Arc. Adeniyi Mobolaji is the C.E.O, M.A. & Associates, 3rd Vice President, Nigerian Institute of Architects, and Director, Archibuilt Development Services Limited (ADSL). In this interview speaks on various issues affecting building and construction industry. Excerpt.
Several exhibitions, several programmes, why archibuilt?
Archibuilt has been on for 30 years now. When the Nigerian Institute of Architects (NIA) through a special purpose vehicle Archibuilt Development Services Limited (ADSL) created it, I wasn’t in the picture then; I was not a member of the executive of Nigerian Institute of Architects (NIA) at the time they put together this annual building exhibition expo. And because of its impacts, it has continued to hold every year.
The 2019 exposition has created platforms where you as a professional, student, or visitor can gain from its building/maintenance clinic, product presentation, symposium where major topic will revolve on building collapse, housing finance; website directory, students’ competition, trainings on Building Information Modeling (BIM) Health and Safety (HSE) and Specification writing; website online store among others.
You spoke glowingly about this forum, what have been the challenges Archibuilt has had in the past few years?
Indeed, there have been a lot of challenges, especially in the last few years, when I became the Director. One of those challenges is the economy. This has been a big factor that has affected the manufacturers, the professionals and the public. In a bad economy, the industry that suffers most is the building industry. So, we had a lot of building materials’ manufacturers, who were not able to take their products for the exhibition. There was a lull in business and even clients have been affected one way or the other.
Aside from these, the political climate and stability are also factors. For instance, there were election years and the stability in the country also affected Archibuilt. And after a while, we saw that because we have such a good idea, competitors started emerging. Now, all kinds of people come into the market to do different kinds of building exposition. But as the forerunner, we are not daunted at all, as some of these challenges have spurred us to come up with innovations and new ideas and this has given us the edge year in, year out.
Your theme this year is driving Nigerian architecture through technology. What do you intend to achieve with this?
We have been driving this theme in the past two to three years. And this is so because we saw that building/construction industry is still very much the same as it has been in the past 15 to 20 years. (Pointing to her construction site) if you look at our site, to cast a floor, you can see a whole gang of 30 to 50 people comprising of masons, bricklayers, carpenters, iron bender or welders; this isn’t done in the developed country any more. There is now a technology for casting where you don’t need to have so many people doing the same thing, same time.
So, we have been encouraging the manufacturers within the building industry to take the opportunity of the exhibition to showcase their innovations that would further lift the building/construction industry. In fact, we have some architects, who have come with different materials to show at this exhibition. For this reason, we always look forward to this programme every year.
Some are advocating for revival of local building materials. Is this forum tilting along that line too?
With this expo, we have been encouraging the use of local building materials and this has paid off, as many of our people are no longer relying so much on foreign materials. For instance, we have manufacturers of clay and bricks that come and we are able to expose them to our colleagues and they are able to see innovative ways of using local building materials. We have now in Nigeria, locally made flooring materials. Do you know that Nigeria has the best granite stones? Some years back, we were importing stones from Italy, Spain, China, whereas our stones are better than all of those. So, we have been encouraging our manufacturers to develop our local building materials, which we can also begin to export to neighboring countries.
Don’t you think the use of technology would rather make more people to be jobless?
I’m looking for a time, by God’s grace that our people would not just be reduced to casual labourers on construction sites. Technology supposed to improve the way of life of any people and not the other way round. If people that are carrying concrete loads on their heads all day are employed in the factories manufacturing the materials, it is better for them and the economy. There are different ways of creating employment rather than through labour.
Since you have been the director, how have venue and economy affected Archibuilt Expo?
Sometimes, venue has been a challenge. You’ll be amazed. There was a particular year we wanted to use a particular venue, which we had booked and paid for, then, government came under the guise of a first lady, and wanted to use same venue for her event. We had to take all our things, got big canopies within the short notice to seek alternate venue. It was very disruptive. There was another year, we had planned our event, and government again came to use same venue. We had to reschedule.
Aside this, the lull in the economy has also been a key factor. And sometimes you know people just get tired doing the same thing year in, year out. But, when we saw this, we had to redesign the whole thing to sustain the momentum. For instance this year, one of our plans is to make the Expo very interactive. We normally invite different professionals within the building industry and that reveals that it is not just an architecture thing. We focus on all other professionals – the engineers, the quantity surveyors, builders and we are going to have all of them here. It is going to be an event that will touch the public. Every year many people come in, to pick one building material or the other.
This year, we don’t just want them to come and pick materials only. One of our innovations is the introduction of maintenance/building clinic. And the idea is to have professionals directly preferring solutions to difficulties you might be facing in your building. Depending on the kind of structure, a building’s lifespan is 100 years or more. But we discovered that, our people don’t have a maintenance culture. That is why sometimes, you find a building within its three to four years of its existence is already dilapidated and the owners don’t know what to do. So, we have a forum during which the professionals would advice you on how to go about it.
Though this event has been on for 30 years now, it appears illiteracy level when it comes to building industry is still very low. What’s your take on this?
You’ll not believe that three quarter of Nigerians, including highly placed individuals do not know the right process of building. This is one of the reasons we are having a lot of building collapsing and, or failing. And what do they do? They want to design a building and they do not know that they are supposed to approach an architect. Sometimes, an individual who wants to build approaches a bricklayer, whom he might have seen to have built one house or the other. Sometimes, the bricklayers worked on a building plan for a client 10 years ago and replicate same design for another client without considering the suitable, affordability and the applicability of that design. So, this forum is an opportunity to solve the ignorance and knowledge gap challenge. It is not every building material used by someone else you can use; you need to go to the professionals to get proper professional advice. And I’m glad that this year’s forum would effectively address this.
We are also having government functionaries like the Vive President, the Head of Service, captains of industries, policy makers, as we have quite number of our colleagues in the House of Assembly. We are going to have a symposium that would afford experts to talk on their area of expertise. All this is to ensure that this menace called building collapse is totally brought to a stop.
Arguably, some have said architects do not have serious role when building collapses. Do you agree with that standpoint?
I want to say that the bulk stops on our desk. Why? The architects, though people often refer to us as master builders, and indeed that is who we are. In fact, until recent years, the architect was the all-in-all. He was the architect, the engineers, the quantity surveyor, the builder etc. This was so because the architects conceptualized the structure and he must know about every part of the structure.
Take this site we are right now, I designed the building; invited an engineer to come and do the structural design of the building I have designed. I invited an electrical and a mechanical engineer; the quantity surveyor comes in to do the costing. I am the one to decide the materials that are being used on this site. Since I brought in all these professionals, I have the responsibility to coordinate all the activities of these professionals on my site. I have to ensure that the engineer does exactly what is right. After his or she is done with the design, it doesn’t just drop with the approving authority; he brings the design to me. I have to check his design and be sure that it confirms with my design.