Talented student-architect, Folasope Pinheiro, beat other designers and emerged the winner of the MTN-sponsored Design Kulture Student Competition – a competition to showcase and reward Nigerian students with outstanding designs. He won the competition with the masterpiece, he called “Oja Oba”.
Folasope was born on July 1, 1998, to Mr Kemi Pinheiro, (SAN) and Justice Yetunde Pinheiro of the High Court of Lagos State. Despite his parent’s legal background, Folasope has always leaned towards the arts, and he told Netng it was evident in his childhood.
“From a young age, I’ve always enjoyed a lot of creativity and innovation. I used to make my toys as a child, from what I remember. So, I used to get other toys and merge them. Growing up, I knew I wanted to do something creative. I knew I wanted to jump into the creative field, either doing fine arts or software. At one point, I wanted to do car design as well. But I wasn’t sure which specific area I wanted to go into. So when I was applying for university, my dad then suggested that I go into architecture.”
He told us more about his love for the creative, how Oja Oba came to be, and his dreams for the future of architecture in Nigeria.
How did you get into Architecture?
Studying architecture has given me the space to dive into multiple areas of creativity. In studying architecture, you deal with interior design, architecture design, graphics and branding design. This has led me to where I am now, which is to kind of chase – being a creative director as a whole. So rather than restricting myself to one creative outlet, I work on all the different parts. For example, if I’m working on a project, ideally, I’ll do the artistic design and interior designs. I would also move on to branding, social media, all that sort of stuff.
Given your parents’ law background, how did they take your architecture dreams?
My parents have always pushed us to study what we’re passionate about from childhood. So they kind of pushed me into architecture, knowing that I like being creative and that I’ve made my toys since childhood. I also did a lot of drawing and painting back in the day so it was kind of a smooth transition for me because of all the stuff they saw in my childhood. They encouraged me – and are still encouraging me every day.
Who would you say has been your most vital support system besides your parents?
I can’t forget to mention my twin sister, Folasade. She always has my back and gives me emotional support when I’m going through things. Especially when I was getting stressed out with a project, she would help to keep me back on track. She recently became a doctor. She was one of the major reasons I decided to go into well-being and design as an undergraduate. She helped me a lot mentally. I also have a friend group that I met in high school. They’ve helped me a lot.
Why did you choose the Oja Oba name?
The idea behind the Sankore Center was a different way of approaching African heritage. To show that in my design, I decided to use a culture close to me as a Yoruba person. In Yoruba culture, the Obas are put on a very high pedestal. So, naming the building after that idea represents how important he is to the Yoruba people.
What was the work process of creating Oja Oba with the team?
Initially, I planned on doing all the work myself. But if you’re working on something by yourself, you can’t create the same quality of work compared to working on it as a group. So I came up with this idea and spoke about it with my brother, Folakunmi, who was the first participant. He helped me to refine the concept. Then I talked to Folarin Adefemi, who helped me refine it even further.
I spoke to Seyi Oyesiku. He’s a fantastic visualizer. He helped me create the video. In terms of the design competition, I realized the importance of having that showy aspect. I wanted to make a captivating submission that would inspire people. In order to do that, I had to get a good presentation team together. I got a fantastic voice actor that I met in Nigeria through my brother. When I was in university, I met a friend, Luke Stevens. He is an exceptional producer, and I knew that I had to get him on it. He produced the music for the video.
The whole goal of the team was to create inspiration that would spark creativity in people’s minds. Collaborating with them was fantastic, and I hope to do more with them in the future.
What was the most challenging part of creating Oja Oba for you and your team?
I think the most challenging part was coming up with the initial concepts. I had ambitious goals, and I didn’t want to create a museum that reinforced colonialism with a lot of British or white influence. The hardest bit for me was getting that initial spark for the design. So after I heard about the design competition, I didn’t start designing until like two weeks after because I spent a lot of time thinking, brainstorming.
That’s when my brother came in. We watched this YouTube show where the person breaks down a lot of history in terms of Nigeria and colonialism. So the most challenging part was generating the idea. It took a lot of effort.
How did you feel when you heard you had won the competition?
I was overwhelmed with excitement. I called the team immediately. I told them that we had won. We were all shouting and celebrating on the phone. I spoke to my parents as well. We’re all ecstatic. I found it hard to contain myself. So obviously, I was delighted to discover that I could make a mark as I had never really won a competition before.
This is your first competition?
