Updated: Sep 20, 2021
This month I had the pleasure of interviewing two inspiring black women, Ife Somefun and Mayo Akin-Oteniya, who are the co-founders of a group called YANA (Young Aspiring Nigerian Architects). These two creatives have put together this group in the need to support young Nigerian aspiring architects along their journey. It is common through speaking with many African or Caribbean people, that it is hard to find others of the same background also studying architecture. YANA has opened a space for Nigerian architectural students to feel familiarity and strength amongst their community.
| For our readers could you tell us a bit about yourselves and your architecture journey?
Mayo: I am 23 years old and I am an architecture graduate. I am passionate about design and love to explore and experiment creatively. Asides from architecture, my first love is art, which then lead to me venturing into photography, graphic design, and interior design. I aspire to always engage in creative projects no matter what stage of life I am in.
Ife: I graduated from the undergrad program at the Architectural Association school of Architecture in 2020. I recently completed my RIBA Part 1 work placement at MOE+AA in Lagos, Nigeria. I am passionate about finding and adding value to the undervalued within the community and the environment. It is this passion that encouraged me to turn my school project into a business called Fantastic Plastic, which focuses converting plastic waste into household furniture.
| What made you and your co-founders start up YANA?
Mayo: Ife and I felt that there was a gap that needed to be filled. At the time, we had both noticed that there weren’t any existing communities or resources for people like us that one could go to for help when it came to the architecture industry. We’re both Nigerian and we realised that there were so many people who were at university or thinking of studying subjects like law, medicine, business etc. When it came to Architecture, there were very few people who we personally knew that studied it and so there wasn’t really a space in which we could find out about people’s experiences within architecture.
| What can YANA offer to its members or target group?
Ife: A massive part of our role as directors is to recognise the different experiences, skillset and interests that our members have, and then create opportunities and platforms that allow our members to share this. A good example is the YANA group chat, where members are free to ask questions, share opportunities and events. A few other examples include, the annual celebration of the graduates within YANA, the YANA exhibition which is a platform that showcases the work of members, or the Instagram Live which allowedcatalog members to share their experiences and journey.
Overall, a few major things YANA offers it’s members is a community that supports and celebrates one another, and opportunities to share their work, experiences and knowledge.
| How would you like outside organisations and practices to collaborate with YANA?
Mayo: So far, we have collaborated with a Nigerian artist to put together a catalogue of resources about Nigeria’s architectural history and culture. That was a really great experience, it’s actually something that is still ongoing but it has been really great to share ideas with someone who is not actually in the architecture industry but has a passion for Nigerian architecture.
It would be really great to collaborate with schools and museums in the future to hold symposiums to celebrate Nigerian architecture and culture.
Also, we really hope to one day be able to collaborate with architecture firms in the UK and in Nigeria to help people to get jobs or even work experience. It would also be really good to be able to collaborate with or be sponsored with gallery spaces and organisations for our exhibitions in the future. I feel like that could potentially elevate the quality of exhibitions that we curate in the future which would be amazing.
| What so far has been rewarding about starting this venture?
Ife: There have been countless rewarding moments since starting YANA. For me, I would say the most rewarding moments are always to do with the participation and engagement from members and non members. For example, the engagement and participation of the 2018 YANA Afrofuturism Exhibition team, which consisted of Kunle, Ere, Tobi, Keren and Anjola was amazing. The dedication of the team was heart warming and the emerged friendships invaluable.
It is important for us to document rewarding moments, this is why we made sure to keep the feedback from the viewers from the 2020 digital exhibition, which after a lot of hard work, were very pleasant and rewarding to read. Documenting these moments can also be an important reminder to keep going when engagement is low. In addition, the personal growth from leading and directing YANA has also been significantly rewarding, even-though, many times it meant stepping out of my comfort zone.
| What is the best way for newcomers to get involved with YANA?
Mayo: The best way is either to sign up as a member or follow us on social media, Instagram is the main platform we use. We also have a group chat on Watsap which people are welcome to get involved with. There are always opportunities like competitions, projects, and jobs that people post in the group chat as well as giving people the opportunity to network and meet other members, its been really effective.
Before Covid we would have hangouts in person; that’s a really great way for newcomers to get involved and we hope to be able to resume that later this year in Lagos and London.
| What would you say the founders of YANA’s goal is for the organisation?
Ife: Generally our goal for YANA is to carry out our vision and missions and values. Our mission is to really unite young aspiring Nigerians all around the world and to strengthen and encourage one another on our journey. The YANA exhibition and meet ups are key ways we carry out our mission.
Our Vision is to, celebrate and promote YANA members' achievement, champion members creative skills and artistry, as well as developing YANA members' architectural skills. And finally share knowledge on Nigeria’s architectural history. One of the many ways we plan to fulfil this vision is through YANA workshops and Talks.
Our values are in line with our belief that by empowering the YANA community and by recognising the great potential of Nigeria’s architectural history and culture, we can improve Nigeria’s architecture and it’s perception around the world and ourselves.
| How do you feel the architectural industry could actively be more inclusive and inviting towards the POC demographic?
Mayo: Firstly, I think it would be good for POC in the industry to go into schools to explain the profession. I don’t think a lot of people are aware of what architecture actually entails and may be intimidated by it so it would be quite beneficial for younger people of colour to get that knowledge early on, and then they can make the decision on whether or not they want to venture into the industry. At the various schools I attended we would have career fairs and there will be people coming to talk about finance and law and medicine but there was never anyone who came to talk about architecture and the built environment. Also, make people aware that architecture serves as a great foundation for other jobs within the creative industry. A lot of people also find the duration quite intimidating seven years is a long time but in reality, you do not have to complete the full seven years, there are so many other creative jobs that you can venture into with an architecture degree. Financial aid is also key. There should be financial aids for POC’s who are studying architecture. It is a course that requires 5 years of education which is not cheap; so I think that sometimes puts people off because they may not be able to afford to be in education for that long.
Apprenticeship programs are slowly becoming more popular within the industry but I think there’s still a long way to go. Not enough universities and firms have that option. It is a really good opportunity for people to work and study and eases the financial burden of education and I think there should definitely be more opportunity for this.
These are some of the architectural firms that offer apprenticeships: Oxford Brookes, and Fosters + Partners, London South Bank University, Arup, Scott Brownrigg and there is also a list on the RIBA website that list the apprenticeships.
| What can we expect next from YANA?
Ife: There are some really exciting things planned for the rest of the year of 2021. One, that has been long anticipated is more hangouts! With the easing of restrictions it means we can meet up, finally! We have many new members both in the UK and in Nigeria and we hope to host hangouts and events in both Lagos and London that all our members can attend.
As part of our plan to implement our values, we’ll be releasing the YANA resources site. As mayo mentioned before, we’re working with Bunmi Agusto, an artist and Architectural enthusiast, on putting together a catalogue of resources on Nigeria’s architecture, history and culture. Another event to potentially look forward to is a symposium which will focus on celebrating Nigerian architecture, history and culture.
Beyond this year, we plan on carrying out many incredible ideas, one of which includes a YANA pavilion, which will involve a design and build opportunity for our members.
Keep an eye out for YANAs upcoming plans by following their Instagram: @yanarch_