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PROFILE: PAPA OMOTAYO

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There is a whole new generation of Designers, urbanist and thinkers who see education and capacity development as integral to their personal and commercial development. We cannot work in isolation, we must engage with the institutions and the next generation.”

Please describe your work and the most rewarding aspects of operating in Architecture?

MOE+ Art Architecture’s current portfolio of work within Nigeria can be defined as Architecture searching for a new idea for a redefined, pragmatic African modernism, engaged in the art of motifs, metaphor, ideas, context, culture, materiality and sustainability; Architecture that continues to give a little meaning to the everyday –
beyond the realms of form, function and even technology.

In what way do you hope your work contributes to the practice and perception of Architecture in Nigeria?

Our work at MOE+ and the work of new collectives, like AAND (African Alliance for New Design) are asking questions about design identity in Africa, working in cities like Lagos. Questions like, how do we move beyond just generic building typologies, the replica American suburban home, the aluco-bond clad office building, the inaccessible public park etc, many without thought for a wider community. How do we move from this to an era that creates valuable interventions, led by strong contextual ‘design thinking’, at all varying social-economic scales. A place where local, Nigerian based architects can compete with the influx of foreign architectural practices, currently winning all the major projects. So, the question may not be what we contribute or the perception of our practice, alone, but rather, how do we ensure a legitimate reason for our work, as local
architects, in the current environment and context?

Falomo Under Bridge

Can you describe an evolution in your work from inception till present?
I believe the core principles have always remained the same. Research, context, strong ideas and collaboration. The projects have increased in scale, but we have always been striving to answer the same question working within Nigeria. How do we define our environment and give it an identity that is contextual and relate-able? The
work must ultimately add value to our society and global discourse of modern architecture.

GT Bank

Which project has given you the most satisfaction thus far?
By the nature of our approach and the importance we place on research in all our work, every project brings with it a great deal of learning. The beautiful thing about Architecture, is that you can actually see how a space affects a user, almost immediately you open the doors. It can move them and it can confound them. Therefore, sometimes it is the small projects like the ReLe Gallery on Military Street, Onikan or GT Bank at 19 Bayo Kuku (with the potted
plant facade and waterfall) which feel the most immediate.
Partially by the nature of them being both engaged in a conversation about public space. But perhaps more importantly, is working with Clients who are invested in a similar ideology to you. Clients are fundamental in allowing great Architecture to happen, especially those who see the possibility of what architecture can be in a ‘plural’ sense.

Westland, 2nd Avenue

What advice would you give to young architects?

The same advice I received when I started. You will never know enough and that the most important thing, is the quality of the experience you create for the user. There are also more practical important points, like do a lot of research, engage and collaborate, sometimes with people with better ideas than you. But mostly, just don’t stop making things up. Imagine yourself standing in a library full of books, all written by you. Some will be better than others, some will hopefully be definitive. But you must keep searching and creating.

Given your unique position, how do you think MOE+ Art Architecture is perceived in the industry in Nigeria?

The original MOE, when it was founded by Mosun Ogunbanjo, heralded a new paradigm, especially with their creation of the GT Bank building ethos. She and Goke Osibodu really had a holistic understanding of the power of Design in what was then, a new economical era, for financial institutions at least. There is a whole generation of successful Architects and Designers, today, who went through their old offices on Military Street, as collaborators
before our two companies merged to become MOE+ Art Architecture. It was exciting to be a part of this revered group. In the last 20 years, the philosophy of the GT Bank building has been part of our cultural landscape. So, it feels good to be able to continue in the same daring vein in which the original MOE practice was started. Which
is ,expressing the power of Design and its possibility as a tool for creating new ways of seeing but in an industry where very few local Architects, are actually practicing ‘Architecture’ or engaging with the wider spectrum of Design thinking or even with the next generation of creatives (some of who are doing amazing things in total isolation without guidance, and are not bound by the rigid labels of a ‘profession’).

House 8, Ikoyi

It also seems a fair reason why many clients, and even the general public to an extent, have lost faith with the Nigerian Architect, who was once so highly regarded as a shaper of the public realm. You consider someone like
Demas Nwoko, a true pioneer and then you look at buildings from the 60’s and 70’s, The National Theatre, the University of Lagos etc – with awe at the audacity, and scale the engagement with public space and then you
wonder what went wrong but, the current generation of Architects, Designers and Creatives all seem aligned with the urgency to recreate this sense of awe again. So it is really exciting to be a part of and also being able to influence this current cultural space we’re living in.

How do you perceive the future of Architectural education?

It is easy to be pessimistic, but truth be told, there is a whole new generation of Designers, urbanist and thinkers who see education and capacity development as integral to their personal and commercial development. We
cannot work in isolation, we must engage with the institutions and the next generation. AAND (African Alliance for New Design) is founded on similar principals and its members host mentoring programs and forums at the University of Lagos. There will be an exhibition at the ReLe gallery in April showing some of the members work. We also have organisations like bukka, Nsibidi Institute, Future Lagos among others, all engaged in education and discourse, independent of the traditional institutional systems. It’s also fantastic to be on the board of the first Open House Lagos, which is also scheduled for April and supported by the British Council. A weekend of programs
based on allowing access to some of the best buildings in Lagos. The aim is to create a platform to engage the public with architecture and raise awareness of the urban environment we live in.

The biggest problem I see, specific to architecture, is the ‘dumbing’ of the architectural building into a visual image/
object.

For the students especially, the positive democratic availability of imaging and software tools, which help you create a building that looks ‘beautiful’ and ‘flashy’, also risk the designer ignoring the experience of the spaces within it. Clients too have been swept away with the fantasy of high rendered3D imagery.

Therefore, many architectural students, are doing ‘PP’ and spending all their time creating ‘cool’ 3D visuals, ignoring, experiencing great buildings, researching great buildings, understanding the flow, the program etc of
a building and how ‘in’ should always be the starting point. A building is a place primarily experienced from within.

Where do you see the Architectural industry heading in Nigeria?

I see it splitting into 2 – the old guard and the new guard and it may be a bloody battle, but hopefully, they will take a graceful bow. Those who currently run the architectural establishment etc are doing the best job they can, don’t get me wrong, but there is also a fundamental problem- Perception. For me, what is needed is a change in perception of what we, as local Nigerian architects do in this new millennium, and why we should consider ourselves relevant
culturally, commercially and globally. That only comes by creating value and nurturing trust, which will hopefully give us a new independence and then the possibility to really work towards new ideas and ultimately create better places, building, better communities and cities.

There was an interesting article recently where Liz Diller, talked about when she realised that the 99% of the time she spent selling a project idea was just as important as the 1% time spent conceiving it. So, we need to spend more time not just selling our ideas but understanding where these ideas come from and ultimately where they can take us ALL to!

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