For thoughtfully addressing the needs of a community wracked by violence and giving its residents new hope
Tosin Oshinowo’s designs are certifiably high profile—and decidedly glam. Just take a peek at her project portfolio: She collaborated with Lexus on a collection of elegantly luxe pandemic-inspired headpieces. She landed a prestigious slot as curator of the Sharjah Architecture Triennial. And she even earned “Beach House Queen” status in a Netflix documentary about luxury homes in Africa. But it’s Oshinowo’s latest project, designing a new village for Nigerians displaced by violent insurgents, that has her feeling like she’s really making a difference—and transforming lives.
“This is by far the most impactful project I have done to date,” says Oshinowo, director of Lagos architecture firm cmDesign Atelier. “I am truly honored to have used my skills to add value.”
After Boko Haram launched a brutal attack on Ngarannam, Nigeria, in 2015, many of the residents who fled spent years in refugee camps.
Oshinowo worked to provide a new path forward, delivering on the studio’s mission to “create contemporary solutions that constantly push the boundaries of architecture in Nigeria and the African continent.”
The project includes a school, a medical center, a police outpost and 500 houses (with 140 more in progress). While the project provided a homecoming for roughly 2,500 people, it also marked the first collaboration between the Nigerian government and the United Nations Development Programme to rebuild communities for displaced people.
To ensure her radial site plan hit the mark, Oshinowo met with prospective residents at refugee camps, toured local buildings and coordinated with government officials. Taking this people-centric project approach helped her to translate the day-to-day needs of the largely Islamic population into tangible design elements. For example, she included reception rooms for greeting male visitors—a common feature in most traditional Islamic homes.
To provide protection against the region’s scorching heat, she added small holes beneath the homes’ gabled roofs to increase airflow and replaced the roadside tables with a shaded community marketplace. Local resources and customs even inspired Oshinowo’s color scheme. As is traditional for residences in the area, each home’s siding takes its pinkish-beige shade from a mix of cement and local soil, though the designer added in a bold blue for the shutters and doorways.
Oshinowo also saw the opportunity to empower returning residents by involving them in the rebuilding work. By using local laborers and contractors, project leaders helped build skills that can be applied to future construction projects, she says.
That commitment resonated with residents, who showered her with applause on the day she told them that construction had finally begun on their new community. And when the first wave of Ngarannam residents returned to their rebuilt village in October 2022, they had a renewed sense of comfort in the wake of devastating violence. Studies show that 72% of households in the new development feel safer.
“It takes a village to build a village,” Oshinowo says.
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