In a recently published interview with Nigerian Newspaper, Independent, Mr. Olusegun Ladega, the Managing Director Interstate Architects, spoke on the progress of the Nigerian architect in the 21st century.
He highlighted the emergence of ‘Quackery’ in the architectural practice as one of the major challenges facing the profession, and also gave his insight into how the ongoing NIA/ARCON feud can be resolved.
In your own opinion, do you think the Nigerian architects have done well to meet the challenges of the 21st Century?
I would say yes. You will actually be shocked and surprised to hear certain stories. There is a building in Cairo in a metropolis called Heliopolis. The building there is the headquarters of the African Export Import Bank. Interstate Architects Nigeria Limited designed it. There was an international competition amongst firms of architects based across Africa for the design and Interstate Architects won the competition.
The kind of things that the expatriate firms imported into Nigeria, we, Nigerian professionals have also gone elsewhere to do them. There are buildings designed by Nigerian architects that have won international awards for creativity, innovation and for the quality of architecture.
It is not that the Nigerian architect cannot design a 50-storey building, why not? But the point is, there isn’t a need for a 50-storey building in Nigeria yet. For that reason, no one has made a demand for the Nigerian architect to design one. So, the fact that you do not have a 50-storey building in Nigeria does not mean that Nigerian architects cannot design one. The simple truth is that there hasn’t been a need for one yet. If the need for one arises and it has to be done in Nigeria, a Nigerian architect will be contacted to do it and he will go ahead and do it, ditto other kinds of complicated or simple buildings.
So, there are three things here: is there a need for it? Is there a patron for such a project and can they finance such a project? What I am trying to say is that, we have the capability, creativity and the resourcefulness to handle practically any kind of projects.
When your generation graduated, hopes were high and opportunities abound but same do not apply to the new generation of architects. Why?
It is a reflection of the state of the economy and the absence of sufficient opportunities for these young architects to express themselves. I told young architects in our firm here that years back when I graduated, it was a completely different Nigeria, a Nigeria when there was a lot of confidence in what the economy had to offer. Unfortunately, things have changed.
When we graduated from school, we were among the highest paid professionals in Nigeria. But unfortunately, things have reversed because of the state of the economy and the demand for the services of architecture practitioners. Those changes are not the fault of the practitioners but that of economic forces that have come into play, which means that there are fewer opportunities.
Now if we look at our population, and the number of architects we have here, you will discover we need more architects. However, the truth must be told. What is the state of our economy?
If you say we need more architects, have the over 6,000 you mentioned been fully engaged?
They are not fully engaged because of a number of factors. The first reason is the economic forces, which means that projects of the kind and size and scope and dimension that were easily available in the days when we entered into the profession, which kept us very busy, with lots of projects, do not exist any longer. Secondly, we also have a big problem. The fact that the biggest market for architectural services is the residential building market but it is the sector where unfortunately, we architects face biggest challenge because you have so many quacks and imposters competing with us to render the services that architects render; services such as design of the building, providing documentation for the building construction and the monitoring and supervision of the construction.
But don’t you think it has to do with the service charges of the architects, which some of the patrons of these quacks think is beyond them?
That I will even say is also a large bit of misinformation. Nigeria is a country where superstition meets with oldwife’s tale to influence people more than truth and reality. It’s a pity. The architects’ services are directly proportional to the cost of the project. It means the architect charges a percentage (seven and a half) of the cost of constructing the building as his fees. A small insignificant percentage! People without even inquiring assume based on inaccurate information.
According to the laws in the state, drawings presented for planning approval are supposed to be produced by an architect. And the way to determine the authenticity of the drawings is that there will be an architects’ stamp on them. There is also a challenge here as there are fake architects’ stamps. It is so bad that in some states, the quacks have so empowered themselves that they influence what happens in the town planning office to subvert the architects.
