The Chief Executive Officer of Delano Architects, Olurotimi Delano, in this interview, speaks about the challenges confronting the country’s architectural industry, among other issues.
How would describe your journey as an architect?
The quantum meruit of success is dependent on the building you have done and a satisfied clientele, irrespective of the size or scope of the project you have done, and positive feedback. Again, I have been active in this industry for 40 years thereabout, and when you have people who see you as a mentor or ask questions and professional advice from you, to me that is how I measure success because if people do not see you as someone who they can benefit from, they would not bother seeking you opinion. What has led to this is that over the years, I have been more or less involved in architecture, in my former firm, where I worked for 31 years, we got the feedback of satisfied clients, and now at Delano Architect as well we have done quite a few projects with references and referral letters from clients confirming their satisfaction. In addition, you need to invest more in practice to update yourself, involve yourself in the professional activities of your institute, and benefit from others as well. These are some of the things that have contributed to my success in the profession.
Nigeria has perennial cases of building collapse despite the high number of architects in the country. Is it a failure on the part of architects?
Architects are doing their jobs. I do not think in any of the queries being given on the issue of building collapse, architects have been indicted. Professionals like structural engineers, and architects, among others have not been indicted. So, they have been doing their jobs. The perennial collapse has been due to other factors like the construction, the contractors, failure to do proper tests, failure to use the right materials, and failure to understand designs, among others. These are the issues that have led to all these collapses. In addition, the relevant government agency not doing the work they ought to do at the right time. If they do all they were supposed to do, like the certificates that needs to be done, they would have been able to identify buildings that were not meeting the set specifications and identified poor workmanship very early in the stages, before getting to the collapse stage. I believe that architects have been doing their work as none has been indicted in any building collapse saga.
Do foreign exchange and inflation crises have any impact on the architectural sub-sector?
Generally, when the economy is bad, one of the first industries affected is the building industry, and by that, all the architects and engineers are involved. Foreign exchange and inflation do affect the building industry. People want to eat first before they start building. And because most of the materials we use in this industry are imported, it then affects us as architects. Structures are built to meet the costs of the client. The client has a budget to do a building, and in getting his budget, particularly if it is a commercial building, he would have worked on the feasibility, return on investment, and cost of investment, among others. At the end of the day, there is a limit to the rent wage he can take for that building. By the time he does the calculation, the budget does not meet up, which in a way affects the design, leaving the architect to be quite innovative, seeing how he can do a design meeting the client’s budget. Generally, inflation affects the building industry, and architects in particular, more because they really do not have more choice in the country as to building materials when it comes to finishing like the tiles, the paint, and the ceilings, among others. Most of these materials are imported and come at a high cost to the industry. Because of the expenses, sometimes the building gets stopped or abandoned, as clients become reluctant to continue.
What should be done to reduce the rising prices of building materials in Nigeria?
As long as we import a lot of the building materials, you cannot do much about the rising prices, as long as we are not producing in the country. Then, the cost of material depends on how much is imported. This is general until we have industries producing locally, that is the only way costs would come down. As long as we do not have industries that are producing building materials, there is not much we can do about rising costs, which are dependent on foreign exchange. However, if we have local industries manufacturing, then prices may not rise as much as they are rising now.
What challenges are players in the architecture industry facing?
The challenges are the limited choice of building materials and construction technology, which limit the imagination and design exploration to basics because our contractors do not have the modern equipment required. So, we always have to put a lot into consideration before proceeding. In addition, the necessary tools required like computers, printers, software, and hardware, among others are affected as well, as they are very expensive and licenses for them have to be paid for. The other challenge is that even when you do the job the client does not want to pay. So, the drawings architects are producing, do not see much value in it because they over-negotiate the fees of the architect. In other to obviate this, they end up going to quacks because they did not envisage the drawings of the building. They do not realise that spending time to do the design properly would save them a lot of money. So, when a contractor does not have the proper drawings to build, the client would end up paying for the correction and redoing again.
Similarly, what should the government and the industry do to steer a boom in the industry?
When the economy is good, people will build, because everybody wants shelter. What can be called an industry boom is a reflection of the economy. So, when the economy is good, there will be more buildings birthing a boom in the industry. However, if the government comes up with the right policies, then everything would be stabilised, and thereafter, there would be a boom. So, if the government focuses on infrastructure and improves the economy, things would be better.
What trends do you think will shape the architectural industry in Nigeria in 2023?
There are innovative things being done. Information technology, for example, will change and influence the way designs are done. New materials, and construction methodologies, this is inclusive of lifestyle, would change the face of the architectural industry.
How can low-income earners have access to affordable houses?
First of all, these low-income houses have to be a social benefit and something that the government has to do and give long-term mortgage tenure. If you will recall, the Lateef Jakande houses, which were built for low-income earners as well. In this regard, the government has to build with minimal profit and a long tenure to pay back. Basic mass housing and long mortgage tenure are very essential.
A lot of people parade themselves as architects and experts in the Nigerian building sector. How do we separate the chaff from the wheat in your industry?
This is quite easy, in the sense that if a client is not sure of an architect, he/she can go to the Architects Registration Council of Nigeria to confirm if that architect is a licensed architect, or go to the Nigerian Institute of Architects to find out about the architect. He can also ask the architect for a copy of his qualification or profile before engaging. There are lots of architects parading themselves as quacks, however, it is more of education that the institute is trying to do. In addition, clients can also go to the Association of Consulting Architects in Nigeria, among others to find out the status of the architect he or she wants to engage.
What advice will you give to young architects?
From what we are seeing today, the advice should start when they are in school because they have different feelings about what the actual practice is. This is because many schools and students currently do not have enough places to for their internships. So, I am sure that less than 50 per cent do internships. So, some of them come out without any architectural experience. Young architects need to educate themselves by being inquisitive and surfing online, as there is enough access to information. This is the way they can progress and get better in the profession.
Source: Punch Newspapers