At the helm of affairs of the International Federation of Interior Architects/Designers is Ms. Titi Ogufere, who is the first African and 21st president of the federation. Rebecca Ejifoma reports that with her appointment, the design advocate and interior designer has championed local content and education policy, while propagating standard of competence and knowledge in interior design, research and development of local raw materials, furniture design, health and safety and professional practice and ethics
Titi Ogufere is not your regular designer. She is the perfect reflection of a design advocate and interior designer, who has published over 25 works. Among them are: This is Africa: Traditional Design, Modern and Contemporary (2017); In Conversation with Demas Nwoko (2019); and Vernacular Design: Redefining the Narrative (2019).
She took to practice Essential Interiors Consultancy in 2002 and has carved an international identity for herself with a wide variety of context-specific, innovative, experimental, critical and theoretical projects.
Ogufere can boast of high-end residential, commercial, and hospitality projects for an exclusive list of highly selected clientele worldwide through her design practice. Lately, her consultancy started developing a design language using African influences.
She recounted that it all began “in 2007, we desperately needed a voice for the profession, so I approached a few industry pioneers and established the Interior Designers Association of Nigeria (IDAN). With IDAN well established, I became the first Interior Design Magazine publisher in West Africa.
“I organised an annual awards programme (IDEA Awards), an interior design exhibition called ‘Made by Design’ and a design festival called ‘Design Week Lagos’.
“In 2017, we launched the African Culture and Design Festival, an exhibition geared towards showcasing African Art and Design, hosted by IDAN in partnership with the International Federation of Interior Architects/Designers (IFI), bringing to Nigeria over 100 nations.”
Appointment as IFI President
Interestingly, Ogufere’s portfolio took a significant leap last year when she was appointed the president of IFI, making her the first president of African descent.
As the United Nations of the profession, IFI – founded in Denmark in 1963 – represents close to a quarter-million designers, educators and industry stakeholders in the international design community in all continents, collectively meaning practising interior architects/designers worldwide.
Part of its aim is to expand internationally the interior architecture/interior design profession’s contribution to society through the exchange and development of knowledge and experience in education, research and practice, through fellowship and community.
This is because the federation believes in the power of design as a vehicle for human betterment and productivity improvement.
Ogufere chipped in: “IFI has faced the challenge of elevating the profession in regions like Africa,” adding that the profession is not regulated for the safety and in the best interest of the public.
Her words: “Over the past year, we have seen the importance of the interior architecture and design profession in the built environments where the public’s health, safety, and welfare were hit. The world, even the developed nations, was not prepared for what happened last year.”
With the rapid growth in Africa’s economy in recent years, the president conceded that interior design has become a lucrative profession. She however emphasised that it has attracted a large number of unqualified individuals who do not have the necessary educational background or experience in the field, causing a real risk to society.
Other problems she listed that plague the industry in Nigeria include the erection of illegal structures and unprofessional conduct by “quacks that leads to poor execution, cost overruns and loss of lives”.
For the designer, there is need to weed out such people who act or misrepresent themselves as interior designers. “Even in developed nations, the industry realises that our profession requires specialist knowledge and training”.
She, however, bemoaned that interior design is not regulated in Nigeria. “It has become even more apparent as the knowledge base, skills, and regulations applicable to interior design continue to grow in complexity.
“It is important to note that professional bodies of lawyers, accountants, doctors, even those in our built environment like architects and engineers have regulatory authorities established by parliament acts. Still, interior design is not yet regulated in Nigeria.”
Education, she hinted, is a critical driver in this reformation and should be taken seriously, while stressing that in Nigeria, the only institution of higher learning offering a postgraduate degree programme is the University of Ife.
In the words of Ogufere, most of the qualified interior designers like herself had to get international degrees to practice. “I urge more universities in Africa to integrate Interior designs into their curriculum.”
Championing Local Content
Lamenting the influx of banned products into the country, the IFI boss said most foreign interior designers come into Nigeria and import all items products into the country, despite the ban.
Sadly, she cautioned that the local industry cannot grow if we continue this practice; “We need to set up a standard of competence and knowledge in these five key areas: interior design, research and development of local raw materials, furniture design, health and safety and professional practice and ethics.
“In 2019 alone, $9.8 billion was imported into Africa, with Nigeria as one of the region’s highest furniture consumers.”
As president of IFI, Ogufere’s agenda, according to her, is to continue to push for the furtherance of good governance with three strategic goals. She listed education, policymaking, and improving professional practice with the developed and developing nations.
