Design

Superstar Architect Sir David Adjaye on His Magnum Opus 'Adjaye, Africa, Architecture'

The British-Ghanaian architect behind the new National Museum of African American History and Culture wants to dispel misconceptions about African architecture.

Since its initial release in 2011, and second compact edition published last fall from Thames & Hudson, Adjaye, Africa, Architecture, represents a culmination of 11 years David Adjaye’s efforts to put together a comprehensive guide to the African continent’s wide range of building projects. It features six terrains, the Maghreb, Desert, The Sahel, Savannah and Grassland, Mountain and Highveld, and Forest, each with their own dedicated section. Essays from established architects and academics on each area, along with an essay and travel notes by Adjaye himself, richly describe each area and city.


Adjaye was born in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, but as his father was a diplomat, he’s moved around and lived in almost every region on the continent: East Africa, Central Africa, West Africa and North Africa.

“We were placed in the emerging cities, the new cities that were rising,” Adjaye tells OkayAfrica. “For me, the continent of Africa is therefore a group of rising metropolitan, modernist cities and that memory has been powerful for me.”

Photos: David Adjaye

The more portable version of the book comes at an important time for Adjaye—he was the lead designer for the National Museum of African American History and Culture that recently opened on the National Mall and was knighted by the Queen of England in December—and for Africa, as Adjaye notes that for architects today, the rapid expansion of the cities on the continent offer tremendous opportunity.

As Adjaye documented these buildings over time, he found most surprising that, though some of modernism’s great experiments were played out in the biggest cities on the continent, many of the citizens of these cities co-opted the universal form of construction that modernity presents and made it something local.

“In cities such as Abuja, Accra, Kinshasa and Maputo, I saw ways of constructing architecture that combine the science and technology of our age with their own identity and cultural nuances,” Adjaye says. “Working on the book taught me that you can’t understand Africa until you realize that it has six distinct climatic zones. Each one is very precise and extreme—each place, of course, has its own particularities, but culture grows from climate.”

Photos: David Adjaye

This is why Adjaye organized his book into six terrain sections, as the diversity between each place lends itself to unique design needs. “If you look at the metropolitan centers and capitals as just individual phenomena—what I call population density and GDP—you miss how to understand the nuances between them,” Adjaye says. Over the course of several years as he was collecting information for the book, Adjaye realized the best way to understand the differences was to understand the geography.

“Foreigners look at Africa with its dozens of countries and find it bewildering,” he says. “But if you think of it as six climatic zones, then you can start to understand it. An American architect can look at Mali and Chad and relate to them as an Arizona-type region, or see Ghana and Mozambique as a bit like California.”

Combining cities in each zone also serves as a way to abstain from isolating any one architect or historic movement, and instead find, “architecture as a collective identity, not a series of freestanding icons.”

Photos: David Adjaye

When photographing each of these cities, Adjaye says he was looking at the layering of architectural types and influences. “Despite the colonial tabula rasa and the blanket of modernity that engulfed many African cities after independence, the cultural, aesthetic and social references of Africa generate a very specific kind of architecture” Adjaye says. “The cities reflect and support a particular social dynamic that is distinct from other cultures, while the traditional, rural architecture responds to the specific geography of place—environmentally and culturally.” In other words traditional African architecture and the way it was built offers useful lessons in working with climate, topography and cultivating a sense of place.

For architects working within these cities, keeping Adjaye’s climate notes in mind is imperative. “The political, economic and educational support for architects in Africa has been missing until recently,” he says. “Things are very different now. We have entered a new age for African architects who are benefitting from growth across the continent and we will begin to see the physical manifestation of this new generation’s work very soon.” Many countries, Adjaye says, are wanting to build new administrative centers that reflect the modern world, so this new architecture needs to be used in a way that helps them establish a relationship with their citizens.

“We need to start taking our records more seriously and start organizing them as part of our DNA,” Adjaye says. “We need to start building institutions that look after these places, that value these places, so when you come in to build, you are directed to spend money on improving that quality, which becomes the uniqueness, which will make something like Jamestown the Soho of Accra with a unique identity.”

Photos: David Adjaye

Adjaye notes that there is now a new generation of architects working to establish a contemporary African architecture that’s more responsive to the idea of place, and will embody lessons from vernacular African architecture, combined with a contemporary sensibility. “I want to dispel the Western world misconception of Africa as an impoverished or unpeopled expanse and to explore the important relationships between the modern world and the ancient as well as the importance of geography rather than political boundaries to the DNA of African cities. I wanted to give a sense of an entire continent with all of its diversity as well as its consistencies. I set out to create snapshots—images which would convey the intensity of life on the continent—the social interaction and the animation that architecture has.”

