Lesley Lokko is an architect, academic and – somewhat incongruously – the author of ten best-selling novels. She is currently Head of School at the Graduate School of Architecture (GSA), University of Johannesburg, where she is also Professor of Architecture. Of Ghanaian-Scots descent, she was raised in Ghana and educated in the UK and the US and has spent the past 54 years shuttling back-and-forth between Africa, Europe and the United States. She is widely recognised as one of the most important global voices in architectural education, whose research and design interests have focused on issues of race, cultural identity, gender and power since her own days as a student at the Bartlett in the early 90s. She holds a PhD in Architecture from the University of London and is a regular contributor to international juries, competitions and awards, most recently the Aga Khan Award for Architecture and the RIBA President’s Medal Awards.
It gives us great pleasure that we can finally feature one of our favourite people and share her Top3;
3The Essential Gesture
I know books (well, literature, anyway) isn’t really considered ‘design’ but I’d be both lying and remiss if I said one writer in particular hadn’t shaped my world in a way that almost no one else has done. Nadine Gordimer (1923–2014) first alerted me to South Africa as a place and to literature as a way of living, being, seeing, when I was still a teenager. The fact that I live in Johannesburg now, nearly forty years after being given July’s People (1981) to read, is down to her. As a writer myself, I’ve often been asked ‘why do you write?’ or ‘who inspires you?’ so it’s no secret that I’ve long been an admirer of her work. However, many assume it’s her subject matter (apartheid, South Africa, cultures in conflict) that I find fascinating. Whilst that’s certainly true, it’s actually her writing style that grabs the attention and holds it. She designs language, twisting, bending and shaping it in ways that still fascinate me today. Her prose is muscular, difficult, formal, deep. A bit like this country.
2House of Forty Knots
In the middle of Tehran, there’s a gem of a house by two young Iranian architects, Habibeh Madjabadi and Alireza Mashhadimirza, which stands out as a stunning example of tradition-meets-modernity with confidence, panache and sheer delight. As the duo state, ‘two people work together to make a carpet. One reads the instructions whilst the other sits behind the scaffold. The one reading doesn’t necessarily know how to weave: she reads them out, like a song: “one yellow, two red below, a blue”.’ In this residential project, the handmade exterior is made in a similar way. One craftsman reads and the other places raised, filler and hollow bricks in a pattern, similar to a Persian carpet. The fact that these two architects were schooled in Iran, practice in Tehran, draw inspiration from their own culture and yet can be contemporary and speculative in the same breath is inspiring. At least for me.
1Tushauriane (Let’s Talk About It)
Naomi Wanjiku Gakunga is a Kenyan artist who studied at the University of Nairobi before moving to the US. I purchased one of her sculptures for the IFC World Bank’s new headquarters in Accra several years ago and was astounded by her work. She makes predominantly wall-hanging sculptures created from corroded sheet metal, rusted tin cans and stainless steel wire (since her husband is a dentist she has access to the most high-tech materials and prosthetic fabrics, a dizzying combination). Her work follows a Swahili adage jua kali, ‘under the hot sun’. I’m fascinated by the way her pieces conjure up swirling skirts, dancing girls, security fences, Mexicana and roofing sheets. Tushauriane indeed. I’d love to talk to her. In person.