This article is part of a special feature on Climate solutions, which focuses on the changing relationship between people and the planet.
As climate change accelerates, one of the many contributing factors is the built environment – that is, the structures that people have created over the centuries, including buildings and infrastructure like bridges and roads.
More and more – though maybe not fast enough – people are thinking about how to do less harm and build more sustainably, how to help the environment rather than destroy it.
One of those people is architect Kunle Adeyemi, who has built his career on the premise that in fact, the two can coexist seamlessly.
Born in Kaduna, northern Nigeria, Mr. Adeyemi, 45, is known for his sustainable projects – the Black Rhino Academy, in Karatu, Tanzania, and the African Water Cities, an ecosystem of built environments in large, urban, developing waterfront destinations that are meant to bring people closer to their natural habitats.
He is also behind the Makoko Floating System, a series of triangular structures on the water in five cities. Those of Lagos, Nigeria; Venice; Bruges, Belgium; and Chengdu, China were used temporarily, while the Floating Music Hub, which he is building in Mindelo, Cape Verde, is designed to be permanent.
“My mission is to promote the diversity and coexistence of humanity and the environment,” he said.
Based in Amsterdam, Mr. Adeyemi studied architecture at the University of Lagos and the Princeton University School of Architecture, where he obtained a post-professional degree. He was introduced to the estate by his father, Fola, a modernist architect who died 12 years ago.
Kunle Adeyemi worked in small architectural firms in Lagos before becoming an assistant designer at the Office for Metropolitan Architecture, the office of Rem Koolhaas in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. During his nine years with the company, he was promoted to Senior Partner and led the design of projects such as the Shenzhen Stock Exchange Tower in China and the Qatar National Library and Foundation Headquarters. Qatar in Doha.
In 2010, Mr. Adeyemi left the Office for Metropolitan Architecture to start NLÉ, which means “home” in his native Yoruba. The architecture, design and town planning firm has five employees, several independent consultants and focuses on projects in developing cities, particularly in Africa and on or near water.
The following interview has been edited and condensed.
How has your education in Nigeria affected your work?
The way I grew up was fundamental to my understanding of the environment. I have lived in northern Nigeria, but have traveled south often and seen how the landscape has changed from desert and arid to very wet and green. I have always been very sensitive to nature and my interest in coexistence with the natural environment was cemented from an early age.
How has your father influenced your career?
It is an integral part of it. We grew up on a farm in a modern house, and he always added different pieces to it using local materials and native building techniques and crafts. His practices have shaped my way of thinking.
What did Koolhaas teach you about architecture and design in your work?
My biggest takeaway from our time together is the idea that there is always room for improvement in any design. You have to question your own work and overcome any challenges. Rem taught me that satisfaction comes with time, not with the first pass.
Why have you focused your work on developing cities?
Because I think these cities present challenges and opportunities. The challenges are the daily realities of life in a developing region, such as problems with infrastructure, electricity, scarcity of resources and modern technology. On the other hand, the opportunities are the intelligence of people and the deep historical knowledge that they can offer for solutions for the future. For example, in Nigeria houses have been built with local earth and wood for centuries, and when it comes to small buildings and houses, this is still the best way to build.
What do you think are the most important elements of sustainable architecture?
Context is the key. Buildings should be constructed in such a way as to optimize exposure to the sun, which controls the use of natural light and heat gains. Relying on local materials and labor is also a crucial part of sustainability, as are relevant modern technologies. Many of my projects, for example, integrate solar energy and research new water management systems like gray water [wastewater] recycling.
Can you share the idea behind African water towns?
The two biggest challenges facing developing cities and all major cities in general are rapid population growth and climate change, which causes flooding and sea level rise. Most of these cities are on the ground. water and in danger of flooding.
Rather than building dams and reclaiming land to build around water, Water Cities is not about struggling with water but learning to live with it. We want cities to adapt to the impacts of climate change by leaving more room for water to enter their urban fabrics. My firm works to build solutions for several vulnerable African cities, including Lagos, Accra [the capital of Ghana] and Kinshasa [the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo].
We cannot immediately stop sea level rise, but we can design our cities to adapt to changing water conditions.
The Floating Music Hub in Cape Verde is part of Water Cities. Can you tell us more about the project?
the Floating music hub is a platform for culture and creativity built using our Makoko floating system. It is inspired by a slum community on the water in the heart of Lagos called Makoko. The people who live there build houses using local materials and resources and ancient methods. We have adopted community techniques and designed a simple prefabricated floating construction system that is constructed from local timber and can be used for a variety of purposes such as homes, schools, healthcare, hospitality and hospitality. culture.
Mindelo’s Floating Music Hub is a center for the arts and consists of three modular buildings connected to a central floating plaza. A large is a performance hall with a capacity of 100 people, a medium is a recording studio and a small is a food bar. It will be finished at the end of the summer.
You have also designed a boarding school, the Black Rhino Academy in Tanzania, which is surrounded by nature. How is a project away from water different from a project that is there or nearby?
Environmental drivers are becoming different. While one may be dealing with abundance near water, extreme scarcity is often the problem when it is far away. At Black Rhino Academy, our goal was to immerse children in a natural environment, where they can also learn from nature. The building sits on a slope and has a series of arches that we constructed from bricks using an old method of hanging a chain under its own weight. Students can ignore the wilderness, which is their classroom.
Do you think that the field of architecture and design is more interested in the environment?
I think there is some movement in this direction, but still a huge gap in the profession and consciousness of most architects in prioritizing the environment as a key driver for design.