Hidden Architectural Voices

Decolonising@Lincoln summer project 2023

Chiji Amaechi (Graduate – Bachelor of Architecture 2023) 

Kuro Krukrubo (Graduate – Bachelor of Architecture 2023) 

Leslie Mfonow Tochukwu (3rd Year Student – Bachelor of Architecture 2023) 

(Mentor: Mark Olweny, Senior Lecturer in Architecture) 

Photo of Leslie Mfonow Tochukwu (3rd Year Student – Bachelor of Architecture 2023) in front of the display in the university library.
Leslie Mfonow Tochukwu (3rd Year Student – Bachelor of Architecture 2023) with the display in the university library (photo by Alexander White)

Architectural education embarks on a journey of exploration, utilising various architects and their projects to foster an understanding of the development of architectural ideas. Yet, a conspicuous absence becomes apparent – the lack of architects of colour and architectural projects designed by individuals of colour in formal lectures, tutorials, and architectural publications. This absence in the established canon poses a challenge, particularly for us as students of colour who may come to believe that architects of colour are non-existent. 

Recognising the importance of providing students with access to diverse histories within architectural education, we initiated a project that culminated with this exhibition. A pivotal question arose: ‘Where are the hidden voices in architecture?’ As Craig Wilkins suggests in his book “Diversity Among Architects,” we must exercise caution not to equate invisibility with absence. Undoubtedly, architects from minority groups have existed in the past, and their lack of immediate visibility does not negate their existence. This realisation propelled us to delve into the archives to uncover some of these individuals and their individual stories. This was bolstered by the election of Muyiwa Oki as the first black president of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in 2022. 

As architecture students, we saw this as an opportunity to seek out and reveal some of the hidden voices, with the aim of broadening our understanding of architecture beyond the enduring stereotype of the middle-class white male architect. Our investigation primarily focused on black architects who studied architecture in the United Kingdom during the mid-twentieth century. The discovery of these hidden voices led us to a number of contemporary black architects who have made significant contributions to architectural discourse and encountered similar challenges as the early pioneers. Through this research, we not only unearthed a multitude of architects we might never have known about but also came to understand that some of the apprehensions we harboured were shared by these early architects during their own educational journeys. In presenting this work, we have deliberately made use of low-quality images to mirror the limited visibility of these voices. We recognise that as more stories emerge, the clearer the voices will be, and the more integral they will be in architectural education, which will greatly enrich architectural education and the profession. 


1933 – 2016 

Piccadilly Circus Redesign Competition Winners. Left to Right, Courage Togobo, Rory Westmaas and Kuok Choo Soo (Source:  https://www.architecture.com/explore-architecture/inside-the-riba-collections/who-was-the-first-black-riba-member

Retired Lieutenant Colonel Courage Godwin Kwasi Togobo received a government scholarship in 1954 to study Architectural Engineering. Before he could take up his scholarship in the United Kingdom, he had to take a one-year preparatory course at the College of Arts, Science, and Technology, in Ibadan, Nigeria. He then moved to the United Kingdom in 1955, where he attended South West Essex Technical College from 1955 to 1956, before moving to the Oxford School of Architecture between 1956 and 1959, and finally to the Brixton School of Building between 1959 and 1962. In 1961 during his time at the Brixton School, he entered a competition with classmates Rory Westmaas and Kuok Choo Soo for the redesign of Piccadilly Circus, which they won.  

On completion of his architectural education, Togobo worked as a Junior Architect with the Architects Department of the London City Council (LCC) between 1960 and 61 and as an Assistant Architect with the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works in London. In 1964, he returned to Ghana and began working for the Ghana National Construction Corporation. Between 1972 and 1979, he served on the management board of the Ghana Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s Building Road Research Institute (BRRI). He has also held taken on various positions with the Ghana Institute of Architects, including, Hon. Secretary, Vice President, and President.  

Togobo joined the Ghana Military in 1966, working as a Planning Officer, and eventually as Director of Engineering-Planning and Design with the Works Services Engineers unit, with a rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Over the years he has worked on projects such as the Tamale Airport, Arakan Barracks, and the Electoral Commission’s Regional offices in Kumasi. 


