A remarkable Nigerian, who co-founded Nigeria’s first multidisciplinary Design firm, Aziza Design, Mr. Chuma Anagbado, narrates how he created a thriving Design Hub, Mbari Uno, in Ikeja, GRA, Lagos. The story speaks to creativity and vision. Mbari Uno is a design hub and community-focused centre which is using design to make a social impact and drive economic growth.
In the beginning:
I asked too many questions about objects, plans, ideologies and anything one can question. Doing that earned me the title of ‘destroyer’. I had my first degree in Fine and Applied Arts (Sculpture Majors), after which I worked as an Art Director in different agencies across West Africa for almost a decade before heading to the UK to do a postgraduate degree in Design, Multi-Disciplinary. I came out with distinction. Shortly afterwards, I returned home, teamed up with my close friend, Mr. Obinali Okoli to start Aziza Design which is the first of its kind in Nigeria and West Africa. On July 1, 2018, we formally opened the doors of Mbari Uno to the public.
I am a designer with a deep interest in creating solutions through collaborations. I am a leader of thought and an influencer in the burgeoning African design industry. I am the Co-founder of Mbari Uno (House Of Collaboration). Mbari Uno is a design hub and community-focused centre which is using design to make a social impact and drive economic growth. Through design research, education and development activities, we collaborate directly with communities and get them involved in innovating solutions to their peculiar problems.
We are here to network the design industry, explore design opportunities and promote the ”design practice” in sub-Saharan Africa. We are set up to help emerging and established designers gain access to information, professional networks, innovative spaces, educational training and a support structure that would enable success. We would continuously curate and publish information about design professionals, design firms, design publications, design events, design schools, and designs activity hubs. Mbari Uno is a collaborative platform for the development of frameworks that would promote the culture of probing and innovation aimed at creating sustainable solutions, developing human capacity and improving the quality of lives.
We started the platform as a website in July last year and 365 days later, we now have a Hub in the thriving heart of Government Reserved Area, GRA, in Ikeja. The Hubs design mostly uses packing case wood which is a metaphor for recycling and as well connotes the return of what was taken away from Africa – The Human capital. Within the Hub, there are named spaces that offer different things. The Exhibition Space is a combination of a concept store, reading room, and a lounge. This malleable space can be used for product and art exhibitions. It can serve as a reading room and small fire culture events such as poetry reading and digital product presentations. There is Kol’s Bistro which is a char-grill based serving locally inspired delicious cuisine, drink, and coffee among others. The Work Room is an open plan co-working space that is designed to inspire collaboration and innovation. There is a Learn Room which is an auditorium styled space that can sit up to 35 persons and is used for seminars, meeting, and training among other things. For Multimedia, there is Sylvan Studio which is a photo, audio, and video recording and creating facility. Lastly, Aziza Design, a multidisciplinary design firm can all be found within the Mbari Uno House of Collaboration. The Nigerian Television Authority(NTA), funded by the Africa Union of Broadcasting, AUB, recently did a documentary of the Mbari Uno Hub and their entry won Nigeria the first gold award in the 2019 AUB Awards held in Marrakech, Morocco.
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Having started a full-fledged design firm in Nigeria, we quickly realised that we had little or no local reference or examples to benchmark our practice. There is also a clearly thought out ecosystem for the design practice for Nigeria and most of Africa. Therein lies the need for us to establish knowledge-based platforms that would bring a community together for the purpose of collaboration and impactful innovations. In the case of Mbari Uno, it is that platform for designers, design enthusiasts, sponsors, manufacturers, industries and the public under the auspices of design. This sets us on the part to do something and the name Mbari Uno which literarily translates to house of collaboration came tops.
Quality of output
Those that Mbari Uno is set to attract are generally design enthusiasts. These are people who understand and have an interest in Design. It would also attract the Design patrons, consultants, corporations, government, and the host community. Mbari Uno would bring together design professionals both formally and informally trained designers, as long as they are well established in the practice. It would also link up manufacturing and production companies, merge the gap between school and practice and formally establish the design practice in Nigeria and sub-Saharan Africa. This is important to ensure that the quality of our output competes globally. Naturally, Non-Governmental Organisations, NGOs, with design interests or needs would find Mbari Uno a viable ally in their work and we hope to partner with as many as may come. It is poised to attract and retain the patronage of governments through agencies charged with the responsibility of Design and Innovation.
There are so many things to be achieved with Mbari Uno. The first is achieving increased collaborative relationships across communities or clusters through regular activities revolving around exhibitions, workshops and social impact projects. It will drive verifiable development of human capacity and put Nigeria on the path to becoming a leading design nation in Africa and as well see an increase in the number of successful Design startups originating from sub-Saharan Africa. We are creating a framework for the establishment of an Mbari Uno Design hub in every city that matters across sub-Saharan Africa. These hubs would serve as the space that allows each host community to actively play a role in designing solutions and prototyping ideas that will benefit them. We wish to get to a point where we develop policies and sponsor legislation in government for the regulation of the Design practice in order to promote excellence.
Life has taught me that anything is possible as long one set his mind to achieve a goal. I have learned that if you want to go fast, go alone and if you want to go far, go with people. Hence the very ethos and founding ideology of Mbari Uno is based on effective collaboration and teamwork. Teamwork forces you to create a structure and structures are what we need to ensure sustainability. I have come to a realisation that each individual has a part and role to play in any scheme of things and theirs should not be overlooked or undermined. If we can adopt this approach, then we are well on our way to something great. There is hardly any African brand that has outlived more than one generation and this is something we want to achieve in life.
We want to build a platform that allows anyone and any idea to find a space and expression within it. This ties back to the very core of our foundational principle. This is borne out of a belief that together we can do more and that has been the greatest lesson I learnt in life.