Posted: 26 September 2019     |     Author: Prof Lesley Lokko
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Kunlé Adeyemi. Homegrown Series # 01. © Fred Swart

Introduction by Prof Lokko:

Good evening, everyone and welcome to the first in our newest series, the GSA–Boogertman + Partners International Lecture Series, additionally supported by Saint-Gobain and TONIC. Before we get to the real reason why you’re all here tonight (which is to listen to the gentleman sitting next to me), I’d just like to say a couple of words about the series as a whole. I don’t suppose it’s escaped anyone’s attention over the past year that one of the things we at the GSA are always banging on about is the fact that architecture is a wider category than the making of buildings. Great schools of architecture, which have the good fortune to be located in great cities, have always known this. Talks, seminars, films, book launches, exhibitions, symposia and, of course, wine bars – these are just as important and just as effective in the training of an architect as Revit or door details and help contribute to making architecture accessible and relevant to the society it serves. Well, we’re certainly in a great city – Johannesburg – the beating heart of this continent – but we’re quite a long way from the rest of the world and I don’t just mean Europe and the US. It costs just as much to bring someone from Lagos as it does from London, and the logistics, if anything, are often more complicated, as our guest tonight knows only too well. Thirty-odd years ago, Tim Berners-Lee, the founder of the World Wide Web, famously declared ‘this is for everyone’ and it’s true. We’re connected in 2016 in ways Tim probably didn’t even dream of, yet if tonight’s audience is anything to go by, nothing – and I mean nothing – beats a face-to-face encounter and the opportunity to share ideas and experiences ‘in the flesh’, so to speak. For all the hype about social media, I don’t know that there’s anything particularly sociable about sitting in front of a screen.

But being a long way from anywhere really only boils down to one thing: funding. Without it, and the opportunity to host events like this one, we’ll only ever be making do, and in front of a screen nogal. And that’s where the wider architectural and built environment community in South Africa comes in. From the start, I’ve found nothing but willing partners, enthusiastic supporters and generous hosts. Last year, it took about 48 hours to raise the money needed to bring the Spanish filmmaker Angel Borrego to the Student Architecture Festival, and this year, it seems to take only a couple of phone calls. So I’d like us to begin this evening – and the new lecture series – with a toast to Bob van Bebber of Boogertman + Partners who met my request for a modest contribution to a lecture series with a resounding ‘yes, sounds great, let’s do it and by the way, let’s triple the budget.’ So, thank you to Bob, Carin and Tshia: this is the beginning of what we hope will be an inspiring, provocative and perhaps even challenging series of encounters with some of the most interesting names in global architectural practice. We’ve made the commitment to sharing this platform 50-50 with international and local architects, and to introducing up-and-coming talent as well as established voices. In this our first year, we’ve decided to kick off the series with exclusively African talent: between now and the GSA Summer Show which opens on 8 December, we’ll be hosting Kunlé, Stephen Hobbs, Dylan Watkins and David Adjaye. Next year, it’s the turn of the makwerekwere, with Bjarke Ingels, Liz Diller, Andrew Freear of the Rural Studio in the line-up. But the partnerships don’t end here. I’d also like to thank Evan Lockhart-Barker and the entire combined team at Saint-Gobain and It’s A Go Communications. They’ve been another, fantastically generous sponsor of all sorts of quite mad initiatives from the GSA, including this space and a number of other projects, some of which we’ll be talking about this evening. And finally, I’d like to thank TONIC, on whose lovely seats we’re resting our bottoms tonight – me and Kunlé, that is, not you. Those chairs come from UJ Stores.

And so, onto tonight. If you can, please think of me as David Letterman (or Oprah, it doesn’t matter) and pretend for a moment that we’re on the Tonight Show. My guest this evening – and rest assured, not all the lectures will adopt this slightly bonkers format – almost needs no introduction. You’ve seen his name and read about his work almost everywhere, particularly this year and after the Venice Biennale. I’m absolutely delighted to welcome Nigerian-born, Amsterdam-and-Lagos-based Kunlé Adeyemi to the GA_P, the Graduate Architecture Platform at MOAD. Kunlé was born in Nigeria (and I won’t mention the date: after 40, everything’s irrelevant). His father was an architect, one of the earliest modernist architects in Nigeria and indeed (at least according to Wikipedia), the son got his first taste of architecture as a teenager when he designed a house for a friend of his father’s. He studied at the University of Lagos and then went on to do a Master’s at Princeton, where he was taught by Peter Eisenmann. He returned to Lagos to practice after graduation, but perhaps the defining period of his career was the ten years he spent in Rotterdam at OMA as a Senior Associate alongside Rem Koolhaas. Students: please take note of the following – type in Kunlé Adeyemi + Rem Koolhaas and click on the second link. Read the article in its entirety. The test is on Monday. After a decade in Europe, he got his first big ‘break’, as they say in the movies, the Makoko Floating School, and the rest, again as they say in the movies, is history.

Tonight, rather than follow the traditional format of having our guest get up, read a prepared speech, answer a few questions and escape to the bar, we thought we’d do it slightly differently, partly because we got these lovely chairs, but partly because we were very generously given a recent film on Kunlé’s most famous project and we thought it would be an interesting way to take you – the audience – there, to Lagos, in ways that a conventional slide show often can’t reach. It’s not very long – about 20 minutes – and I’d like to thank Bridget Pickering, Neil Brandt and Dan Jawitz of Fireworx Media, for their very kind donation of the film – and then we’ll move into a discussion between us, which we hope will give rise to some interesting questions and answers between Kunlé and yourselves.

Interesting facts:

Kunlé Adeyemi studied architecture at the University of Lagos where he ran into Rem Koolhaas. His father was an architect. He’s mostly vegetarian. He lives almost simultaneously in Lagos, Amsterdam and the US.