Though many countries on the continent are in flux, the prevalence of democracy and the transforming economic potential as a result are what excites Adjaye most. “To date there has been more output from countries like South Africa, Egypt and Angola, but there are also lessons to be learned from places, which have a strong heritage—such as the desert architecture of Mali,” Adjaye says. ”I have also started to see a pride of place in Uganda, Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria. It is very exciting. I hope readers will be able to see that broader picture.”

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Still from "Kasala!"

Meet The Nigerian New Wave Director Behind the Film 'Kasala!'

One of Naija cinema's new wave, Ema Edosio talks about what it took to film her exciting new film in the streets of Lagos.

Ema Edosio is the director of "Kasala", a comedy set in present day Lagos and centers on the lives of four young men who go on a joyride to a party in a Honda Accord one of them has taken from his boss Taju without permission. Their evening is ruined when one of them crashes Taju's Honda breaking the windscreen and denting the car's body. With just four hours before Taju returns home, all four boys hustle around Lagos to raise money for the car repair.

Taju, who is a struggling butcher, is faced with a big problem of his own: his debtor has just given him an ultimatum to pay back money he's long owed. Bitter and frustrated, Taju's retribution will be double-fold, if he returns home to find his Honda is damaged. The four friends do not need more another reason to expect the worse from Taju if they're not able to fix his Honda before gets home in the next four hours.

"Kasala" is a vivid portrayal of contemporary Lagos and a riotous combination of physical comedy, inventive turns of phrases combined with fluid camera work and committed performances from some of the young and bright African acting talents.

Written by Temi Sodipo and directed by Ema Edosio—who is also the cinematographer and editor—"Kasala" was chosen for the closing gala of the 2018 edition of Film Africa in London this November, out of a total of 39 films from 15 countries.

Edosio flew into London for the film's UK premier at the Rich Mix cinema to a largely pan-African crowd who lapped up the rollicking comedy. Ahead of her trip to the UK, Okay Africa spoke to Edosio about her debut feature, the joys and challenges of shooting on location in Lagos and the rise of Nigeria's so called "Naija New Wave" cinema.

Photo courtesy of Ema Edosio


The fast pace and energy in Kasala is constant all through the film. Was this a deliberate injection or did it come as a result of the writing?

I worked as a video journalist for the BBC and I would go into the streets of Lagos to film, and I would see everything that made Lagos what it is: the traffic, the smell, the dirt, the vibe, the energy, the people. And I wanted to make a story that is authentic and that is the reason why I decided to make Kasala this way.

All the four friends and main characters jell naturally it would seem. How did you get them to work well together?

When I conceived of the film, I knew that I didn't want to work with any "known" faces. I knew that I wanted unknown actors. So I put out an audition call and these boys worked into the room and I told them to read together. And immediately it was like magic.

Why do you think they're largely unknown to the majority of Nigerian movie watching audience?

I think one of the reasons is there's not a lot of movies written about young people. Most of the scripts are for a certain kind of male character: the superhero who goes to save the damsel in distress, and the hunk and a lot of roles are not written for these amazing actors and that's why they're largely unknown.

Tomiwa Tegbe who plays "Effiong" is a good comic actor and has been in "On The Real (Ebony Life TV)" and "Shuga (MTV)". What does Kasala bring out in Tomiwa Tegbe that these other directors and film material that do not?

The thing that made Tomiwa Tegbe and the rest stand out in Kasala is that I gave them freedom to act and I wasn't micromanaging them. They became very comfortable in order to do their best to the film.

The cast as a whole is largely new and young with Jide Kosoko easily the most experienced. Why did you cast him for the role and not yet another "unknown" face?

The reason is I couldn't afford to hire known faces to work in the film and I honestly didn't have the budget. I [also] wanted to bring in a sense of familiarity and that is why I got Jide Kosoko. Even though they're guys are unknown, and they're are fantastic "here is someone you know who is in this movie playing with these amazing actors" which is why I worked with Jide Kosoko.

The different locations in the film are those of back corners, mechanic garages, meat market, communal flats most of which have the red and brown of rust and decay gives the cinematography a visual harmony. How much attention did you give to finding the right locations?

I think I made Kasala with a vengeance. I've had the privilege to work with Ebonylife tv which was beautiful but Kasala kept pulling me in: the people I met in the streets, the things I'd done on the streets of Lagos, the visual aesthetic kept pulling and I decided to make that. I wanted to see Lagos, I wanted to see barbwires. I wanted to see gutters, I wanted to see the people. I knew that the location was a character on its own. And I wanted to be able to find the right location that would be able to represent that boys and the lives they live in Lagos. I'm forever grateful for the people there who let us film there.

Your camera adopts the often frenetic pace of the film and is rarely still for long. Why this visual approach?

