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DIASPORA: Through the eyes of an african Architect

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Published in Diaspora
Friday, 15 November 2013 22:58

When I was younger, the view of a city from a landing aircraft or a cruising water vessel

offshore fascinated me for as long as I can remember. Unfortunately, I hadn’t traveled very much to understand the urban fabric and context of different cities, so my fascination was pretty much limited to whatever I see in the movies or other media, and ofcourse, however I could imagine it. Initially, I had trouble deciding whether to be an architect or a civil engineer. But for some inexplicable reason, I ended up studying architecture, and it was a rewarding journey studying at Obafemi Awolowo Univeristy, Ile-Ife.

Many architects have said again and again that the architect’s primary title is “the keeper of the built environment”. We are responsible for the environment and anything built on it. Mastery of this duty doesn’t come easy. It takes years of study, observation, practice, and personal development to have all the information and know-how on one’s finger tips. Travelling abroad, I understood a lot more about the environment – the diversity of it – and the people and culture native to each one. How these cultures dictates the shaping of the environment, what kind of buildings are erected and in what design, choice of colour and patterns, art and décor, uniqueness and identity. I admired and studied the works of several renowned architects, and had the opportunity to work with some of the brightest and widely experienced.


My first project was not design in itself, rather it was to establish design regulations. We were commissioned by the Abu Dhabi Municipal Council, UAE to script the new guidelines for the design of Mosques in Abu Dhabi.


It was a project that involved extensive research like I’ve never experienced or imagined. We were a consultant team of architects, urban designers, city planners, language translators, research analysts, project managers, technical advisers and other experts, and designers. We corresponded from our office in Kuala Lumpur, traveled to the UAE when necessary, and because of the time difference and constant communication, working round the clock became pretty normal. Our high-profile client had little tolerance for missing deadlines so we remained on our toes for months. We covered as much aspects of mosque design as we could; mosque size criteria, required minimum prayer space per person, radius of coverage for mosques, population and user characteristics, Islamic art and architecture, road and street design requirements, car parking and circulation, vehicular and pedestrian access, types of arches, window and door types, hallways and loggia, spatial relationships and hierarchy of sanctity of spaces, ablution fountains and courtyards, sanitary facilities, water features and landscaping, minaret height and design requirements, etc. Given the scope, sensitivity, and constant review and deliberation due the level of detail of the project, compilation could take (has already taken) years to complete.


 Kuantan International Airport

My first design project was the Kuantan International Airport. The new airport was to serve as a ‘gateway to the east coast’. The objective of the project was to create a channel for bringing international trade to East Malaysia, and easier export of Malaysian-made products. The building’s design concept was drawn from the emblem of the project site’s home state, Pahang, featuring the elephant tusks. The master plan comprises three terminals: the public main terminal, the King’s royal pavilion/terminal, and a Hajj terminal

Of the 3.7 million sq. ft. space of the entire development, the main terminal will comprise 441,000 sq. ft of retail, office, service, and circulation space. The airport is proposed to support and sustain the surrounding industrial facilities catering for key sectors of the economy within a ten kilometer (10km) radius of the airport. Most notable are the automotive factories, oil and gas factories, educational and commercial facilities, and shipyard located nearby.


Most of the other projects I co-designed have been residential and mixed commercial. 245 Jalan U-Thant is a high-end residential project set in the prime ‘Embassy Row’ in the center of Kuala Lumpur. From a base of simple rectangular boxes, the design concept adopts a simple L-shape layout to capture magnificent views of the city and its greenery, allowing maximum natural daylighting, and abundant natural ventilation. The design approach is anchored on simplicity, harnessing passive energy systems, and a strong tropical albeit contemporary theme. The 23 units comprises of 4-bedroom units ranging from 5,100 sq. ft. to 5,800 sq. ft. regular units to the exclusive 6-bedroom 10,800 sq. ft. penthouse suites with rooftop swimming pools and sky-gardens. The structure’s simplicity gives the freedom of tropical expression on the building façade.


The building’s landscape design creates an atmosphere of serenity and a blend of nature and man-made structure at ground level as well the individual gardens of each unit. State-of-the art security and communication systems are incorporated in the design. In all the development addresses privacy, individuality, comfort and convenience, taste, and contemporary luxury living. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2014.

D’Latour is the 2nd phase of three mixed-commercial projects to be developed in Sunway, Malaysia. The development comprised of two towers; the SOHO tower (Tower 1), and the Serviced Apartments tower (Tower 2). The tower units are double-storey loft-style spaces, designed as contemporary boutique suites to maximize natural daylighting and comply with regulatory floor area requirements. The SOHO tower starts off with a wide base on the fourth floor and steps up to a taper on the fourteenth floor, creating a garden atrium. External aluminum cladding conceals the steps and finishes the edges in a smooth curve. The Serviced Apartment tower is a regular shape structure with intermittent sky-gardens on random floors.



The building’s unique feature is the elevated swimming pool. The pool’s construction consists of an acrylic panel base to allow view from the café/pavilion beneath which is enveloped with concrete in a customized webby design. Construction started in January 2013 and the building is scheduled to be completed by late 2015.




D’Twist is the 3rd phase of three mixed-commercial project to be developed in Sunway, and the ‘younger brother’ of D’Latour. The concept of three twisting towers rising from a podium shell gave a unique sense of identity and appeal to the client and the cityscape. The building comprises a podium accommodating four floors of elevated parking, and 250,000 sq.ft. of commercial retail space with a 9-screen cinema floor on level 4. The ground floor is comprised of boutique shops, food and beverage outlets, and concierge service for the hotel tower. The lush landscaping of the podium top nests the recreational facilities which include the swimming pools, gymnasium, sun deck, health and wellness center, and other facilities. Like D’Latour, the tower units are double-storey loft-style spaces. The three towers comprises an office tower (Tower 1) with 22 double-storey floors, a hotel tower (Tower 2) with 20 double-storey floors, and a residential tower (Tower 3) with 32 double-storey floors. Altogether, the building comprises 1,400 double-storey units. 

As with a building of this nature, structure is a challenge – twising columns and ‘regular’ slabs or a super-thick core with beamless post-tensioned transfer slabs? The tapering floor layouts didn’t make things easy either, especially for the tallest tower (Tower 3). Wind tunnel tests showed a deflection of less than one meter having adopted a suitable structural system. At every eight floor interval is a 2m-thick transfer slab which will also serve as base for eight-floor high themed atriums. At 285m tall, the building is in line to be the tallest residential tower in Malaysia upon completion. Construction is scheduled to begin in January 2014.





Camps IBN Tachfine is a 260-hectare brownfield master plan developed for the proposed new city in Marrakech, Morocco. The Master Plan comprises a total of 1.83 million sq. mtrs. of commercial and residential space. The existing site comprises a redundant military barrack and slum dwellings. A relocation plan has been set up by the government to resettled the inhabitants while the project progresses. The project is envisioned to cater for increasing housing need in Marrakech, supporting the very commercial Gueliz District, and create a sustainable urban development. The master plan is generally low-rise as required by local regulations, and comprises six districts. Each district is uniquely designed and identified by land-use and population distribution. The central park is designed after the ancient Andalusian Gardens and serves as an integrating factor for the districts. Efficient road and circulation networks eases transportation and reduces traffic congestion.



By Olawoyin Folajuwon

Article content and Images belong to the Author, unauthorized duplication is prohibited 

Read 35277 times Last modified on Sunday, 15 December 2013 09:35

Online Editor at Interarchtiv Media Company

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