Aga Khan Program Lecture: Tosin Oshinowo, “Aṣẹ: Intentional Contextuality and Adaptability in Design”

A gray building with a facade of solar panels is behind a person wearing blue.

A recording of this event is available with audio description.

Event Description

Lagos-based Nigerian architect, designer, and curator of the 2023 Sharjah Architecture Triennial  – Tosin Oshinowo is renowned for insights into socially-responsive approaches to urbanism and design. In her talk for GSD, she will address the importance of considering context in design and embracing local solutions, which have roots in often overlooked techniques and traditions that have been with us for centuries.  She questions how these techniques and ways of understanding the world from the Global South can lend themselves as solutions to the global challenges posed by resource extraction and climate change.   

The 2023 Sharjah Architecture Triennial, titled –  The Beauty of Impermanence: An Architecture of Adaptability, explores how practitioners across the Global South employ contextual and contemporary techniques to build a world that is can be more sustainable, more equitable, and more community-oriented than the standard practices celebrated by the canon. Tosin will unpack some of the core themes emerging in the development of the Triennial, spotlighting architects and designers who will be included and whose work is emblematic of the approach to materiality, adaptability, and impermanence that is a cultural imperative across the Global South, and a fresh perceptive for the field at large. 

Exploring techniques, materials and concepts from her context in West Africa – including the Yoruba philosophical concept of Aṣẹ, which references the order to effect change and adapt as a fundamental principle for our existence – Oshinowo will demonstrate how she considers context in her designs, share her inspirations, and give insights into how a more intentional approach to design can build a collectively progressive future for us all.  Illuminating her own local inspirations, she will delve into historic and often overlooked examples from indigenous solutions and tropical modernism, including the work of Alan Vaughn-Richards, alongside building techniques and design traditions from her native Yoruba culture, demonstrating how these influences have impacted her practice from high-end residential projects, to furniture design, to her work with the United Nations Development Programme in Northeast Nigeria, building an entirely new community for a village displaced by Boko Haram. 

AIA members who attend this event may be eligible for continuing education units. Please reach out to [email protected] if you are interested.


Headshot of Tosin Oshinowo, who wears a blue shirt and blue glasses.Tosin Oshinowo is a Lagos-based Nigerian architect and designer renowned for her expansive residential and commercial spaces, and insights into socially-responsive approaches to urbanism. Grounded in a deep respect for Yoruba culture and history and coming from a markedly African context, Oshinowo’s designs embody a contemporary perspective on the next generation of African design and afro-minimalism: a responsive reflection of the past, present, and future of architecture and design that prioritizes sustainability, resilience, and poise. She is also the curator of the 2023 Sharjah Architecture Triennial.

As an architect, Oshinowo is best known as the founder and principal of cmDesign Atelier (cmD+A), established in 2012. Based in Lagos, the practice has undertaken a number of predominant civic projects, including the design of the Maryland Mall, as well as a wide range of residential projects, including luminous beach houses on the coast of the oceanside city. Her interest in architecture extends into a broader vision of urbanism and community as well; she is currently working on a project with the United Nations Development Programme in Northeast Nigeria, building an entire new community for a village displaced by Boko Haram.

Prior to founding cmD+A, she worked in the offices of Skidmore Owings & Merrill in London and the Office of Metropolitan Architecture Rotterdam, where she was part of the team that designed the 4th Mainland Bridge proposal in 2008. Upon returning to Lagos, she practiced at James Cubitt Architects and led on notable projects including the master plan and corporate head office building for Nigeria LNG in Port Harcourt.

As a product designer, her work is primarily focused on the design of chairs; in 2017, she created Ilé-Ilà, which means House of Lines in her native Yoruba language. A luxury brand, Ilé-Ilà chairs are made to order, designed and handmade in Lagos and has been featured as a highlight of contemporary African furniture design in publications around the world, including Harper’s Bazaar Interiors April 2018, Elle Decor January 2020, and Grazia online June 2020.

Oshinowo’s work also spans into the conceptual sphere, with a strong interest in architectural history and socially-responsive approaches to architecture, design, and urbanism, underpinned by a passion for supporting African design and innovation. In 2020, she partnered with Lexus on conceptual design explorations for Design Miami/, and written prolifically on urbanism, afro modernism, design, and identity in publications including Expansions, a publication as part of the 2021 Venice Architecture Biennale and Omenka Online, a topic also explored in her TEDxPortHarcourt talk in November 2017. She also co-curated the second Lagos Biennial titled How to build a Lagoon from a bottle of Wine? in 2019.

Oshinowo is a registered Architect in the Federal Republic of Nigeria and a member of the Royal Institute of the British Architects, with design and architectural degree from Kingston College in London, a masters degree in urban design in development from the Bartlett School of Architecture, a Diploma in Architecture from the Architecture Association London, and an MBA for Architecture and Design from IE University. She has won numerous awards, including 3rd City People Real Estate Awards for Architect of the Year 2017 and the Lord’s Achievers Awards for Creativity, in celebration of World Achievers day 2019.

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