Monthly Archives: August 2011

New Africa In Londontown

The Africa Centre at 38 King Street

Since 1961, the Africa Centre in Covent Garden has served as a home base for the African Diasporic peoples of London. Serving as a nucleus for the black Londoner, the building has always served as a host for many programs intended to unite the African populations of Britain and provide an outlet to celebrate and preserve their culture. It has become an important landmark for Africans, allowing for people to convene for festive, political, business, academic, and social affairs in its 50 years of existence. After struggling for many years to secure a renewable source of funding, the Trustees have decided to sell their lease and seek a new location in Central London.

This decision sent a ripple across the Internet, with many of the British African Population speaking out in defense of the building that they held so dear. One blogger recounted the importance the Centre played in his family, calling the people he associated with through the Centre’s programming as an extension of his family. He gives a voice to those tied to that location at 38 King Street, giving a very visual description of the spaces the building housed. Other supporters have started a Save the Africa Centre Campaign, which is supported by many noted African and diasporic leaders asking the Trustee’s to reconsider their proposal to sell and secure a new space and instead to renovate the Centre.

At the center of this movement is an inspired renovation plan by world-renowned architect, David Adjaye. Adjaye currently heads his practice, Adjaye Associates, out of London, and has been pivotal for bringing attention to British design and architects of color. He is best known in the US for his participation in the design of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, due in 2015. The architect is of Ghanaian descent, and was raised in Tanzania and London. Adjaye’s designs are often influenced by African furniture, styles, and iconography. It’s only natural, he would step up with a design for one of the few places in London that celebrates Africa as a whole.

The famed architect David Adjaye

Building section of Adjaye's design for the Africa Centre

Adjaye’s £6 million renovation of the space envisions a brand new interior that includes galleries, a restaurant, and a new roof lounge. The current space is focused primarily on the ground floor, so the redesign plans to utilize all the floors of the building, expanding the program and square footage. The Save the Africa Centre Campaign and some notable donors have backed Adjaye’s design as a positive alternative to vacating the property. Hadeel Ibrahim, the Executive Director of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, worked with the Trustees to promise £3.6 million towards the project. In July, the Trustees granted a stay until next month to review other avenues, including Mr. Adjaye’s design before committing to sell the building.

Interior Renderings of Adjaye's new Africa Centre

I for one and supportive of their move towards a process that preserves the current space and includes more public participation. For the many supporters and user of the Centre’s spaces and programs, Adjaye’s proposal presents an opportunity to breath new life into the cultural center to continue to serve London’s African Diasporic Community for many more years to come. It will be interesting to see what the new face of Africa in the UK will look like.


Barbie Can Be… An Architect?

Today toy aficionados, collectors, female designers, and little girls around the world rejoiced at the release of Barbie Architect. This vivacious blonde with the perfect figure has proven to us that, women can really do anything having had over 125 high-profile careers in her many years. After a big controversy a decade ago where Architect was the winner in a public vote for Barbie’s next depiction, we finally got our moment this year. Looking at the design, which was heavily consulted by the American Institute of Architects, Mattel really tried to sell the profession as a stylish, strength-projecting job for a career minding little lady. She stands proud in her heeled boots and skyline print dress, side pony tail swept and ready to embark on a day of site visits with her hard hat and blue prints, surely un-phased by the absence of other women on site and the cat calls from the union construction worker. Who wouldn’t want that job? Right?

Although, I did rush to the Mattel website to see if she came in a more melanin influenced skin tone and did a Google search to see what Chicago area stores might be carrying her, I was disappointed that she did not come with a drafting table accessory and even more disappointed at my next thought. Will the press from Barbie joining our ranks change anything?

As a minority in the field, both gender and ethnic, I know the statistics. 17% of all American architects are female (down 2% since last year), with many people blaming the current recession on the decrease in feminine presence in the field. This number falls to a mere 4% with their professional license. When you look at the number of African-American female architects specifically, the number is an even more depressing .002% according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Than means on the current trend, for our tanner Barbie architect prospect, the future is bleak.

What does this mean for her?

Not that I write this to deter anyone from entering the field. I am definitely not one to talk with two Architecture degrees under my belt. Instead I chose to use this moment as a wake up call. It used to be that most people were unaware of what it meant to be an architect. Our silent struggle as females in the profession was often overlooked and missed by the masses, with a few female academics being the main people pioneering the way to gender diversity. Kudos to these amazing women, cause lord knows it’s a struggle I am still trying to wrestle.

Despite statistics, we've been at it for decades.

Moving forward it is up to us who understand to make sure we do all we can to change the mold and inspire these little girls (even more so inspire ourselves!) to apply to design school, complete the 5+ difficult and soul kicking years to finish an accredited degree, kick down the barrier door to get a “good job” in a firm that allows you to complete your IDP hours and supports your process to get licensed, and then shatter the glass ceiling to become the Project Leads, Partners, and Owners of great design firms building world renown buildings. This is a sign for people to become more active in exposing children to the profession, through volunteer charrette and design workshops, getting involved in mentoring programs like the ACE Mentoring program or through other local groups, doing whatever one can to provide the example for the next girl who is waiting with her Moleskin sketchbook, Prismacolor marker, and Micron pen in hand to be inspired.

What will I be?

As children we spend our young lives looking to Barbie to show us what the future may have in store for us. She has led many girls into the positions of doctor, mother, baker, flight attendant, vet, child care provider, teacher, actress, dancer, obstetrician, athlete, soldier, politician, police officer, fire fighter, life guard, pilot, astronaut, computer engineer, secretary, and even McDonald’s server… its long overdue she push them to design. At the end of the day, through all the criticism I’ve seen over her attempt to try on a hard hat, she has done something that many of us female architects have yet to do for each other and ourselves. If Barbie can do it, then so can we.