At Whitespace, Art meets Design

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By Yinka Olatunbosun

Guests savoured cocktail delicacies as they discussed art and design at the Whitespace Gallery, in Ikoyi, Lagos last Sunday. The gathering, consisting of urbanists, architects, artists, interiors and product designers swarmed the building along Raymond Njoku street to catch the opening of a week-long exhibition.

Initiated by the trio of dynamic architects, Tosin Oshinowo, Seun Oduwole and Papa Omotayo, African Alliance for New Design (AAND) was established to showcase architectural pieces that are indeed masterpieces in public art. As a result, the show featured a selection of built and design works from firms namely cmD+A, MOE+ Art Architecture and SI.SA. The exhibits showed that architecture transcends buildings and function to embrace the social and psychological impact of architecture on the environment and vice versa.

To illustrate, a few sketches on display under Studio Imagine Simply Architecture (SI.SA) revealed a female headgear, colourful and beautifully-arranged in an untold symmetrical order. Women wear hear-ties traditionally as an occasional piece but architects with eyes for aesthetics tap into the structure of this female wardrobe accessory to create fascinating designs. At the core of SI.SA’s design is simplicity. Still, the complexity of head tie is broken down into a variety of delivered projects.

For cmD+A, the afro-modernism movement in art has seeped into the designs. Despite of being constrained sometimes by the client’s taste, their exhibits explore contemporary solutions that push existing boundaries in architecture. In the same vein, MOE+ Art Architecture is rooted in adding value to public art while identifying with the clients’ aesthetics and work culture.

Lately, it’s a tough call to attempt to separate art from architecture. Both requires creativity, ability to appeal to the eyes and preserve culture. To this end, this reporter engaged the three architects whose exhibits were selected for the show on the relevance of their art and design to the society at large.

Seun Oduwole, whose pieces are not just driven by dialogue but emotion, is the Principal Architect at SI.SA. His every day experience, like any artist’s, is a resource material.

“We grab inspiration from everything around us,” he said. “They are items that we overlook but they do have strong design elements in them. It is all about expression and interpretation. We are also trying to educate people here as well.

“Most clients have an idea of what they want to do but they don’t know how. We listen to every client, understand principles guiding what they want and them interpret their desires. You see, the quality of what you live in actually affects you as an individual. You live in a nice house, you’ll be more productive. We want to do buildings that we will be proud of and that will be our own identity. What we do is public art. Architecture is one of the oldest art forms. If you go to Ibadan, you will see carvings and monuments we are trying to recreate that in the 21stcentury.”

One of the architects, Tosin Oshinowo is the brain behind the Maryland Mall design. She is also part of the team who had worked on the proposed fourth mainland bridge and is a niece to the prolific painter, Kolade Oshinowo. She is also an award-winning amateur photographer, actively involved in public art, design installation, and influenced by the afro-modernism movement in art.

“I have practiced since 2007 but I started running the office since the end of 2012,’’ she began and she reflected on the development of the career in Nigeria. “I think architecture is not a very mature profession in Nigeria. In the West, people go to architects based on their styles. But that is coming. It is a very delicate balance. You have to do something creatively and someone has to pay for it. Where the architect is very submissive to the client, ready to do his bidding, the client doesn’t really get much value. We will get to the point when the confidence in what you can deliver. We are hoping to create an understanding that we are pushing the style of modernism for the very African. You need to consider how the African uses space to create the right designs using materials sourced locally.’’

Television series such as Prison Break has shown how architects can be both assets and accessory. In Nigeria where security is a national challenge, it is important to be sure that one’s interior architectural details are kept away from public. But Oshinowo assures the public that architects who work and abide by professional ethics can only add value to the society.

“Architects take the oath that they are the custodians of the urban environment and that your job is a responsibility to the city. It is not in any architect’s interest to disclose such information,’’ she said.

Papa Omotayo, one of the founding members of African Alliance for New Design, revealed that the exhibition may be an annual event.

“This is part of Open House Lagos which is a three-day architectural festival and this show is to showcase new designs, pushing the boundaries,” he said. “The aim is to activate the next generation of youths and students of architecture to find a new language that expresses their identity in our 21st century. Crucial to this is self-determination, capacity development and education. We are promoting a new philosophy in design and as Nigerians we create our own identity creatively. The music industry has done it so it is important for the design industry to do it.”

The exhibition is supported by Open House Lagos, The British Council and AWCA.