by ‘Ifreke Inyang
He is not 30 yet, but Chukwudi Osakwe is a Senior Architect with the reputable FMA Architects Ltd. The firm is one of the best indigenous Architectural & Design consultancy firms. They are responsible for some of the great buildings that adorn our city’s skyline such as the Saint Nicholas building which we gracefully occupy the penthouse.
“It depends on what the ‘Nigerian’ factor is. I am who I am because of ‘these’ factors.”
At what point in time did you decide to go into what you do?
I would say in my 5th year in high school. I just knew I didn’t want to study anything that was related to chemistry and after searching, I realised I could put my talent in drawing to good use in Architecture.
So it has always been a passion for you?
Well, I would say no. But as time went on, I just realised that I wouldn’t want to do anything else.
Did you have role models that encouraged and inspired you?
Yes. My father, who is a civil engineer, exposed me to the construction industry as early as age 10.
What was growing up like? Was there anything about growing up that influenced you to go into it?
I was born into a family of five. I am the last of three children and I have two elder sisters. So it was important for me to break out of all the feminism that surrounded me and so, I was very attracted to a predominantly male profession. Building our home and visiting the site in the 90’s was always something I enjoyed and looking forward to doing.
How did you start off?
Having graduated top of my class in Unilag with a distinction in my thesis in 2006, it was an honour when the renowned Architect Femi Majekodunmi, who was a visiting professor at the time offered me a seat at his prestigious organization and I have been there ever since.
Would you say the capabilities you have are as a result of hard work and training?
Definitely. The profession is very demanding and competitive so you always have to stay ahead to remain relevant.
Was there any time you considered quitting?
Well, yes there were a couple of times. Like every job, the reward for hard work is more work and it sometimes becomes difficult to get out of bed to go to work. However, the reward of commendation from a satisfied client is totally gratifying.
What would you say is the biggest risk you have taken in your career?
For a very experienced organisation such as ours, you are hardly exposed to taking risks. Its consequences, if it goes bad-it sticks with you forever, as a ‘badly’ designed building out lives its designer.
What are some of the challenges you face in convincing clients about your abilities?
Architecture in Nigeria is an old man’s game and requires a lot of experience and exposure. Like every professional course, it seems to be particularly unfair to the young and inexperienced. No one wants to give a first timer a chance, but luckily things are changing.
How would you compare your industry in Nigeria with what is obtainable overseas? Is competition stiff?
Not exactly, Architecture differs from region to region. How we respond to environmental, climatic and cultural issues play a huge part in how our designs are conceived. However, with modernization, IT and vast material availability, the western world appears to be many years ahead as I experienced firsthand working in Cape Town, South Africa.
What role has the Nigerian factor positively and negatively played in who you are today?
It depends on what the ‘Nigerian’ factor is. I am who I am because of ‘these’ factors. Either positively or negatively, it is what has shaped me.
What is your reaction to the high number of young people either roaming the streets looking for jobs and who have been frustrated in spite of what they are capable of doing?
It is rather unfortunate. I have been privileged to have lived amongst very brilliant unemployed people and it is disheartening to hear the stories of what they are put through to get jobs. I believe the solution is to break away from the employee mentality and look towards the entrepreneurial opportunities. I am proud to say that these friends who took up this route are now very successful in their various businesses.
What is your most memorable experience?
Without a doubt, it was graduating as the best and being the only one to get an enviable job offer in FMA even before my results were released.
What experience would you rather delete from history if you could?
I’d rather not say. It’s a professional secret.
What would you say is your greatest fear?
No longer being relevant, putting your best in competitions and not coming out on top and of course, being poor.
If you were not into what you do now, what would you be doing?
This might sound funny, but I love Sir Jeremy Clarkson’s job as the anchor of Top Gear, a TV motoring magazine on the BBC. I guess I would probably be somewhere in that industry because of my love for cars.
Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
At the cutting edge of Nigerian architecture and hopefully be designing for only the experienced, knowledgeable and appreciative clients. As I once read, “Architecture is an affair for the elite”. I most certainly would love to be in the centre of that affair.
Have you gotten any award/ recognition yet?
Sadly, not yet! But hopefully soon enough, if a body is set aside for such things here in Nigeria. However, being one of the favourites in the office sure helps.
What do you love most about Nigeria?
I have been privileged to have visited a couple of cities – Johannesburg, Lisbon, Nairobi, Madrid, Cape-town, Amsterdam, Paris, Abu-Dhabi and Dubai – and what I have noticed that is lacking in most of these places is the role of family. Nigerians protect their own and we are all related in some way. We are always willing to offer a helping hand when the need arises.
What does being young and Nigerian mean to you?
I can’t say. I guess I would have to be old and no longer Nigerian.
Do you plan to relocate probably to continue with what you do abroad?
Definitely not. I love Nigeria. I love the industry I practice in and as a member of the Nigerian Institute of Architects and a registered Architect with the Architects Registration Council of Nigeria, I believe the change the industry needs and the country at large can only be achieved by being on ground hands-on. It might not come overnight, but it will definitely come. My goal is to be a part of that change. I am proud to be Nigerian.