Whether we like it or not, failure to enforce the laws of the land, and failure to sanction, are part of the reason we are where we are. So many buildings are collapsing all over the place. Has anything happened to those quacks responsible for the collapse? Has anything even happened to the civil servants who are supposed to be monitoring all the building constructions going on in the states? In every state, there are officers who are paid through our tax, who have a duty to go around the state and check on buildings under construction and if there is any form of non-compliance, they are supposed to shut down the building. My question is how come some of those constructions continue, some of them even completed? People have moved in before they collapse. Name any state of the federation where the officers who are supposed to ensure compliance with building procedures have been sanctioned for a collapse?
This is not an issue for the professionals alone. The state has structures that are supposed to prevent these things from happening, and people earn salaries for occupying positions of compliance officers and there are non-compliances all over the country. And those guys are still keeping their jobs.
You once advocated for a massive urban renewal exercise. Now we are talking about upgrade to urban renewal, what shape do you think it should take?
Urban renewal is critical. I will go back again to down town Lagos because I am deeply connected to it, hence, very passionate about that location for so many reasons. It is a part of Nigeria that I have been studying as a subject since my university days. My B.Sc. project was on urban renewal proposal for down town Lagos. My M.Sc. thesis was also on down town Lagos renewal. That means, it is an area I have been passionate about, watching and studying for the past 40 years of my life.
If you go to Lagos Island especially the areas of Marina and Broad streets and those streets that immediately branch off or lead into them, streets like Nnamdi Azikiwe, Abiboki, Martins, Breadfruit, Balogun and a few others, if you look around those streets, there are almost 100 purpose-built office buildings that once accommodated the crème of the Nigerian business and professional enterprises, from the oil companies to banking to insurance and all the major maritime businesses, professional services, even all the best restaurant in Lagos were once located around this area including night clubs. The major department stores were all there. Something happened that many of these buildings are now deserted.
What happened that these building are not occupied?
It is very simple. The Lagos State government and the local government! I blame them 100 per cent. They failed to protect the environment. Safety and sanitation and abuse of the environment! When it becomes unsafe for you to go in and out of your office, will you not go and look for somewhere else, especially when you are not the owner of the building?
Two, when you suddenly get to your office and you want to park and discover somebody has suddenly put a shade in front of the building, frying dodo, and you are unable to send that person away from the place and he is there in connivance with the staff of the government institution that is supposed to ensure that that institution is clean, tidy and without abuse.
And the state fails to see that the consequence of failing to protect the prime central business district of Lagos has now led to failures in other areas. They fail to connect it and fail to see that they are responsible for it.
What is it that happened? Lagos CBD became un-conducive for enterprises to continue to run their businesses in those places, one by one they began to relocate their businesses to Victoria Island and Ikoyi, which were meant to be residential areas. The result of which is the mess that Ikoyi and Victoria Island have become.
They are now talking about Model City Master Plan whereby you can build a 30-storey building. Fine, but what are they doing about going to the Lagos Island, which was a purpose designed CBD and in which there are billions of dollars in real estate assets wasting away. There are office buildings that are just waiting for occupants to come.
If Lagos Island were to be conducive for big businesses, the buildings that are abandoned wouldn’t be abandoned or sub-optimally used as at today.
What steps do you think should be taken to correct this?
In 2008, I sent a proposal to the Lagos State government on what can be done to correct this, based on the fact that we were working on a project and it was taking me to the Lagos Island every day. For a period of five years, I was in that place for almost every day, studying and looking at what was wrong.
The state is not even seeing what it is losing. They are just looking at the peanuts they are collecting from those traders, when they are supposed to be looking at millions of naira on those properties that are abandoned. If those properties were occupied by big businesses, commercial tenement rates will be paid on those properties to the state. The state is losing billions in property taxes simply because it has failed to address property degradation. There are very simple steps that can be taken to address this and these are there must be down town clean up. This is very easy because reliable infrastructure such as tarred roads, functioning drains, running tap water, pedestrian pavement, massive Marina Car Park, street/traffic lights already exist there. You don’t have a flooding problem on the Island. So, its easy to reverse the degradation in that area through a cleanup process, a restriction of undesirable activities, by dividing the Lagos Island into zones and certain activities would be limited to some zones. These things can be properly run in such a way that they don’t degrade the environment.
Again, you will have to compartmentalize these activities into certain areas, as well as improve the security around.
How do you see green architecture and how are the Nigerian architects integrating it into their practice?
