Monday, 14 September 2009

The curious house on Lawanson Street

By Ayodele Arigbabu
Architecture has the potential to do much more than just delineate spaces for human activities, in truth; architecture can create excitement and bring new energy to a community. That much did the design sleuthe find out while chatting with James George on his self styled ‘twist cube’ design for the Guaranty Trust Bank branch in Lawanson, Surulere, Lagos; which has since completion become a head turning spectacle in the ever bustling neighbourhood. It is not always that you encounter a building that makes you look again, especially in the seediest parts of Lagos, James George tells us why and how he set out to do what he did with the building.
There’s been some excitement over a particular branch of Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB) in Lawanson, Surulere got any clues what the static is all about? I’m wondering, I’ve had a few calls at odd times about the design and how some concerned individuals think it’s collapsing. I just laugh it off. What do you think? Word has it that you are responsible for the urban disturbance, what’s the history? What role did you play? I hear that too... I was approached by Yaba based Line Smiths Design Associates (LSDA), to provide a response to a place that has developed in a certain way. I imagined that the area would grow in a certain way, in the next few years. This is what I describe as an Urban Architecture or Urbanitecture. The building already existed as a shop. The question was how to take a boring shop design into a future that has no such buildings... the response was the twist cube Can we infer from that, that your imagination led you to a future where Lawanson will be populated with buildings that appear to be collapsing? Were you trying to create an ironically ‘iconic’ reference to the history of collapsed buildings in Lagos?...okay, what really is the twist cube? The twist cube is an allegorical reference to the GTB logo. It says that the readings of the GTB cube that go on to form its architecture are assumed to have reached an end. The idea is speed. And excitement. That part of Lawanson is always congested. The building provides excitement, and enjoyment to the static viewer. Architecture should provide enjoyment to the onlooker. People always need to be surprised... Lagos needs to provide surprise for 17.5 million people; or 8 million depending on where you look at it from! (Laughs). So the design intention was not simply to give a notion of a collapsing building as many concerned citizens have assumed? Is that ‘collapsed building’ feel something serendipititious or evidence of a gap between your original design intentions and the ability of the builders to interprete those thoughts from the drawings? I wanted to cover up the existing building with a sign post and create some movement around that area. the area was quite dull and monotonous before the interruption caused by the twist cube. I actually set out to create a slant at the angle that the builders built it to. The twist cube is one of the rare occurences in the profession in this country what we set out to do was obtained to a very close degree. It’s alarming and audacious, and clear. These metaphors, in addition to the layering of other ideas are the thoughts that go to form my architecture there. The LSDA ensured that what we thought of first was what we got in the end. Kudos to those fellas. They sure can build. (Laughs). The building has been described as one of the more arresting attempts at deconstruction on the design scene in these parts, I picked up a little book on Daniel Libeskind’s Jewish Museum -one of the better known temples to deconstruction - in Berlin last year and in it, an attempt was made to explain deconstruction: ”The deconstructivist architects are similar in their approach, although they have different architectural styles and do not define themselves as a group. But they, too, try to break up the foundations of a modernism that has become static, a rational geometry that has become a dogma. Their work is no longert centered just on the finished building- in their complex building plans and sketches the process of designing itself becomes the central theme. Their buildings deliberately show the disparate character of their parts.” Where would you place your work as typified by the Twist Cube within this mileu? Hmm, the built form of the twist cube has been described as deconstructivist? I prefer ‘responsive’. Our architecture in Africa is naturally deconstructivist. The insistence on the non Euclidean geometry, that caused the deconstructivist eureka moment in Europe is common place in our traditional architecture. This is the reason why I cannot align my thought process to that of the Libeskinds and Eisenmans of this world. They learnt fractal geometry, but as Africans we are born with the ability to see all the fractal dimensions of time. This has been so from our religious responses to our social outlook. Deconstruction, as they call it is another African response that has been theorized and pimped out by European intellectualism. Here, non linearity is natural, and indeed spiritual. I have not deconstructed a building, i have only created an African Temple of Banking in the lines of Susan Wenger’s Oshogbo architectural responses. If this is not African, I dont see what else is...

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