illustrating the power and potential of what architecture can be.
What are the main intentions of your architecture and the key distinguishing features of your work with regards to environmentally responsible architecture and design, including the use of sustainable materials?
My training and early years of being an architect focused on European and American architectural languages and philosophies. This Western design thinking is (or was?) also evident in my early architectural work. It was not until I started practicing in Nigeria that I developed and cultivated “environmentally responsive” architecture. I have taken a hands-on approach that includes working with local artisans and inventing sustainable buildings’ elements and components, which are reused and reapplied across different projects. I simply believe that architecture has the power to transform and build our environments in ways that give identity to our everyday life and cities. In other words, architecture should be responsive and intuitive in providing solutions to the environment, climate, culture, and the vernacular of place.
What are the most interesting recent developments in architecture in Nigeria?
The colonial project; meaning the British architects deployed to sub-Saharan Africa, left us a body of architectural buildings from the Modernist movement, which began in Europe. The consciousness of the foreign incursion in the minds of most architectural professionals and a concrete effort to fight to create acceptable local options is intergenerational. Demas Nwoko and other post-independent pioneers had to contend with the likes of Jane Drew and Maxwell Frye, James Cubitt, and other commonwealth architects in Nigeria over the last fifty-plus years. Remnants of these legacies still exist, and we nevertheless have a lot of work to do. However, I am optimistic that there is a new confidence in the development of Nigerian and African identities, albeit at a fledgeling stage. In the same way, there is a revival of the Nigerian definition; through afrobeat, fashion, art, and Nollywood; architecture contributes to representing a new identity to Nigerians and the world. This awareness—the seeking of traditional, historical, and cultural knowledge specific to different regions—coupled with the “go back and get it” mentality, is responsible for this new yearning for African expression. It is also important to note the recent movement by the Community Planning and Design Initiative (CPDI) Africa and the New Culture Design Centre (NCDC), which are inspired by the culture and Afro-centric architecture anchoring post-colonial identities. Ultimately, this can only be good for Nigerian and African architecture.
What do you feel is the role of architecture on a humanitarian level?
The role of architecture in sculpting and impacting our everyday lives is immeasurable, through all humanitarian levels, sectors, and disciplines. When we examine the disparity in our African cities, terrains, and territories, it is imperative that as architects, we need to get off our high horses, be proactive and invent new sustainable ways of practice on a human scale. In Nigeria, the poor environmental conditions people live in —for instance in parts of north-eastern Nigeria and several other places in the country—architecture can become the necessary vehicle of positive change at a humanitarian threshold. By humanitarian interventions, I mean not only limited to deploying demountable structures during a time of crisis or civil unrest but also to serve the fundamental human needs for decent shelters, access to clean water, and safer communities for families to reside in. In turn, this can become a catalyst to stimulate children’s education, economic development, and boost the health and mental well-being of an entire locality.
I am encouraged by the gradual shift that we are positively experiencing in the psyche of a few conscientious designers and key-players like African Contemporary Institute Design (ACID), Lagos Urban Development Initiative (LUDI) and Doyinsola Ogunye’s Beach Cleaning Initiative. Their sheer beliefs, philosophies, and visions for a better Nigeria—while promoting a new culture by improving the quality of living—are impacting an ever-growing number of people.
How has PWDC responded to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic and what design features are being developed to mitigate such risks in the future?
PWDC responded to the global COVID-19 pandemic like most architectural practices have, a shocking contemplative time of reflection. Our initial approach was and still is to be responsible for oneself first and foremost, then ultimately others. Intriguingly, during the peak of the lockdown in March 2020, I was asked to mentor two groups of young architectural students participating in an architectural competition. They were tasked with a brief to design markets within the city of Lagos. The purpose was to help mitigate the risks of spreading the virus through social distancing and come up with new ways of interacting in public spaces. I am pleased to state, that the two groups of students I mentored took both the first and runners-up prizes.
Read the concluding part here.
April 01, 2021
March 25, 2021