Green architecture is a word that has been misused, misunderstood and abused in all kinds of manner. Green building, green architecture and, or sustainable building, are all tied together and often people use them interchangeably.
Perhaps, there is more of green architecture going on here. Some people will narrow green architecture to using off grid energy. That is not it. It is talking about putting up a building, using as little as possible of material/natural resources, doing it in such a way and manner that it creates little or no negative effect on the environment, using materials/energy efficiently, to design buildings that even at the end of the life of that building a significant amount of materials can be harvested from it for reuse.
So, the concept behind green building is what I will call the three Rs. Reduce is the number one. Reduce the amount of materials you would use for the building; reduce the amount of energy that you need to run the building; reduce the impact of the building on the environment and reduce the amount of waste in the process of creating the building.
Then, the second one is Recycle and the third is Reuse. You are putting on buildings that are durable and easily adaptable to other uses. It’s a whole lifecycle thing. Durability is about using as much as possible of natural resources from renewable sources.
The principles of green are: resource efficiency, materials efficiency, indoors air quality, durable and requiring minimal maintenance. All these are considerations in green buildings and I would say that many of these principles of green buildings are already being used here. It may not be full suites of all the components, but in bits and pieces the components are being used here.
There has been a call for the constitution of a Construction Board and we all know that each of these professional bodies also have their regulatory boards. Would that not amount to duplication?
I always laugh because this is the typical bureaucrat solution to a problem. It is ridiculous and it is going to create unnecessary confusion. You don’t need any board. You create such a board, is it at the federal or state level. You will be running into issues of jurisdiction.
Development control under our constitution and as has been confirmed by the Supreme Court on May 13, 2003, is a state function. So if you set up a national or supranational body, it will exist there in Abuja as a toothless bulldog.
Just like we have the National Building Code, the truth is that it remains a piece of paper until the states domesticate it because development control and the enforcement of all the rules relating to the built environment is a function of the state.
So, is the federal institution going to come and interfere in what is happening on a construction project? That is ridiculous; it is not going to happen. It is a unitary mindset that does not sit-in within a federal constitution.
Secondly, if it is because of all these collapses that go on, is that how you solve the problem? If it is the issue of enforcing regulation that you think is primarily responsible for collapse, then what you need to do is to challenge the institutions that are supposed to regulate to take their regulatory functions seriously; as well as challenge the state chief executives to empower the institutions to professionally, efficiently, carry out their functions without fear or favour and without any political interference.
Let me tell you the biggest problem we have in this country with regards to anything relating to the built environment and even the management of the environment, is the fact that there are economic and political influences that are so powerful, they thwart and frustrate anything the state has by way of plans and objectives.
Political or business interest have been instigating the perversion of a Master Plan, whereby the state says this place is meant to be a football field, powerful economic interest working in concert with the politically influential person cause a change to take place. You suddenly look at the place and see a big hotel coming up in an area that is supposed to be a children’s playfield and nothing happens; the state is also perverting its own rule or subverting its own regulations. And we see that all over the place.
What they need is not that nonsense, which is a bureaucrat way of solving a problem, but let the bureaucrats and all those employed by the state inside all those agencies, that are supposed to monitor construction and all physical constructions, do their jobs without fear or favour or political interference. Then we will have sanity.
In your own view, how do you think the ARCON/NIA issue can be resolved or will the feud linger forever?
There is a simple solution to this thing that will take us just a few months to resolve. But for reasons best known to everybody, that path has not been chosen. And it is very simple. The final authority on interpreting any law is the Supreme Court of Nigeria. You don’t need to go through the lower courts because you are just asking for interpretation. Some suits have been instituted, but as far as I am concerned those who instituted them were wrongly advised.
My own view is that we should just approach the Supreme Court of Nigeria and say by virtue of so, so and so clause in the ARCON Act, is ARCON empowered to do what its doing?
If the law does not permit ARCON to do it, Supreme Court should now make a pronouncement that ARCON should desist from doing some certain things it is currently doing and restore everything to the original position. The court will give also further directive, which will stand as a final interpretation of the Act until amended by the National Assembly.