I'm very influenced by Guy Ritchie, Edgar Wright, Spike Lee and Martin Scorsese. And I would always say to myself that "these characters in their films can be Nigerians". I think that the camera should be fluid, breathe, move with the audience showing us "oh yeah this is a wide, oh yeah this is a close up". My influence by these directors was what I put into Kasala. And this is what made the film dynamic.

Are there any interesting, unplanned events during shooting which you could share with our readers?

Shooting in Lagos is one of the hardest thing to do. You have these agberos [louts] who come to you and literally want to take your equipment. I went with a very small crew and I'm very petite and they would see me and say "who is this small girl? She doesn't have money. Leave her alone, let her shoot". I started bringing them into the film to act and it was very beautiful seeing them react to it. One of the most interesting things is the children in the estates [on location] who act in the film, the joy and the playfulness. In some ways we brought back some joy and some fun into the neighbourhood.


Still from "Kasala!"

Did you worry much about what may be lost to foreign audiences who may not be clued up the pidgin English and "Nigerianisms" used in the film?

You can't come to Lagos and make a film about the slum in English. I felt like the pidgin English was as important as the location. My mind was not about where the foreign audience would accept it or whatever. My mind was "how do I make a film that is authentic to Nigeria? How do I make a film that would show of Lagos?" It would do no justice to use English.

Who are the other key players in Nigeria's "nu wave" film and tv you would like to highlight?

When you talk about new wave key players you're talking about Abba Makama whose film "Green White Green" inspired me to make "Kasala". CJ SeriObasi, ImoEmoren, Jade Sholat Siberi, Kemi Adetiba. So many new directors are springing out nollywood. And they're new directors making amazing stuff. I'm really really excited about the future.

How did you raise the funding needed to make "Kasala"?

When I wanted to make Kasala, it was not the kind of story people would fund. I decided in order to bring this story to live, to use the skills I'd gained over the years—to produce, direct, shoot and edit. Not because I wanted to be in control, because I didn't have the budget. That is the sport of new director coming in now. We're fighting against all odds and it is now beginning to be clear that it's way beyond nollywood. Kasala has been to over 20 international festivals and counting. And there an audience for our films, there's an audience for our voices.

What are you expectations for it at the festival?

I really don't know what to expect. I just hope that they love the film. For the Nigerians in the diaspora,I hope that it brings back memories of Lagos. For black people I hope it gives them a sense of how we are back home to help them connect with us as Africans. For the foreign audience I hope that they see a Nigeria of passion, of community, of tenacity, of brotherhood of love.

"Kasala" will be released worldwide on December 7th

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Indomie: Unpacking a Nigerian Tradition

What does Nigeria's way of preparing this beloved brand of instant noodles say about the country as a whole?

Before I came to Lagos in September to begin a collaborative performance project, I imagined all the ways the place would challenge all I had read and heard about it, and all the ways it might remind me of my home, Trinidad and Tobago. Of all the kernels of similarities I've encountered so far, Indomie is perhaps the most intriguing.

Indomie, a brand of instant noodles originating in Indonesia, has become the household name for all instant ramen noodles in Nigeria.

As a child, I would make Top Ramen, but ours was far less intentionally adorned. I had never seen anyone add anything but Golden Ray. I would try to be fancy with my own and add eggs, but they never quite attained Naruto ramen standards.

Indomie was my first meal in Nigeria. I had arrived in Lagos about two hours earlier. In those two hours I had seen something of the character of the city. In the midst of the clouds of dust and engine exhaust fumes I saw a woman almost fall out the car she was getting into, I saw men sitting atop a truck, like wrinkles in the night sky fabric, I saw selling, so much selling and buying and haggling. It seemed to me that everything was happening here.

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Fela Kuti's 'Zombie' Is Coming Out On Limited Edition 8-Track

"Zombie" and "Mr. Follow Follow" are available in the nostalgic 8-track cartridge.

"Zombie," Fela Kuti's 1976 protest anthem and scathing attack on the Nigerian military, is getting an 8-track re-release.

Knitting Factory Records, Kalakuta Sunrise and Partisan Records have made 300 limited editions copies of Zombie/Mr. Follow Follow which you can pre-order now ahead of its December 7 release.

Fela Kuti's classic song uses zombies as a metaphor for soldiers mindlessly following orders. The song is thought to have triggered the Nigerian government's horrific assault on the Kalakuta Republic, in which the compound burned to the ground, Fela was brutally beaten and his mother, Nigerian feminist icon Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, was murdered.

You can pre-order Zombie/Mister Follow Follow on 8-track now and read more about each song from Mabinuori Kayode Idowu's text accompanying the release below.

Purchase Fela Kuti's Zombie/Mr Follow Follow on 8-Track

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