1926 – 2016 

Piccadilly Circus Redesign Competition Winners. Left to Right, Kuok Choo Soo, Rory Westmaas, Courage Togobo (Source: https://www.westmaas.net/foto-album-westmaas-british-guiana/rory-westmaas/) 

Piccadilly Circus Redesign Competition Winners. Left to Right, Kuok Choo Soo, Rory Westmaas, Courage Togobo (Source: https://www.westmaas.net/foto-album-westmaas-british-guiana/rory-westmaas/

Richard Owen (Rory) Westmaas was born in British Guiana (Now Guyana) in 1926. In 1939 at the beginning of the Second World War, he saw all seven of his brothers join various forces either at home or abroad as part of a general call for colonial subjects to defend the ‘mother country’. Westmaas, aged 14 at the time, lied about his age and managed to sign up for the Royal Air Force, and was stationed in England for the duration of the War. Following the end of the War, Rory travelled throughout Europe and back to Guyana, where he briefly dabbled in politics. However, after a series of arrests he officially retired from politics in 1955 returning to England, part of the Windrush Generation, studying architecture at the Brixton School of Building. While still a student, in 1961, Westmaas and fellow students, Courage Togobo from Ghana and Kuok Choo Soo from Malaya (now Malaysia), entered and won a blind competition for the redesign of Piccadilly Circus. While Rory did complete his architecture degree, joining the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) as an Associate Member, he returned to Guyana where he began work as an architect and urban planner, eventually becoming a professor of architecture at the University of Guyana, where he worked for over thirty years. Upon his death in 2016, his active life included interests and diverse occupations, including “woodworker, potter, magician, soldier, artist, architect, saxophonist, civil servant, university professor, debater, griot and ‘legendary crepe maker.” 1 


1944 –  

Lanre Towry-Coker (Source: http://www.towrycoker.com/lanre.htm) 

Lanre Towry-Coker (Source: http://www.towrycoker.com/lanre.htm

Lanre Towry-Coker was educated at St. Matthias Roman Catholic (Primary) School, in Lagos, and at Kingston College, Surrey. He undertook his architectural education at the Architectural Association and Thames University (now the University of West London). He also completed a postgraduate qualification in architecture from the University of North East London.   

Towry-Coker opened his architectural practice Towry-Coker Associates in Lagos in 1976. The firm participated in the planning for Nigeria’s new federal capital, Abuja, and was also responsible for the design of some buildings in Abuja. He was also chairman of the Lagos State Waste Disposal Board and Chairman of the Lagos State Luna Parks. Towry-Coker has also been Chairman of the Public Relations Committee and International Relations Committee of the Nigerian Institute of Architects (NIA). His most recognisable projects are found in Abuja. These include the Abuja Conference Centre, and Le Meridien Hotel, also in Abuja. 


1933 – 2021 

Isaac Fola-Alade (Source: https://topwritersmagazine.wordpress.com/2021/06/20/late-isaac-fola-alade-a-thoroughbred-professional-gov-fayemi/)

Isaac Fola-Alade (Source: https://topwritersmagazine.wordpress.com/2021/06/20/late-isaac-fola-alade-a-thoroughbred-professional-gov-fayemi/

Isaac Fola-Alade attended St. Phillips Elementary School in Aramoko, Ekiti and Christ’s School, Ado Ekiti for his secondary education, both in Nigeria. In 1961 he graduated from the Nigerian College of Arts & Sciences and Technology Zaria (now Ahmadu Bello University) as one of the first four pioneer architecture graduates. In 1963 he became a Chartered Architect with the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). In 1965 received a Commonwealth Scholarship to undertake postgraduate studies at the Architectural Association School of Tropical Studies in London, graduating in 1965.  

Fola-Alade joined the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Works and Housing as a Resident Architect in the Western Region and later for the Lagos City Council. He became Chief Government Architect in 1972, and the Director of Public Buildings in 1975. This role gave him influence over a number of government projects across the world. These included Nigerian Embassy buildings in Brasilia, Brazil, Bonn, Germany, Beijing China and Washington DC, USA. 

He was elected as the first Registrar of the Nigerian Architects Registration Council in 1969. After his retirement from public service in 1979, he established his private practice Fola Alade Associates, and continued his community engagement as General Secretary of the Nigerian Institute of Architects. He was also appointed Pro-Chancellor and Chairman Governing Council of the Federal University of Port Harcourt in 1990. 


1940 –  

Olufemi Majekodunmi (Source: https://mamajekodunmifoundation.org/our-team/)

Olufemi Majekodunmi (Source: https://mamajekodunmifoundation.org/our-team/

Olufemi Majekodunmi was born in 1940 in London, England. He grew up in Nigeria and attended St. Gregory’s College, Lagos. He returned to the United Kingdom to study architecture, first at the Glasgow School of Art, and then at Kingston College of Art (now Kingston University). He graduated in 1966 and was admitted as an Associate Member of the Royal Institute of Architects in 1969. 

