Adeyemo Shokunbi: Developing Environmentally Responsive Architecture—Part 2
by Ladun Ogidan
Last week, we brought to you the first part of our interview with Adeyemo Shokunbi on ‘Developing Environmentally Responsive Architecture‘, today, we present the concluding part of this interesting conversation.
You’re also known to have an interest in restoring historical buildings. Please can you share more on recent projects in this regard?
It certainly feels refreshing to be thought of in this area of speciality. It means people appreciate and relate to my work. As an African architect, this bodes well for my profound passion and aspirations in traditional design and building methodologies. PWDC has experienced an immense amount of positivity with a demand for our services since the completion of the Lagos Island Renovation Project. However, I will say that I have always had a major interest in the restoration of old buildings, stemming from my experiences working on historic ‘listed’ buildings in conservation areas of London.
My journey and intrigue in the restoration of historic buildings in Nigeria were activated when my family lost my maternal great, great grandmother’s house in Ikorodu. It was a building that dated back to the early 1900s. It collapsed in 2017 due to the exposure of the dilapidated walls to a heavy downpour just as we were about to restore what was left of it. The only salvageable item was a fragment of a floor tile dating back to when it was built—approximately ninety years ago. However, when the opportunity came for us to restore a seventy-year-old building at 19, Joseph Harden Street, Lagos Island, the decision was not an instantaneous yes. Despite having huge reservations about working in a confined and difficult part of Lagos, it took over a year to finally decide to take on this commission. The property is not an elaborate or beautiful piece of Portuguese style of significant architecture, but it was robust and well built. The owner had engaged a highly proficient contractor to oversee and carry out the construction. What we brought to the restoration was a sense of history and a sensibility that emphatically signalled the idea that we were not going to lose or demolish the building.
We commenced work during the backdrop of the collapse of old buildings on Lagos Island. We had to be thoughtful and careful about how we intervened and interacted with the old building shell. What we did was to extend the building. We added a loft conversion to the old structure by introducing a steel frame to support the new floors by reducing the load on the old walls. We also restored the old timber windows, repurposed the old timber from the roof trusses and reused the existing timber floorboards. The restoration was completed in December 2020, after a year of intuitive and resilient construction on site. Upon reflection, this restoration has been a beacon of light and hope for old buildings still standing in Lagos. By undertaking the restoration of the Lagos Island Renovation Project, we successfully averted what would have been the loss of architectural history similar to the dreadful end suffered by the loss of a national monument; Ilojo Bar built in the mid-19th-century by repatriated slaves from Brazil.
Please talk a bit about Abijo Lekki (mosque) project including its unique and innovative features?
This project is very dear to my heart and sensibilities, first as a Muslim and then as an architect. The name of this mosque is Abijo and it derives its name from its location; evoking the same sense of poetry as Le Corbusier’s Notre Dame du Haute, which is referred to simply as Ronchamp. Similar to Ronchamp, I hope that Abijo, will help define the development of the area over time. Back in 2013, we were commissioned by Crescent Bearers 1939 Lagos to design an elaborate building programme. The ambitious brief required an Islamic centre comprising of a mosque, which they wished to donate to the Abijo Muslim community. Our initial concept submitted to the client was met with great enthusiasm. Nonetheless, the project was not green-lighted and communications lulled until 2017 when we were approached again to redesign our proposal. However, there was a huge difference and the building programme was scaled to a single building; a mosque. We reviewed our design proposal and submitted it for planning permission and as we were about to commence construction on site. We had to revise the design to reflect a bungalow instead of a single-storey building— a significant change considering the form and function of the building. This challenged my building principles, which is an ode to the artist in me. Recognising the style of building the client was asking would place me at odds with my building philosophies, I then recalled my knowledge of the Hadith which states that “Whoever builds a mosque for Allah, Allah will build for him a house like it in Paradise”, and made a design suggestion that accommodated all the concerns of the client. It addressed functional design challenges to accommodate an increased number of worshippers by adding a mezzanine, as a means to increase the height of the building while satisfying my design and building philosophies. The result of the counter design was carte blanche from the client, which is pretty much unheard of in our industry. This led to a series of experiments with the architectonic and materiality of the building. It allowed me to create a language that has its roots in contemporary architecture and also has its DNA intrinsically linked to geometric connotations. In Islam, geometry is considered to reflect the language of the universe, helping the believer meditate on life and the greatness of creation. What we achieved with Abijo is a melting pot of spirituality, sensibilities, and sustainability, in the mosque typology.
With changes in climate, technology, and construction techniques, how do you think architects will adapt ways of practicing to advance the profession?
To advance the profession, we need to educate and re-educate ourselves continuously and practice what has worked for centuries in our geographical location in a Sankofa manner. Additionally, we need to encourage and foster creative collaborations with other professionals, sharing construction and technological knowledge, and best practices. Our responsibility to the next generation is immense, meaning we should embrace opportunities to teach them the practical and cultural philosophies of great African architects, such as Demas Nwoko and Hassan Fathy. In the words of Pritzker prize winner, Indian architect, Balkrishna Doshi, we have to continuously “learn, unlearn and relearn” in the practice of architecture, striving to form identities that work for the local environment.
What other projects do you have presently on your boards that you think our readers would find of interest?
The projects on my desk are complementary to the professional and career space that I occupy presently. They align with the philosophies I have inculcated over time and the language and craftsmanship amassed in my body of work in Nigeria. Invariably, this has prompted me to join forces with others, who through disrupting and redirecting the contemporary design landscape, seek to create better solutions for our communities and culturally astute buildings. We have a brilliant opportunity to contribute to crafting and designing our own Nigerian and African architectural narratives. This is especially with the challenges of living in a world during the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and witnessing a growing number of African professionals either returning home or finding new ways to collaborate and connect to create newer paradigms. As gatekeepers of our generation, the responsibility for viable change is firmly in our hands and rests heavily on our shoulders. We must continue the work of our elders and ancestors—to carry the freedom of expression, self-reliance, and building for permanence—building models that provide light onto the paths of the young and emerging architects, designers, urbanists, and students. I am an active cell leader of the Cultural Intellectual Association (CIA), a non-profit group of Nigerian creatives spanning the discourse of architecture, art, product design, fashion, film, music and poetry. I am also a member and simultaneously a student of the New Culture Design Centre (NCDC) championed by the sage, Demas Nwoko.
April 01, 2021
March 25, 2021