|Curator of 2nd Sharjah Triennial, Tosin Oshinowo (left) and Lola Ogunnaike during a Lagos Symposium...ahead of the main event in UAE.|
AS the second edition of the Sharjah Architecture Triennial (SAT02) holds from November 11-13, 2023 in UAE, a regional culture hub, Lagos, Nigeria, has been a factor in the 'Global South' focus of the event. About a year ahead of the November 2023 Sharjah Triennial, the curator, Tosin Oshinowo, who is a Lagos-based architect, launched conversations to promote the Triennial, in her city of practice.
The Lagos gathering themed Scarcity vs Abundance: Adaptability as a Creative Resource in Architecture, Design and Culture, which held on Thursday, October 27 at Yinka Shonibare’s G.A.S. Foundation had participants from Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Across issues such as contextual, modern, contemporary, waste and preservation, the symposium energised conversations over practicality and possibility.
In March, 2022, Oshinowo, founder of Lagos-based architecture firm CM Design Atelier, was announced as the curator of the 2023 Sharjah Triennial. And in August, the President of Sharjah Triennial, Hoor Al-Qassimi and Oshinowo announced the event's theme as The Beauty of Impermanence: An Architecture of Adaptability.
More of interest, Nigerian texture of the 2nd Sharjah Triennial will be boosted by participation of quite a list of architecture professionals based in the country and diaspora. Such Nigerian participants include Miriam Hillawi Abraham, who will recreate the sacred churches of Lalibela, Ethiopia, out of salt blocks, exploring the country’s historic links with Sharjah; Olalekan Jeyifous, to create a VR experience that offers an alternative/speculative retro-futurist vision of Sharjah’s architecture; Papa Omotayo & Eve Nnaji of MOE+AA/ADD-apt, Lagos-based; Nifemi Marcus-Bello, Ola Uduku and Michael Collins (Nigeria/UK); and Bubu Ogisi (Nigeria).
As the convener of the Lagos symposium, Oshinowo, in her introductory speech, told participants that the aim of the gathering was to give a background into the Sharjah Triennial and make "people appreciate where I come from," as a Lagos-based curator of such a global event.
The conversations took off with Oshinowo and New York-based journalist, Lola Ogunnaike as the former explained how she got the Sharjah Triennial curator job. Probing into Oshinowo's practice, in a field perceived as men-dominated, Ogunnaike demanded her experience. The quality of job, Oshinowo argued, breaks the gender ceiling. "Once you prove yourself, it becomes easier because everybody wants result."
Across creative fields, the diversity that exist between modernism and contemporary contents always generates emotive attachments. And the volume went louder when architecture subjects of native identity strayed into the Sharjah Triennial gathering in Lagos. Ogunnaike, whose works among others as a writer, have been published in Architectural Digest, raised the issue of preference between the two periods. She wanted to know where Oshinowo stood between modern and contemporary architecture. "I have always been a child of modernism," Oshinowo declared. Expanding the subject, Oshinowo brought in the African context of native identity for architecture. "Growing up, I questioned: what is really African architecture?"
At a period when flood was ravaging parts of Nigeria, town planners, civil engineers and policy makers should be placed on the spot, in environmental assessment, not architects. But, Oshinowo's symposium appeared to have surfaced at the period when angst was flying around in search of who to hold responsible for environmental negligence. And as if expecting the issue of climatic shift effect to be on the table, Oshinowo, much earlier in her speech said the symposium was not necessarily to answer questions on climate change, but to know its existence. She added that reducing the amount of energy consumption should be the input of architecture in environment friendly designs.
Oshinowo must have derived her strength from the exploding creative energies of Lagos that make the city a regional hub in art, music and film. She told Ogunnaike how the "optimism of the creatives," particularly in "sharing with others," collectively, had been a booster to Lagos' status in contributing to global cultural exports. With such optimism, she assured that Sharjah Architecture Triennial 2023 would come with freshness, from her curatorial contents.
Whatever challenges the field of architecture faces in meeting the society's demand, the Ivory Tower has a share of that responsibility. And from the audience came the question of how a non-academic architect like Oshinowo can influence change in the academics of architecture. For a professional whose practice is outside the academic walls, her works, she argued, are the best examples to inspire change and "makes it easier," for young architects to learn from.
Among other issues raised was sourcing materials for constructions from local manufacturers, for both economic and cultural reasons. Oshinowo noted that it's possible to use materials of mostly locally made, citing example of the Shonibare's G. A.S. facility which "has over 70% local materials." She argued that "we can work with local manufacturers to get the best out of our designs."
After the morning break at the Symposium, it was the turn of Oshinowo's colleagues to be on the spot in the session tagged Practitioners Panel.' With Oshinowo anchoring that session, it was a robust conversation. Yes, robust, particularly with hot debate from members of the audience over what someone noted as "missing humanity" but loud aesthetics in contemporary architectures.
Adeyemo Shokunbi, Co-Creative Director, Patrick/Waheed Design Consultancy; Dr Taibat Lawanson, Professor of Urban Management and Governance, University of Lagos; Mpho Matsipa, Associate Curator, Lubumbashi Biennale, South Africa; and Rahina Garba, Deputy Heritage Director, National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM), Nigeria, were members of the Practitioners Panel. Dr Lawanson noted that finding the balance between formal and informal is the core experience of Lagos. The city, she argued, "can teach the rest of the world" how to survive the most difficult situation. Lagos, she insisted, have been able to get results out of every chaotic situation.
Responding to Tosin's question on individual attitude that contributes to Lagos' recurring challenges, Lawanson noted the complexity in governing over 20 million population. The centralised system of getting building permit, for example, she cited makes it difficult for local community to have easy access to building permit.
Nigeria, a country of diversity does not leave architecture out in its vastness. Garba explained how most parts of northern Nigeria retained their traditional architecture; how to learn from the traditional architecture. She cited habitat-friendly designs of most traditional architecture that don't have air conditioning facility, "despite the hot climate of the north." Oshinowo, a modernist who would prefer architectural designs without air-conditioning facility added that there is nothing backwards about traditional building, but rather "they are contextual."
If anyone was wondering what the exchange of ideas among Nigerian creatives, mentioned earlier, was all about, Shokunbi and Oshinowo explained their personal experience. Oshinowo expressed her appreciation of how Shokunbi shared his experience about Abijo Mosque, in Ikoyi, Lagos. She disclosed that "we also applied the same in Maiduguri." The Abijo Mosque is a project of Patrick/Waheed Design, dated 2020. In response, Shokunbi was elated that Oshinowo went further to get the experiment documented, saying "that's what sharing experience is all about."
The symposium extended into three panel discussions, featuring practitioners, Lagos creative innovators, and members of the SAT02 Curatorial Advisory Board such as director of The World Around, Beatrice Galilee, and President of Sharjah Art Foundation, Hoor Al Qasimi.
And as architects and architecture enthusiasts converge on UAE for the 2nd Sharjah Triennial in the next few weeks, sharing of experiences continues from where the Lagos gathering stopped.
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