Olajumoke Adenowo’s gaze tells something unique about her. Her graceful gait signposts her dedication, cerebration. Recently, the award-winning architect was appointed a visiting professor at the Technical University of Munich. Her lectures in Munich were well-received. Her hosts at TUM – home to Germany’s leading architecture programme – chose to delve deeper into the subject matter she broached in her lectures and decided on a groundbreaking visit to Nigeria, Demola Ojo writes
Dressed in a Burgundy aso-oke jacket and a white shirt over black trousers, Olajumoke Adenowo stands tall in the atrium of AD Studio, an architectural masterpiece she designed. On this occasion, she commences with a presentation, ‘A Contemporary Nigerian Architecture of Global Relevance’, and after an enlightening and engaging session on her work as a reflection of this quest, she moderates a panel of architects and artists; Oliver Enwonwu of Ben Enwonwu Foundation, Muhtar Bakare of Kachifo and Isaac Emokpae.
It was the beginning of what was to be a first-hand taste of Nigerian architecture, art, and culture for the visiting faculty and students from the Technical University of Munich.
Adenowo commands the attention of the audience of about 20, projecting her voice perfectly, engaging them wittily and authoritatively. It is a diverse assemblage of young and old, African and European, artists and investors.
It is an intimate gathering of select thought leaders: Prof Olatunji Oloruntimehin, a professor of history and erstwhile president of the Nigerian Academy of Letters; Dietrich Erben, Chair of Art History, Theory of Architecture and Design at TUM; Dr. Sarah Hegenbart of TUM; Arno Waschk, an opera singer and artist from Berlin; Mobola Adeniji, Vice President Nigerian Institute of Architects; Obi Nwogugu of Capital Alliance; Tola Odeyemi, Head of Policy for Uber West Africa; practising architects as well as students of architecture from TUM.
“It is an unprecedented visit because the faculty came over. Prof. Erben is one of the foremost art historians in Germany,” Adenowo says.
“They are interested in Nigeria and in my work because they are interested in the global south. They believe that they have experienced what the north has to offer and also the Orient, but Africa offers a new horizon.”
Part of this exploration includes going to see other works by Adenowo, a famed architect with more than 70 designs in her portfolio spanning Nigerian and multi-national companies including Coca-Cola, L’Oreal, Access Bank, GT Bank and many more.
The delegation also visited other sites of architectural and artistic interest in Lagos, then went to her alma mater, the University Of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), where Adenowo graduated with distinction.
They were warmly
received by OAU’s Vice-Chancellor, Prof Ogunbodede, the Dean of the Faculty of Environmental Design and Management, Prof Olubola Babalola, the Head of Department, Prof Jayeoba and Prof Bayo Amole.
The OAU campus is considered one of the most beautiful in Africa and was designed by award-winning Bauhaus trained architect, Arieh Sharon. Adenowo won the keenly contested competition to design a new senate building for the university.
Growing up within the university campus and later studying there helped shape Adenowo’s approach to contextually apposite, globally relevant architecture and convinced her that her future was in designing buildings.
But it was all sparked by an experience she had as a toddler. “When I was three years old, my parents took me on a European tour. We went to Paris and the Palais de Versailles. To my young mind the experience was indelible,” she recollects. From that moment, she knew she wanted to be an architect.
It says a lot about Adenowo that she has vivid memories of Versailles at three. “I remember the gifts from my second birthday,” she insists. She was a precocious kid, one who later enrolled in the university at the tender age of 14 and earned her BSc with honours at 19.
As an undergraduate, she won the prize for Best Student Design and later worked on the Federal Ministry of Finance project in Abuja at the age of 23.
In 1994, at the age of 25, she founded AD Consulting, her own boutique architecture, and interior design firm. She has gone on to win multiple awards in her chosen field.
Adenowo has been described as the face of architecture in Nigeria and CNN tagged her ‘Africa’s Starchitect’. But she is a lot more than an architect. She is a public speaker, radio host, and author.
She was recognized as the New African Business Woman of the year in 2015 and is one of Africa’s most powerful women in business.
In 1999, she founded Awesome Treasures Foundation, philanthropy recognized by the United Nations and affiliated with the Edmond De Rothschild Family Philanthropy Platform.
“We have global summits from Nigeria to Accra, New York, and London. We are raising transformational leaders, helping people find their purpose and deploying their purpose to impact their communities and the globe.
“For instance, one of our initiatives – an annual leadership summer camp for about 150 inner-city children – has been running for nine years.”
The syndicated radio program on leadership called ‘Voice of Change’ which she hosts every week is also in its ninth year.
At the AD Studio, the conscious attempt at being as Nigerian-centric as possible is evident. The music is by Fela and Asa, the artworks – illuminated by natural light streaming in through the atrium and elegant fenestration – are by Nigerian artists Isaac Emokpae, Alex Nwokolo, Diseye Tantua, and photographer Emmanuel Oyeleke.
Drinks served on this occasion are Zobo, Palmwine cocktail, and Chapman. Snacks include Lagos Island-inspired Gurudi, Kokoro, coconut candy and puff puff, which was an unparalleled hit with the visitors.
Guinea fowl, Asun, Jollof rice, and spicy plantain, seafood with Ofada rice, tomato suya pasta and suya beef short ribs, prawns and akara with lemon and ogi dip, chicken balls, honey bean porridge and more are all part of the culinary excursion of South Western Nigeria.
The origin of each dish is explained in detail by Chef Eros (of Ile Eros) especially for the benefit of the German guests, ensuring that their visit isn’t just about architecture but rather a total cultural immersion.
The guests are presented with aso-oke (a centuries-old, handmade, loom-woven cloth), as their personal pieces of Yoruba heritage.
Adenowo elaborates on the choice of keepsakes. “Aso-oke designs are based on fractals, a mathematical phenomenon occurring in nature and indigenous to African design which has only, relatively recently, become a subject of study in the global north following the first observation of the phenomenon by German mathematician George Canton in 1877.
“It is iconic to me and symbolic of my mission because it is a body of scientific knowledge possessed and deployed for centuries by Africans, which is seen in our design, arts and crafts, city planning and more, exclusive only to Africa.
“It is a corpus of cognition and intelligence existing totally independent of formal western training which is of universal and global interest to the global north and presents to the north, fresh insights.“
For Adenowo, the vision is clear. “My work is to evolve architecture rooted in my Nigerian heritage, which the global north can respect, learn from, derive value and fresh insights from,” she explains.
“I’ve made it my mission to propagate a Nigerian architecture, a contemporary one of global relevance. One that is rooted in its heritage, but global in its relevance and perspective. That is my quest.”
The AD Studio is a reflection of this quest. “The 70 buildings I’ve done over the past 25 years reflect my ethos, my pathos, my logos, my rationale, my emotions, my convictions, my value system.
“It (AD Studio) reflects what my unique architecture is. Understanding the principles behind the part gives an insight into the matrix of my work. The way my creations interact with light, the fact that my buildings go beyond three dimensions to a fourth dimension, which is time.
“It reflects my approach which is to draw from my heritage to understand the future. I’m rooted in my heritage, I’m global in my frame of reference,” she says.
Her eyes light up with passion as she speaks of architecture, Nigerian culture, and the African continent. Her genuine desire to see the continent celebrated for its contribution to global architecture is noteworthy, as she continues to engage the international design community as Africa’s starchitect.