Raphael Ogoe: Where Architecture, Design and Art Meet
Raphael Ogoe is a New York-based Ghanaian architect, artist, designer and entrepreneur. He earned a Master’s in construction management and a Bachelors in architecture from New Jersey Institute of Technology, where his senior comprehensive project received recognition. Prior to establishing his practice, he trained with renowned architect Robert A.M. Stern and contributed to the project design, management and administration of a broad range of initiatives. Ogoe has brought a range of academic and professional experience to his work, having garnered extensive knowledge in graphic design, digital modelling and the visual arts. His work and sketch renderings have been featured in the Architectural Record and Architect Newspaper. In this interview with Omenka, he discusses his work, challenges and forthcoming projects.
Your practice is multidisciplinary, involving drawing and painting, design as well as architecture. What for you is the connecting thread between these various genres and which do you find more fulfilling?
Creativity is the thread that binds my multidisciplinary practice. It is a gift to be able to express myself on so many different levels within these disciplines. It even trickles down to my style of fashion. Working in the architecture profession is appealing because of the pressure and fast-pace to produce and deliver work. However, I find drawing and painting more fulfilling and therapeutic. It is a way to collect my thoughts and to ponder on architectural concepts, strategies and design, as well as life in general.
How would you describe your design aesthetic?
I believe that each project must belong to its place and time, as well as inspire its users. It is my goal to consistently seek ways to articulate these core values into my work. My aesthetic is truly about the process – a process that derives beauty from form and function. With that said, I would define my aesthetic as both pragmatic and artistic. Like a sculptor, I like to carve out space and tell the story of how one experiences these special moments within my buildings.
In your work Touched by an Angel, the figure appears to be African, does this betray a belief in African mythology and how important is it for African artists to stay true to their roots?
Touched by an Angel is a poetic work of art, with the subject matter of a nude African woman. At first glance, it may be controversial; however, my objective is to challenge the viewer to look beyond the obvious. I am a firm believer that there is good in everyone, regardless of the circumstance or first appearance. We are all flawed beings and in our imperfections, we are perfect, hence the angel’s wings. I am unapologetically proud of my African roots. It is what defines me and sets me apart from many within the architectural industry. There are few African architects in America and I sincerely believe it is my duty to represent my culture in the best way possible. Regardless of your profession, it is important to stay true to your identity. I can only be me and you can only be you!
What impact has your dual Ghanaian and American heritage had on your creativity and how have you been able to achieve a balance in your work?
I draw much inspiration from my past and daily encounters. Many of my concepts are derived from my Ghanaian background, and address current issues such as female empowerment, African masculinity and the rites of passage from adolescence to womanhood. I often convey the many social issues prevalent in African society through my work. My education in America has offered me many opportunities including the use of technology to advance my ideas through various media. My daily commute in New York is also an important factor. New York is a melting pot of many cultures around the world. I have been exposed to many ideologies, global issues and ways of relating to people from various parts of the world. I celebrate diversity and believe the world to be a better place because of it.
In your opinion, what key issues are facing African architects today, and how are they dealing with environmental challenges?
Architecture is a growing profession on the African continent and rightly so, the future is limitless. Gradually, people are appreciating the services of architects, which is encouraging. Nevertheless, firstly, there is a need for proper policy enforcement and improved planning in our communities. Many individuals are not adhering to strict codes and are building homes without proper planning. This results in poorly developed communities, lacking a sense of identity. These gaps are largely attributed to weak institutions and law enforcement mechanisms. However, I believe that with committed reforms and support, the African continent can and will gradually correct these anomalies.
Secondly, we must consider the life cycle of a building to be as important as the design and construction phases. Many of our architectural structures are poorly maintained. As architects, it is our duty to consider the longevity of the materials we use and the cost of maintaining them or lack thereof. African architects must push for natural reservations and urban parks in communities. There is the misconception that Africa will never run out of large open space and we must guard ourselves against such thoughts. We are rapidly developing and we need spaces where people can meet, interact and have social encounters to celebrate our humanity.
What are the benefits of green buildings, and have you done anything in your personal capacity to enhance environmental awareness?
The importance of green buildings cannot be overemphasised. These are buildings that employ fewer natural resources during construction and have a significant and positive impact on the environment after they are built. The construction industry has a major influence on the environment at large, so the use of readily available and locally sourced materials for building purposes must be encouraged and explored. I have been incredibly privileged to work on many exciting green buildings, one of which is the Sustainability Pavilion for the upcoming 2020 Expo in Dubai. The Sustainability Pavilion aims to illuminate the ingenuity of architecture and sustainable living. We have addressed and implemented many green solutions. For example, to make the pavilion 100% self-sustaining, energy is captured from the sun and fresh water is formed from the humidity in the air. I have learned a great deal through this project and continue to use these strategies in my work as a result.
Presently, there are several debates around environmental sustainability. How can African architects practice environmentally responsible architecture and design, including the use of sustainable materials?
Good question! Africa is at a crossroads in its development. I consider it to be a blank slate compared to many Western areas. There is a great opportunity to better plan our urban communities for the present and future, with the use of technology and lifestyle analysis. The clever use of local materials, which are readily available and do not necessarily need too much to maintain, must be encouraged. African architects should explore the use of thatch grass, durable local wood, bamboo, mud and fabric in their architecture as much as possible. We should also design using passive strategies like cross ventilation, shading and geothermal cooling and heating in our buildings, to reduce the amount of energy buildings that we need.
Lastly, we should invest in our own people, meaning training and employment opportunities must be available and developed. There are many qualified and talented individuals on this continent that can make great contributions to the construction industry. We must inspire them to always push the boundaries. Many in the diaspora are playing vital roles in top-tier companies in the Western world and I believe we have enough resources to do the same in Africa.
How can the Ghanaian government promote more awareness among younger architects in encouraging the design and construction of energy-efficient, water conserving buildings that use sustainable or green resources and materials?
One way any government can promote and encourage green buildings is by enacting policies that incentivise owners to invest in them and penalise those who do not adhere to the policies. To achieve this, the Ghanaian government must have a system of accountability regarding these policies. I believe sustainability concepts and practices are well-taught in schools; however, we also should not solely rely on the government. Individuals have the power to make a change. As architects, we must enlighten our clients to embrace and implement sustainable practices, regardless of budget. Institutions must also be encouraged to play their roles to achieve this laudable objective.
What new projects are you currently working on?
I just completed art pieces referencing the newly released Black Panther film. I am a huge fan of the movie and what it represents. My first curated art exhibition in Accra, Ghana will open in December 2018. Furthermore, I am working on many new and exciting architecture projects including a private residence in Lagos, a residential development project in Ghana and a proposal for an urban park for the Ghanaian government.
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