In this distinctive episode of Third Culture Africans, Zeze reunites with Seun Oduwole, the Principal Architect at SI.SA. (Studio Imagine Simple Architecture). This is a dynamic blend of their current conversation and a previously unreleased discussion from the past. It’s like taking a step back in time and seamlessly merging it with the present, creating a unique and engaging dialogue.They delve into Seun’s transformative journey and his remarkable project, the John Randle Centre for Yoruba Culture and History, a building that transcends mere architecture; its curation is more than storytelling—it’s a celebration of the influences that have shaped Yoruba culture as we know it today.
Seun reminisces about a moment from his past when someone questioned his identity and purpose, doubting his significance. Today, he stands on the verge of completing one of the most exquisite spaces dedicated to celebrating Yoruba culture.
This ongoing urban regeneration initiative holds a central position in Onikan, a cultural quarter on Lagos Island in southwestern Nigeria. Onikan encompasses Freedom Park, the National Museum Lagos, and Tafawa Balewa Square. Covering an area of 18,000 square metres, this cultural centre plays a pivotal role in the initiative to transform the Marina and Onikan region into a vibrant tourism and recreation destination. Its primary mission is to honour Yoruba culture and art in all their dimensions—past, present, and future.
The architectural design of the centre is deeply rooted in the core values and principles of Yoruba culture, masterfully translating them into visual representations. It occupies a historically significant site, paying homage to its rich history and context, which includes the restoration of a 1928 swimming pool built by Dr. John Randle and the regeneration of King George V Park.
So, how did Seun’s architectural journey begin? It traces back to his early days spent in his grandfather’s extensive library, fostering a deep love for books, storytelling, and creativity. Despite facing academic challenges during his pursuit of architecture, he persevered. His journey eventually led him to the UK, where he worked with the prestigious architecture firm Sir Michael Hopkins & Partners, becoming the sole Black architect. This transformative experience honed his presentation skills and self-assurance, culminating in a master’s degree and the commencement of an impactful career.
Zeze and Seun delve into the origins of the John Randle Centre. Seun’s vision emerged from a collaboration with architects dedicated to urban improvement. They explored overlooked urban spaces, stumbling upon a hidden gem—an abandoned swimming pool on Lagos Island. This discovery captured the interest of the Lagos State government, resulting in an expanded project that included a museum. Extensive research into Dr. John Randle’s history, the builder of the pool in 1928, revealed the potential to honour this historical memory and create a vibrant community centre, preserving the city’s rich cultural heritage.
With the aim of redefining museology by deconstructing the Western paradigm that often decontextualized African objects, Seun scrutinised the essence of museums. His visits to the British Museum had always fascinated him, given the wealth of knowledge and information it presents about history and cultures. However, he explains that the nature of a museum in a local context, where one’s own culture is displayed and celebrated, presents a different narrative.
With this in mind and to bring his dream project to fruition, Seun strategically assembled a team of experts in museology and exhibition design. The journey of exhibition design began with the book “Yoruba Art and Language” by Professor Rowland Abiodun, which explored the beauty of Yoruba culture from a philosophical perspective. This resonated deeply with Seun, leading to the formation of a curatorial team comprising experts in Yoruba cultural studies. Together, they crafted the script and designed a narrative that forms the foundation of the exhibition. The exhibition designers, known as RAA (Ralph Appelbaum Associates), with whom Seun partnered, played a pivotal role in bringing this vision to life.
Seun emphasised the need to construct not only the physical structure blended into the natural landscape but also a comprehensive operating system, enlisting the support of the British Museum for guidance. To ensure institutional support, a board comprising both public and private individuals was established.
At the core of Seun’s approach lies the goal of creating an emotionally engaging space. This entails combining historical artefacts with everyday objects and celebrating the ordinary people who have shaped the culture. The immersive experience, complete with storytelling by Uncle Jimi and nostalgic elements such as old-school radio grams, aims to evoke powerful connections to culture and heritage.
This is a MUST-listen! Through Seun’s journey, you will witness the transformation of a simple concept into a profound cultural landmark that not only pays tribute to Yoruba culture but also challenges established paradigms in the world of museology.
About Seun Oduwole:
B. Arch, Dip. Arch, M. Arch, RIBA
Seun is the Principal Architect at SI.SA.
A graduate of the University of Nottingham, he is the creative driving force of the company. Armed with an appetite for innovation and an idealistic approach to architecture, he is always looking to push the boundaries of architectural interaction and perception.
Seun’s career was shaped by experience in leading UK firms such as: Sir Michael Hopkins & Partners, Benoy and Sheppard Robson. He returned to Nigeria to work at Shelter design Partnership, moved on and served as Partner at Brown inQ before leaving to start SI.SA.
Throughout his career, he has always believed that the purpose of architecture is to improve the quality of our built environment through the detailed implementation of thoughtful, beautiful and socially conscious design.
Sean is also very passionate about the development of young architects. He mentors a number of students, graduate architects and is also an active participant in the Show and Tell lecture series at the University of Lagos: a dialogue between students and creative professionals.
- 🎙️ Welcome Seun Oduwole to Third Culture Africans!: (00:00)
- 🏛️ Seun’s journey into Architecture (00:04:48)
- 🎨 The John Randle Centre for Yoruba Culture and History: Seun’s project today (00:13:28)
- 🌟 How Seun’s project came to light (00:15:39)
- 🌍 Navigating the restitution of goods without stepping on toes (00:25:17)
- 🏛️ Starting a conversation with the British Museum (00:35:05)
- 🏗️ Building the project: team and choice of materials (00:44:52)
- 🌟 Seun’s learnings around being bold (01:02:07)
- 🏢 Seun’s favourite buildings in Africa (01:05:00)
- 🏡 Advice on how to make homes a bit more spectacular (01:05:44)
- Yoruba Art and Language: book by Rowland Abiodun
- Ralph Appelbaum Associates
- Jimi Solanke “Uncle Jimi”
Connect with Seun Oduwole: