A portrait of Tosin Oshinowo sitting at her desk

Tosin Oshinowo Will Celebrate a Culture of Reuse at the 2023 Sharjah Architecture Triennial

Focused on designs shaped by conditions of scarcity, the curator of the Triennial’s second edition embraces impermanence and repair.

“It’s big shoes to fill,” says Nigerian architect Tosin Oshinowo about her appointment as the curator of the second Sharjah Architecture Triennial, “but I will fill them my own way.” Slated to open in November 2023, the Triennial seeks to cultivate a critical dialogue around its theme: “The Beauty of Impermanence: An Architecture of Adaptability”.

The title refers to ways scarcity throughout the Global South has created a culture of reuse, re-appropriation, and adaptation, and Oshinowo points out in her curatorial statement that contextual solutions and resource sharing need to be prioritized over technical innovation.  

“There’s so much that was lost,” she says, broaching the effects of colonialism by referencing building styles. In many post-colonial countries “There was a system of construction that was brought in, and which took over, making us lose many of the ways we had lived, the structures we had.”

an image of an office building with a solar panel screen on one wall, a man is walking in front
Oshinowo’s design for Rensource Energy centers its solar panels, a critical technology in developing countries where centralized power grids can be unreliable. COURTESY MEDINA DUGGER

According to Oshinowo, embracing long-standing traditions that have been systematically ignored can inform a better understanding of impermanence and an inventive responsiveness to limitations. “We need to go back and understand why those buildings worked, what techniques or technologies existed, and bring these into a modern context,” she says.  

Oshinowo, who was educated in the United Kingdom, returned to Nigeria to start her firm cmDesign Atelier, in 2012. Since then, she’s taken on civic, commercial, and residential projects throughout Nigeria, earning recognition as a leader of the next generation of African architects. She considers her work to be “Afro-Minimalist,” influenced as much by her Yorùbá culture as European Modernism.

An image of a modern home with a patio and swimming pool. palm trees are in the background
A home designed by cmAtelier in Lagos, Nigeria. Oshinowo describes her style as “African Minimalism.” COURTESY TOLU SANUSI

Founded in 2018, the Sharjah Architecture Triennial is the legacy of Khalid bin Sultan Al Qasimi, an Emirati royal and fashion designer with a background in architecture who served as chairman of Sharjah’s urban planning council. His aim was to create a global platform for architecture and urbanism from the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa.

It’s a unique forum for Oshinowo, who says that cost is a challenging factor for sustainable design in the Global South. Besides material scarcity, she says sustainable solutions for building projects tend to be capital intensive.

“Long term, your maintenance cost would be less, but ultimately your capital cost would be more,” Oshinowo explains, naming LEED-certified buildings as an example.

For the 2023 Triennial to be successful, it’s essential to showcase architects, designers, artists, planners and researchers working in the region and through its many diasporas, Oshinowo insists. Though participants have yet to be nominated, she expects to feature designs by “people who haven’t seen the limelight, not because they don’t want to, but because they’ve been focusing on adding value in the right places.”

An image of yellow and green shade structures next to some single story stucco buildings, people sitting underneath
The United Nations Development Program commissioned Oshinowo to design a village in Northern Nigeria for a community displaced by Boko Haram. COURTESY TOLULOPE SANUSI

Would you like to comment on this article? Send your thoughts to: [email protected]