Kunlé Adeyemi founded NLÉ in Amsterdam and Lagos in 2010, after over eight years at OMA. Raised in Kaduna, Nigeria, with an architect father who was constantly redesigning his childhood home, Adeyemi studied architecture in Lagos before getting an MArch II at Princeton, studying with Peter Eisenman. His work at OMA included pivotal roles in projects such as Lagos’ master plan and the Shenzhen Stock Exchange. Throughout his work, he focuses on issues of rapid urbanization and climate change in the Global South.
I spoke with Kunlé this past August, for his keynote presentation at the AIA Tennessee Convention in Chattanooga. We cover his work in wide breadth: how he focuses on cities’ relationships to water and infrastructure, quickly iterating projects like the Makoko Floating School prototypes in Lagos and at the Venice Biennale, and why he left OMA to start his own firm in the first place. Due to a technical glitch in the live recording, the episode starts about ten minutes into our conversation.
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Kunlé Adeyemi is an architect, designer, and urban researcher, and founder of NLÉ, an architecture, design, and urbanism practice founded by Adeyemi in 2010, focusing on developing cities and communities.
His work includes Makoko Floating School (MFS), a prototype structure on the lagoon at the heart of Lagos, Nigeria and part of African Water Cities, an extensive research project by NLÉ. MFS II, a new, improved iteration of Makoko Floating School, was in the exhibition Waterfront Atlas at this year’s Venice Biennale, where it was awarded the Silver Lion. Other projects include an amphibious community building in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, a pop-up pavilion/public sculpture in Chicago; CDL Microfinance Bank in Lagos, Nigeria; and Serpentine Summer House at the Royal Kensington Gardens in London.
Before founding NLÉ, Adeyemi worked for OMA/Rem Koolhaas, where he led the design, development, and execution of high-profile projects such as the Shenzhen Stock Exchange tower in China, the Qatar National Library, and Prada Transformer in Seoul. He has won multiple awards and served as a juror for the 2014 AIA awards and 2016 RIBA international Prize. He holds an honorary doctorate in architecture from Hasselt University, Belgium, and has taught at several institutions, including Cornell University (visiting critic, 2015) and Columbia University’s GSAPP (adjunct associate professor, 2016). He is currently a design critic in architecture at Harvard GSD.
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“The architects of the future will begin to be seen more as agents of change,” Kunlé Adeyemi told us outside the 2014 Pritzker Prize Award ceremony in Amsterdam. One of the five international jury members for the 2014 Venice Biennale, Adeyemi is the founder of NLÉ, an architecture and urbanism practice focused on developing cities and known for projects like the Makoko Floating School in Lagos, Nigeria.
“There are many lessons learned from the floating school project, starting from engagement with the community…,” Adeyemi said. “The innovation of Makoko Floating School came not only from us, but largely from the community itself. We were simply agents to compose those ideas into a new form or an improvement of what’s already existing.”
Kunlé Adeyemi talks about the design for his 2016 Serpentine Summer House. Kunlé Adeyemi’s Summer House is an inverse replica of Queen Caroline’s Temple - a tribute to its robust form, space and material, recomposed into a new sculptural object.
Architect of one of the 2016 Serpentine Summer Houses, Kunle Adeyemi, takes the Build Your Own Pavilion challenge, making his Pavilion from modelling clay. Build Your Own Pavilion is a competition for 8-14 year olds to create their own model Pavilion.
Intervista con l’architetto Kunlé Adeyemi, di NLÉ (Amsterdam, Olanda), selezionato per la 15. Mostra Internazionale di Architettura.
Interview with the architect Kunlé Adeyemi, of NLÉ (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), selected to participate in the 15th International Architecture Exhibition.
Dichiarazione dell'architetto Kunlé Adeyemi, di NLÉ (Amsterdam, Olanda), Leone d’argento per un promettente giovane partecipante alla 15. Mostra REPORTING FROM THE FRONT.
Statement from the architect Kunlé Adeyemi, of NLÉ (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), Silver Lion for a promising young participant in the 15th International Exhibition REPORTING FROM THE FRONT.
“Doing architecture is listening.” Some of the greatest architects of our time – from Peter Zumthor to Jean Nouvel and Diébédo Francis Kéré – here share their inspirational thoughts on what it is that makes global architecture work.
Swiss architect Peter Zumthor (b. 1943) always has a certain “feeling for the space”, which enables him to react as an architect. This he also attributes to having background knowledge of the place, which is easier in our modern, global world. The real challenge is to understand the local people and their subtext.
