Our correspondent Rianat, was in an interview with Olayinka Dosekun, the CREATIVE DIRECTOR of Studio Contra Mundum. She spoke extensively about reaching clients with an equal enthusiasm for design, international collaborations and how government should tackle housing deficit in Nigeria
NREH: How long has your company been in Nigeria and what are the challenges you have encountered so far?
Olayinka Dosekun: I’ve been in Nigeria since last November. That’s when we first set up. That makes it about six months in Nigeria.
The main challenge we are facing is to make ourselves known to the market- not just who we are but also what we stand for; I believe that’s a challenge which every start-up faces. The other challenge is connecting with the right clients and getting the kind of work we are most interested in; where we can add value through design thinking and ingenuity.
NREH: Who really is an architect and where does his or her role stand and stop in the built industry?
Olayinka Dosekun: An architect is basically a type of Designer. There many different kinds of designers: furniture, graphics, industrial etc. Architects design buildings, which are very complex entities and take a lot of planning – we have to know a lot about everything. However, we do not only design, we also perform the role of project managers on construction projects, coordinating other professionals towards the achievement of a complete vision.
NREH: Tell us about the impact of NIA in Nigeria
Olayinka Dosekun: Because we are new in Nigeria, we are still learning about these bodies, like NIA. We think it’s important to have a strong institution in the profession which help to set standards of practice and bring architects together into a community that can serve society.
NREH: Are there other bodies that support architects in Nigeria? If yes, what do they do and how different are they from NIA?
Olayinka Dosekun: There is ARCON which sets examination and registers chartered architects. There are also smaller bodies which support the profession such as the “Association of Consulting Architects of Nigeria” ACAN.
NREH: How are Nigerian architects holding their own against the influx of FDI (Foreign direct investment) and their preference for foreign architects?
Olayinka Dosekun: This is a very interesting question because whenever you see a very big project in Lagos there is very often an international team behind it. Sometimes, contractors contracts and actually specify that the project must be led by a foreign team of architects which highlights a very big underlying problem of distrust of local architects and designers.
NREH: Why is that?
Olayinka Dosekun: Local professionals are less respected and the general idea is that they cannot deliver on the quality and standards required. I sense this is a fair criticism; standards need to improve. However, at the same time, there are some that are capable of producing excellent design.
At Contra Mundum, we have chosen to operate by teaming up with other architects from around the world on special projects and design research. We have collaborative partners in Hong-Kong (NAPP Studio), Madrid (Studio PRACTICA) and in Boston (-NESS Projects). They are very close friends of the company, we all went to Harvard together at the same time; we share the same seriousness about design and commitment to excellence in design in our respective countries. They are young and passionate designers like us eager to challenge the norm
We decided to put heads together whenever we have larger, more complex projects in Nigeria. If the client specifically requests foreign expertise, we invite them to collaborate and lead the team with their input and ideas contributing the design vision and technical innovation. Similarly, if they have big projects in their home countries and need support, we work with them on the design, so it goes both ways; there is a mutual respect and a desire to learn from one another. In this way I think our generation is perhaps a little different from previous generations; we are fascinated with one another’s countries and want to leverage our networks to have an impact across the world. They are very professional in their various fields. That way, the clients here get the best of both worlds. They get exposure to the best international ideas, local knowledge, and exceptional service. We feel combining talent is a better way to bring the best of ideas back to the country and we also learn from each other.
Working with our friends in Boston, Hong Kong and Madrid also keeps us challenged and motivated to be at the cutting edge of design. It exposes us constantly to new ideas and keeps us very sharp!
NREH: We hear you have a project having to do with social and affordable housing provision. Can you tell us your experience in that area?
Olayinka Dosekun: It started with Heinrich Boll Foundation, a German foundation who is part of Goethe Institute. They became very interested in looking at the problem of affordable housing in Lagos and how they can control the problem of housing deficit. They brought together a lot of professionals in the built industry, some financial people, activists, government officials e.t.c to work together. We did a programme last year and we producing a report and a documentary to propose a workable model for affordable housing delivery in Lagos
NREH: So how far have you gone with that?
Olayinka Dosekun: What we are trying to do is to meet about every month to discuss the institutional and corporate frameworks that contribute towards housing and the lack thereof. We are working towards models that can be presented to government and private institutions for implementation and testing. It’s a slow process which involves much discussion. We also have to engage with financial institutions because the project of affordable housing delivery is capital intensive. We are also looking at case studies around the world, how it has been achieved and what we can borrow from them.
NREH: How is this project going to help the low-income earners?
Olayinka Dosekun: That’s exactly what we are trying to do. We noticed developers don’t see enough benefit in building low-income housing because it is very expensive to build. Their aim is to get returns higher than what they have built which they cannot achieve that with low-income housing unless there are significant incentives in place to make it profitable. Incentives include tax-exemptions, density bonuses, free land etc. At the same time, it’s important to make more mortgages available to the middle-class so they can get on the property ladder.
With that, it becomes attractive for developers to build if the government doesn’t build. All we need is for them to put the structures in place.
As architects, we need to design ways in which houses can be built at low cost in a durable, dignified and respectful way which is sensitive to the city and to the people who will live in it for generations.
NREH: Who are those that can benefit from this affordable housing?
Olayinka Dosekun: The truth is that most housing that is built in Lagos is not affordable in the true sense; in relation to the average wage. Even what they call affordable housing is not affordable Housing. We are working on bridging that gap; not to build for just low income-earners but middle-class also, most especially key workers like nurses, teachers, doctors, e.t.c.
We should encourage cooperative groups and associations to come together and pull resources towards engaging the property market and securing housing for their members.
Like I said earlier, we need the government to be involved. Everywhere in the world, the government produces affordable housing but here, it’s not a priority. We don’t see the political will from them at the moment.
The city is growing at a very fast pace while the housing deficit keeps rising. If we don’t tackle it now, the problem will become very difficult to address.
Affordable housing also comes along with infrastructure. When you provide affordable housing, you’re meant to provide basic structures like roads, drainages e.t.c. It makes the housing last longer. You don’t want to build something that will become flooded or dilapidated. It’s something that needs to be approached systematically.
We as citizens also need to do our parts and we will continue to do our parts to achieve the same goal.
NREH: How do you relax?
Olayinka Dosekun: I don’t relax enough because Lagos is not an easy place for relaxation. I enjoy eating good food; Nigerian food is definitely my favourite.
I also exercise (swimming and jogging) to balance out my love of food!