Yes, and it was a fantastic experience. During my university and throughout my high school experience and foundation, I never really had the option to put all my passion and energy into a piece of work. And I felt like designing the Sankore center alongside my team gave me the opportunities to go all out. Finding out that I won made it feel like all that hard work paid off. That energy has given me a lot of motivation to produce fantastic stuff during my Master’s course.
How did you get into cooking?
I think for me, growing up, my parents were very different. My mom was fantastic at cooking while my dad loved to eat. I think growing up, we adopted both of those mindsets in our household.
When I was leaving home for boarding school and after my foundation degree, I didn’t learn to cook as a form of creativity, but as a matter of necessity. I knew that if I wanted to enjoy high-standard cooking, I had to learn to cook for myself. Now, I’m looking at cooking as a design project.
When I’m stressed about work or something, I go into the kitchen, cook some food. I always try to make sure it looks and tastes nice. And one of my other goals is to try and make an impact on the culinary community in Nigeria. There are a lot of different things and ideas I’ve been working on. And I hope to maybe one day start a restaurant. I’m not sure.
Who are the people that inspire and motivate your designs?
I have three main inspirations. The first is Philip Johnson, and he’s an American architect. He’s done some big projects in America. But he’s not that well-known. I remember when I was in my first ever work experience, my boss gave me a book about Philip Johnson. There was this work he did for the glasshouse, which was fantastic. It was essentially a small studio flat, and everything was just in one space. Yet, it sparked my interest in architecture.
Then my second inspiration would be Demas Nwoko because the way he designs, mostly from his Nigerian roots, is simply astonishing. My dad gave me one of his books, and every day I look at it and draw so much inspiration from him. Many of the ideas I put into the design for the Design Week Lagos competition were influenced by him.
My modern-day artistic influence is Sir David Adjaye. It’s incredible to see how he’s becoming a true champion of African-inspired design and showcasing that at an international level.
Besides these individuals, what speaks to the essence of your designs?
While I was in university, it was about well-being and trying to promote it. What I mean by well-being is living well. Many buildings don’t support that. There are a lot of buildings that make people depressed by just being in the space. That was my main thought. But after I came back to Nigeria for my NYSC and placement, I saw so much beauty in Nigeria. I hadn’t been here for a while because I did my high school and university in the UK. But when I came back, I saw so much beauty and potential. Nigerian and African culture have become big inspirations and essential parts of my life now.
So what are your plans for the future?
I think my plans for the future are constantly morphing, and they’re always changing based on everything that has happened and everything that is happening. I think, especially after these last few years, coming back to Nigeria, my main motivation is to try and see how I can use architecture design to make a positive impact on Nigeria.
And that’s something that’s pushing me to answer with my Masters and trying to find some deep, inspirational precedents to try and see how I can make a positive impact. I feel like people don’t understand the power architects have. I feel like many artists today have forgotten that because architects shape the spaces we live in and the spaces we exist in, they can have a significant impact on your mental health and your mental framework. So I want to try and do a little research and try to see how we can use architecture to make a positive impact on Nigeria.
With your aim being Nigeria, how do you hope to overcome the difficulties of acquiring the resources you would need to create these spaces that you have envisioned?
This is my research because I feel like many people, even in the UK as well, say, “Oh, let’s do some environmental design that barely costs any electricity and has a good impact on the environment.” But at the same time, it’s going to cost you your left leg and your right arm. My goal is to rewind time a bit in terms of construction.
I feel like all of the designs we’re doing and pushing for in the future are very Western. I want to move to use more natural materials, and that’s the way I designed Oja Oba. The idea behind this was that the construction of the building was very simple. So in that sense, it can provide many jobs for people. It will take about labour, but in turn, give a lot of jobs.
Because my personal design philosophy in terms of changing the way of construction in Africa is to push towards a more grand but simple design, so rather than getting expensive materials, you use simple materials that you can get from the ground during excavation and build larger monuments. An example, though an extreme one, would be the pyramids in Gaza. The Egyptians used very simple materials, but we’ve seen them stand the test of time. This will reduce environmental footprint on the world, and in turn, also provide more jobs for people to work.
Do you have anything to say to young architects and Design Week Lagos?
I want to say a big thank you. They’ve provided a fantastic platform for designers, architects, and creators in general, especially students in Nigeria, to experiment with designs. And we need more. Many creators don’t have the opportunity to do cultural competitions like this.
And honestly, I feel like this competition was a big push in my creative development. And I will forever be grateful to Design Week Lagos and all the sponsors like MTN for creating and providing me with the opportunity to participate in such a fantastic competition in Nigeria.