“I’m a contextual architect, but for me the context isn’t only the site.” French architect Jean Nouvel (b. 1945) considers architecture to be part of a wider historical and cultural context. A building, he feels, always has roots, and a building can’t simply be put anywhere and must always develop according to its context.
Danish architect Louis Becker (b. 1962), who is a Principal Partner at Henning Larsen Architects, feels that the globalization of architecture enables architects to both influence – and be influenced: “The nice thing about a Coca Cola is it’s the same thing all over the world… if you did that in architecture, it would be a disaster.”
“Having the opportunity to see both worlds – or even many worlds – is an incredible source of inspiration,” says Nigerian architect Kunlé Adeyemi (b. 1976), who is inspired by travelling the world and aspires to create projects that “seem like they belong there, and at the same time look like they came out of nowhere.”
Norwegian architect Kjetil Trædal Thorsen (b. 1958), founding partner of Snøhetta, feels that there is a great strength in coming from the outside as an architect, as it enables you to “re-search, re-interpret, re-translate.” Moreover, co-operation is key, which also means involving the locals and using their local material – in this sense, architecture builds bridges.
Architecture is a process made in collaboration with the local people, who should ultimately consider the structure their own, according to Burkina Faso architect Diébédo Francis Kéré (b. 1965): “Architecture starts with people.” In continuation of this, Kéré uses old, local materials to create something new and appealing.
English architect Norman Foster (b. 1935) feels that it is important to use architecture as a tool to address some of the bigger social issues – such as sanitation, water and power – while still respecting the urban structure. The true task is to transform e.g. settlements rather than simply tear them down.
The interviews can be watched in full length at http://channel.louisiana.dk/topics/architecture
All interviews by Marc-Christoph Wagner, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art.
Produced by: Marc-Christoph Wagner
Edited by: Klaus Elmer
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2016
Step inside the world of Nigerian architect Kunlé Adeyemi – praised for his ability to build innovative architecture on water. He here argues that architecture must respond to the changing environmental conditions and growth of population.
“It’s not about floating architecture, that’s really not what my practice is focused on.” The relationship between water and the city – between water and people – is essential. Adeyemi’s practice recognizes that with the changing environment, the presence of water will only increase: “We are just starting to brace ourselves and learn how to live with water as opposed to fighting it.” Building on water has its challenges, but also many opportunities to explore: “Water is a much more unstable form to inhabit. At the same time it allows a much more fluid ground condition.” Adeyemi, who feels lucky to have experienced different parts of the world, is inspired by and wants to learn from the environment, keeping in mind and respecting the difference between building in e.g. Chicago and Makoko: “For both, we are constantly trying to ensure that the solution comes from the environment. The materials are local, so they belong there, and at the same time they add to the conditions there.”
Architecture always starts with people. For this reason, Adeyemi furthermore aims to have his architecture address the social aspects of living: “It’s about the experience that you generate, or you create or you curate with people and for people – and hopefully by people.” People need to be in an environment that not only shelters them, but also motivates and empowers them. An example of this is Adeyemi’s project ‘Makoko Floating School’, where the school itself represents an educational idea about living on water.
Kunlé Adeyemi (b. 1976) is a Nigerian architect, urbanist and creative researcher. His father was a modernist architect, who started one of the first indigenous architecture firms in North Nigeria in the 1970s, and Adeyemi had the opportunity to design his first house – for a friend of his father – in his teens. Adeyemi worked for several years at Office for Metropolitan Architecture, where he led the design, development and execution of numerous projects in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Among these projects were the award winning Samsung Museum of Art, the Seoul National University Museum, NM Rothschild Bank in London, Shenzhen Stock Exchange tower in China, Prada Transformer in South Korea, Qatar National Library, Qatar Foundation Headquarters and the 4th Mainland Bridge and master plan in Lagos. Adeymi is founder and principal of NLÉ, an architecture, design and urbanism practice based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. His recent work for the firm includes ‘Makoko Floating School’, which is an innovative floating structure located on the lagoon heart of Nigeria’s largest city, Lagos, and provides a multi-storey school building that glides on top of recycled plastic containers. This acclaimed project is furthermore part of an extensive research project – ‘African Water Cities’. For more about Kunlé Adeyemi and NLÉ see: http://www.nleworks.com/
Kunlé Adeyemi was interviewed by Marc-Christoph Wagner at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in June 2015 in connection to the exhibition ‘AFRICA – Architecture, Culture and Identity.’
Camera: Julie Madsen
Edited by: Klaus Elmer
Produced by: Marc-Christoph Wagner
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2015
Supported by Nordea-fonden