Majekodunmi briefly worked in the United States of America before returning to Nigeria, initially with the firm Godwin and Hopwood Architects in Lagos. In 1973 he set up his own architectural firm, Femi Majekodunmi Associates (now FMA Architects Limited). The firm has expanded its reach over the years and has offices in Nigeria, Botswana and South Africa.Beyond architecture, Majekodunmi has been an Associate Professor of Architecture at the University of Lagos. He was the first president of the Nigerian Institute of Architects, the first secretary of the African Union of Architects and a past president of the International Union of Architects. 


Elsie Owusu. (2018, July). Building Design. https://www.bdonline.co.uk/riba-fires-off-legal-letter-to-its-own-presidential-candidate/5094384.article

Elsie Owusu. (2018, July). Building Design. https://www.bdonline.co.uk/riba-fires-off-legal-letter-to-its-own-presidential-candidate/5094384.article 

Elsie Owusu, began her architecture journey in 1974 at the Architectural Association. Before her interview, she was advised not to mention her desire to stay in the UK after completing her studies, as it was believed that this would reduce her chance of being selected if it was revealed that she would be competing with home students for jobs. This no doubt was the beginning of ongoing run-ins with the architectural fraternity in relation to its alleged discriminatory practices. This came to prominence in 2015, when she stood for Vice President of the Royal Institute of British Architecture (RIBA). Her failure to secure the post sparked allegations of institutional racism and sexism in RIBA and the broader architectural industry.2 Owusu accused RIBA of blatant sexism and racism, comparing the RIBA Council to a ‘Boy’s Club’. 

Despite challenging circumstances, Owusu has made a name for herself working on international projects such as the refurbishment of the UK’s Supreme Court and the Green Park Underground Station. She is also a founding member of the Society of Black Architects and a charitable trust, “Architecture: Incubator” to help architects from diverse backgrounds start small practices. 


Lesley Lokko (Source: https://www.archpaper.com/2021/01/lesley-lokko-talks-race-academia-and-starting-an-architecture-school-in-ghana/)

Lesley Lokko (Source: https://www.archpaper.com/2021/01/lesley-lokko-talks-race-academia-and-starting-an-architecture-school-in-ghana/

Lesley Lokko is a Scottish Ghanaian architect, academic and novelist. She graduated from the Bartlett School of Architecture in 1995, going on to gain her doctorate from the University of London in 2007. Her early career saw her take up academic positions in the United States of America, at Iowa State University, The University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Michigan. On returning to the United Kingdom, she positions at Kingstone University, the University of North London and the University of Westminster. 

In 2014, she moved to the University of Johannesburg taking over as Director of the Graduate School of Architecture, setting it up as an innovative architecture programme based on the Unit System previously established at the Architectural Association and the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University. In 2019, she took up the post Dean of the Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture, at the City College, New York, an opportunity to build on success at the University of Johannesburg. Unfortunately, for various reasons, her tenure in New York was short-lived, a consequence of “a textbook problem-woman-of-colour scenario, in which the black woman arrives enthusiastically in an organisation, hailed, but when she begins to question the organisation and hold people accountable, she’s quickly targeted and made to be the problem.”3 

Following her stint in New York, Lokko moved to Ghana, where she has been working to set up the African Futures Institute, geared to challenge the status quo in architectural discourse and education in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2021 she was announced as curator for the 18th Venice Architecture Biennale, the first black curator of this. Lokko has emerged as one of the most prominent and progressive voices in post-colonial architecture and architectural education, a voice that has brought attention to the thorny issue of race and discrimination in the architectural profession. 


Tara Gbolade (Source: https://www.architecture.com/knowledge-and-resources/knowledge-landing-page/bame-award-winners-tara-gbolade) 

Tara Gbolade (Source: https://www.architecture.com/knowledge-and-resources/knowledge-landing-page/bame-award-winners-tara-gbolade

Tara Gbolade is cofounder and director of London based Gbolade Design Studio. The Nigerian-born British architect has a diverse body of work to her credit and received recognition as a RIBAJ rising star in 2018. Gbolade completed her bachelors degree at the University of Liverpool and her masters degree at Newcastle University. She is passionate about ways and means by which architecture can help address the climate crisis, with Gbolade Design Studio signed up to the ‘Architects commitments and the RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge. Significantly, she has taken on one of the biggest challenges in architecture, addressing the need for inclusion of those from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds in architecture education and practice. She is involved with the Paradigm Network which helps BAME individuals build connections within the group and beyond.