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There is Value in Noise

An excerpt from an interview with Kunle Adeyemi
by Rachel Stella Jenkins via ArchiAfrika

I can remember at a team meeting with Rem (Koolhaas) at the OMA, I showed my proposal and started by saying, ‘These are the clients needs… what the client wanted us to think about…’ Rem responded, ‘Clients needs? Haven’t heard that in a long time!’

N’goné gave a strong position: the street belongs to the people. I have been presenting and doing lectures over the last 5 years on the way rapidly forming cities are evolving and the way we need to adjust the mental attitude and perception about cities – and towards development.

The whole question of public space, how people use space in cities, is not a question peculiar or strictly to African cities, it is more peculiar to developing cities still not under the influence of a very formal kind of governance , or formal type of governing structure.

What I would say is that they have their own Westernised idea of governance, organisation, planning and thinking. They also have their own problems; one of the main issues would be how they are not properly capitalised. They have a lot of assets but one of the main issues is how the cities have not properly capitalised on their assets.

Can you give me an example what you mean by that?

There is a lot of wealth in these cities, a lot of wealth in Africa, but the wealth is not useful wealth, it is almost invisible and so not capitalised properly. It’s not all documented – such as land ownership. In Lagos there is a lot of very valuable property that doesn’t have titles. Due to long histories of ownership and titles lost, there are many pockets of very valuable land with no titles. They are sitting right in the heart of the city and no one can recapture them – this is something the state government is looking into. This is something developing cities have to face up to in terms of finding ways to capitalise their assets. And one of the main assets of such places, I believe, would be its people. How do you capitalise millions of people? There are cities that have done very well. Looking at China, one of the main things it has been able to do is to capitalise its population. And I think a city like Lagos, with up to 16mllion people, is now coming to terms and understanding that notion, the fact that they are that many is a big asset. At the last presentation of Governor Fashola I attended, I understood that Lagos wants to introduce a proper identity card. No one knows who is in Lagos – not everyone is properly registered and documented. How can you begin to tax people when you don’t really know who they are? How can you begin to order people in a certain way if you don’t know who they are?

This may sound a bit counter intuitive to the idea of informality, but I think this is where the bridge needs to be made between how capitalisation has been done in the West and what is appropriate in these parts of the world that we live in. How do you still enable people to have freedom to do what they want to do? To appreciate spaces that have not been harnessed so to speak, because people are constantly harnessing the spaces themselves, they are making the best uses of these spaces themselves. As N’goné was saying, the liberty of the street is an important part of a development of a city – of an environment.

This is one of the things, here in the West that can be re-learnt. The capitalisation, formalisation, regulation, has gone too far – or rather has gone to an extent to where people have lost a certain degree of freedom that is necessary for creativity and necessary for resourcefulness for the city. There is a lot of resourcefulness for the individual, but there is no resourcefulness for the city. The city has been given over to ‘a governance’, whereas the city should be a place for the people.

To read more, visit ArchiAfrika and the most recent newsletter which announces the winners of The Blueprints of Paradise competition.

Kunle Adeyemi, who co-taught with Professor Vikram Prakash in Chandigarh this year, is a Netherlands based African architect, designer and urbanist. He joined the world-renown Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) in 2002 after his education and professional experience in Lagos and Kaduna, Nigeria. He was in charge of several ongoing projects for OMA; the Qatar Foundation Headquarters, the Central Library and the Strategic Studies center all in the Education City in Doha, the new Headquarters tower for the Shenzhen Stock Exchange in China, the Prada Transformer in South Korea & recently the 4th Mainland bridge & masterplan project in Lagos, Nigeria. via Business Fights Poverty

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