Africa as Inspiration
On how designs can solve problems globally, the designer enthused that Africa was the inspiration for Europe’s early modern art movement, with classical African sculpture influencing history’s most celebrated artists such as Pablo Picasso, Amadeo Modigliani and Henri Matisse.
“Africa has continued to be a source of inspiration for the creative community. We have seen fashion designers from Valentino and Jean Paul Gaultier to Louis Vuitton referencing Africa in their designs.
“In the furniture design industry, there is a lack of diversity; black designers have been underrepresented. In 2019/20, Jomo Tariku researched the number of black designers working with global furniture brands; when he completed his research, the data presented a stark picture.
“Of 4,417 branded collections, 14 were with black designers. That is roughly one-third of 1 per cent. This study steered up a lot of criticism on racial inequity in the global furniture design industry. This is a significant problem that needs to be fixed.
“African design is becoming increasingly popular; however, demand is outstripping supply. As more eyes turn to the continent with perceptions of what constitutes modern and contemporary African product design, it has become critical for developing the interior and product design industry.”
She described Africa as rich in creativity inherited from previous generations and is unique, unlike anything found anywhere else.
In her words, “We are rich with raw materials from bamboo, thatch, stones, grass, brass, bronze, leather, copper, wool, cotton, clay to dyes. We have an inexhaustible source of inspiration but are yet to industrialise these techniques into mass production.”
It is estimated that 80 per cent of Africa’s raw materials are exported outside the continent. At least 50 per cent of goods produced from the same raw materials return to Africa as packaged or processed products. It has become necessary to grow our local industry; raise funding and support technological advancements.
She expounded: “I believe design is the new oil. We need to learn from nations like America. America is known for being a place where innovation is encouraged.”
Her list included Thomas Edison’s inventing electricity; Garret Morgan, who designed the traffic signal; the Wright brothers invented the first successful aeroplane; Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone; automatic elevator doors, which Alexander Miles developed; and Marie Van Brittan Brown created the first home security system.
“They knew that as a nation, for them to succeed, they needed designers and innovators. They needed to use the tool of design for wealth creation,” she expressed.
With this, the president plans to bring development through design, empowering emerging design communities through the influence of policy making and professional practice.
“During my tenure, I aimed to update the global interior design education policy to be comprehensive, future-focused, inclusive, flexible and relevant to developing and developed nations.
It was last updated in 1981; I am excited to say that we delivered the updated Education Policy in September 2020. I also look forward to establishing an accreditation project for the region using the resources IFI has acquired throughout the years to support the profession.”
With a passion to move the federation forward, Ogufere shared that she led a team of professors of Interior Architecture/ Design with co-chairs Professor Joanne Cys and Professor Suzie Attiwill in developing the IFI Education Policy.
“Recent years have seen transformative change affecting all aspects of society and culture,” continuing that technological advancements have increasingly reshaped architectural design thinking, education and practice alike.
“In this context, IFI initiated a revision of the existing IFI Interior Architecture/Design Education Policy (IFI IA/D EP) for its preparedness to embrace and support the next decade now upon us.”
Indeed, Ogufere is pleased about the revision of the policy five months into office. The policy is based on the profession’s essential needs, future ambitions, global concerns and collective influence. It underlines global objectives for interiors while supporting integration within local markets and considerations.
It empowers and informs discipline stakeholders (both internal and external), including students, graduates, educators, practitioners, academic institutions, professional associations, policymakers and governments.
An expert leadership task force panel with the diverse interiors’ world community was engaged in articulating this global benchmark for interior architecture/design education.
The Education Policy is a working policy – a living document – that actively engages the IFI and world interior community to foster and support the critical nexus between professional practice and education.
African Regional Roundtable
Also, IFI creates and opens opportunities for its members. One of the important work IFI is doing this year is conducting an African Regional Roundtable in Lagos.
She believes that this event will bring together participants from the globe representing practitioners, academic institutions, educators, professional associations, policymakers, governments and students.
The roundtable will be held to discuss the implementation of the new IFI Educational Policy within the region.
In giving back, in February 2011 in New York City, IFI powered a global symposium co-sponsored by Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution, and supported by the Museum of Arts and Design.
Over 100 delegates from 30 countries graced the event. Among them some of the world’s leading design authorities, innovators, business leaders and strategic thinkers. It was at this event that the IFI Interiors Declaration was launched.
With all these aforementioned, one thing is certain, Ogufere’s sleeves are rolled up to make IFI a commendable force with a remarkable footprint for other federations to emulate.