"Demas Nwoko has been consistent in his pursuit of modernity as a critical process of enquiry and I think in his production of architecture he is able to deploy the ideas of the early manifesto of Natural Synthesis in a courageous manner." Giles Omezi
Demas Nwoko is perhaps the most visible of the old era of Sub Saharan architects. Born in 1935, he emerged as a Nigerian artist, protean designer and architect. His work in architecture upholds modern techniques in architecture and stage design to perhaps articulate the African subject matters in most of his works. There is a tale tale spatial component of cultural production within the formulation of a Nigerian post colonial identity that may be observed in the architecture of Demas Nwoko.
Dominican Chapel, Ibadan - Demas Nwoko
He is better known as an artist in Nigeria, as a member of the Nigerian avant-garde art group; The Zaria Art Society, established in 1958. His architecture has recently roused interest of scholars, with a book by the Anglo-West African modernists John Godwin and Gillian Hopwood due imminently. I however view his architecture as the logical completion of a series of restless enquiries that took him through sculpture, painting, theatre production and built form.
Idumuje Ugboko Residence - Demas Nwoko
Four decades of architectural production has received little coverage in the international critical architecture press, save for a passing mention by Noel Moffet in the RIBA Journal special on Nigeria in 1977, and even then the work published [ the Dominican Institute, Ibadan] was credited to a self – help effort not to Demas Nwoko. It is the absence of any African work in the critical discourse of Architecture that has forced me to closely examine his work within the theoretical context of the early art movement that he was part of. Demas Nwoko conveys a deep sense of conviction about the ideas that underpin his work, he has embarked on a lonely journey to take the ideas of the Zaria Art Society’s manifesto – Natural Synthesis into the spatial realm.
Oba Akenzua Cultural Centre - Demas Nwoko
Completion of his commissions take time, he acknowledges the accretive nature of building in Africa, allowing the possibility to add to buildings over time. On the other hand projects have been drawn out over decades as is the case with the Akenzua Cultural Centre in Benin that was commissioned in 1972 and completed in 1995. Most importantly is his acute questioning of the notion of meaning particularly through the process of appropriation; for instance he states ‘ the aesthetic experience of the landscape is individually contemplative and therefore would obstruct effective communication between two people since both or one could be lost in this beautiful phenomenon of natures handiwork. Here the visual dialogue between inside and outside via the window, a particularly northern European detail is questioned.
His architectural journey has been one of advocating for an accretive approach to the acquisition of technology, warning against the large scale industrialisation model in favour of localised interventions that would mobilise labour and build up a developmental momentum that he felt would enable Nigeria catch up with the rest of the world. Demas Nwoko has been consistent in his pursuit of modernity as a critical process of enquiry and I think in his production of architecture he is able to deploy the ideas of the early manifesto of Natural Synthesis in a courageous manner