IN CONVERSATION WITH JUMOKE ADENOWO
Multiple award-winning architect, Olajumoke Adenowo defines architecture as a functional art, an art one can experience. At 23, she designed her first building, the Federal Ministry of Finance in Abuja. Two decades on, she has been involved in the design and construction of over 70 major buildings. Her dream is to design a building that will define Nigeria’s identity, the way Tour d’Eiffel defines Paris. With the environment as her primary focus, she tells us more in this captivating interview.
You designed the Federal Ministry of Finance when you were only 23 what was your experience like and what were you required to do?
I always acknowledge my boss Chief Femi Majekodunmi of FMA Architects for giving me the opportunity to design a project on such a scale in spite of my age (I was just 23). He rewarded my precociousness. The moral of the story is to always give your best. Because of the way the project was presented, no one knew how serious it would be. I have always believed anything worth doing is worth doing well, so I worked diligently at the concept. I remember distinctly, thinking about a solution that would make the design better at about 7pm on a Sunday. I went to the office and I was there till 11pm working, on a Sunday! However, there was no other place I would rather have been. I love designing As the clients reverted with various requirements, I was expected to resolve the issues. Interestingly, my boss trusted I would resolve the design problems within the excruciatingly tight deadlines, and he wasn’t disappointed.
You left the shelter of an established firm at age 25 to set up your own; what inspired you and what challenges did you face?
I just had more within me to express on my own terms.Challenges ? I had no contacts and no money, but I had faith!
Your career has spanned over 20 years and you have been involved in the construction of several buildings, which to you is the most significant?
I have executed over 70 buildings and each one has its own place in my journey. I believe the best is in the future. Three projects stand out though, including Guiding Light Assembly, a 2,250 seater multi-use auditorium, meeting rooms and office complex. Though I was only 25 when I designed it and the design issues in multi-use, mixed-use complexes are quite a few, the project still functions well today. All the health, safety and environmental, ventilation, human traffic, separation of functions and other issues are sorted. The Eco-Industrial Park, Bayelsa is also significant to me because of the sheer scale and complexity of the masterplan. We have worked on a few urban redevelopment and master plans. I have a
passion for projects on an urban scale with a mix of uses and multi-layered issues to resolve. If a project is too simple, I get bored. My office/ studio is significant because I was able to demonstrate my design principles without any banal constraints from a client. I am still surprised at the response people have to the building because though it’s a very contemporary, non-traditional building, everyone loves it and resonates with it. Not just the urbane and exposed but people of every cadre love the building. It proves my hypothesis about the way architects hold their own exclusive opinions on architecture, which is totally opaque to non-architects. This may be the reason why no one cares much about architecture, at least not the way they are passionate about other creative pursuits like music or drama. The architectural establishment at its zenith is simply not communicating with anyone but architects.
What type of project inspires you most?
I am inspired by the client first. An AD Client is a discerning client; one who understands intellectual property and understands that “An artist is not rewarded for his labour but for his vision”.
I have had the privilege of working on celebrated master plans – the challenges of resolving issues on the macro level of the city right down to the micro level of the neighbourhood, issues of development control and land use, environmental issues such as transportation, circulation, traffic, energy, waste and recycling, sustainable power and other matters that affect policy and call upon a knowledge of global best practices, give me enough to engage my interest on the project.
What is your underlying philosophy and what distinguishes your architecture?
I believe architecture is THE functional art–technology that impacts the emotions. Each AD project possesses a unique soul, which is revealed and expressed through the prism of the client’s needs, the context (physical, budgetary, cultural, climactic, technological) and the zeitgeist. Though not constrained by the zeitgeist, my architecture responds to it by casting off its constraints in reaching further to the future. It is not about my ego or style as a designer in interpreting each solution according to a set of afore-determined
EXTERNAL expressions or forms. Each building possesses a unique soul and is a carefully composed symphony. And like music, it has the power to produce the emotions the composer desires; serenity, exhilaration, contemplation…awe…
LIGHT is a strong force in my work …Light makes manifest. Light is the revealer. Nothing is seen until there is light. Form and space are perceived as the light directs.
Full interview published in Omenka magazine volume 2 issue 2.
July 12, 2018