Design Cities: Lagos, Nigeria

Design Cities: Lagos, Nigeria

Architect and designer Tosin Oshinowo attributes her hometown's design renaissance to an entrepreneurial creative spirit.

For Tosin Oshinowo, founder and director of Lagos-based architecture firm cmDesign Atelier, the common thread among the city’s most exciting designers is that their creations celebrate Nigerian heritage and maintain "a truth to materiality." While Nigeria’s economy is the largest in Africa—with an established film industry and fashion scene—the country’s manufacturing sector isn’t as robust, which presents a hurdle for many product designers.

"It’s exciting to be able to celebrate your culture and create pieces using local materials within that context. Hopefully it will help a generation of Nigerians to find their voice and be proud of where they’re from," says Tosin Oshinowo.

"You have to create from the bottom up, because often what you’re looking for doesn’t exist in this environment," she says. "The irony is that it really pushes the opportunity to be creative." When it comes to using local resources, the Lagos-born, London-educated architect and designer leads by example. Oshinowo’s llé llà furniture line, which celebrates her Yoruba heritage through hand-loomed creations, uses Nigerian teak and traditional asò-oké textiles for the armchairs in the Adùnní collection.

"In this part of the world, we’ve been brought up thinking that things that were local were not terribly exciting," Oshinowo says. "But there’s a generation of Nigerians who are now growing up in a place where their own creativity is being appreciated."

Rele Gallery exhibits works by emerging and established artists across the African diaspora in a building designed by Nigerian architect Papa Omotayo. "The founder, Adenrele Sonariwo, has been very instrumental in pushing a set of young contemporary artists’ work," says Oshinowo.

Some of the individuals at the forefront of this renaissance include Nifemi Marcus-Bello, Obida Obioha, and Olubunmi Adeyemi, who, like Oshinowo, were born in Nigeria and studied abroad and have since set up shop in Lagos. "Because of his [well-connected professional] background, Nifemi probably has the opportunity to get things done internationally, but he’s made a very conscious effort to have his designs made in Nigeria," Oshinowo explains.

Oshinowo cites Rele Gallery and the Temple Muse concept shop as two spaces in Lagos that have been "very intentional" about showcasing young Nigerian artists’ and designers’ work. "The entrepreneurial creative spirit is alive and well in my city," she says.

"It’s exciting to be able to celebrate your culture and create pieces using local materials within that context. Hopefully it will help a generation of Nigerians to find their voice and be proud of where they’re from."

—Tosin Oshinowo, cmDesign Atelier 

Yasmin Stools by Obida Obioha

Made of local iroko wood, the Yasmin Stool is a contemporary take on a classic. "Obida Obioha is a fashion designer and furniture maker who puts a contemporary twist on this vernacular object from the Ibo culture," Oshinowo says. "Many of the designs coming out of Lagos that I find interesting focus on materiality."

Handle Bowl, Mortar + Pestle 2, and Masai Long Spoon by Dá Brand

These kitchen utensils are key elements of Dá Brand’s Raw Urban collection. "Designer Olubunmi Adeyemi believes in taking things back to their simplest forms," Oshinowo says. "His mortar and pestle sets, spoons, and chopping boards are clean and distinct."

Spice Bowl by Dá Brand

Lagos architect Tosin Oshinowo recommends these spice bowls from Dá Brand’s Raw Urban collection.

With this hand-carved lamp, Studio Lani reinterprets the visual and tactile vocabulary of traditional igbako serving utensils. "Designer Lani Adeoye works with local artisans to create very technically accomplished pieces," Oshinowo says.

Àdùnní Collection by llé llá

The Àdùnní Àdùnní Collection by Oshinowo’s llé llá brand reflects her attention to clean lines, geometry, and angles, as well as local design history. "This chair incorporates fabric normally used in traditional dress," she says. "Using it as upholstery is something new that both honors my culture and finds a contemporary purpose for this asò-oké fashion."

Nifemi Bello of Nmbello Studio took advantage of manufacturing capabilities available in Lagos for the production of this lamp. It is made by a company that typically fabricates metal casings for electrical power generators. "What’s beautiful about Nifemi’s approach is that he makes an effort to produce his designs solely in Nigeria," Oshinowo says.

Return to Here Are the World’s Most Exciting Design Destinations—and Why You Have to Visit

Credit: Photo captions written by Adrian Madlener

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