Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement 2023 awarded to Nigerian artist-designer Demas Nwoko
We caught up with the recipient of the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement 2023 at the Biennale Architettura, Nigerian artist-designer Demas Nwoko
Nigerian artist-designer Demas Nwoko has won the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement 2023, an honour offered by the Biennale Architettura in every edition, and the award was presented to him in Venice at the event's grand opening. The artist, architect and designer has excelled in a range of creative fields throughout his long career – he was born in in 1935 in Idumuje-Ugboko, a rural town in southern Nigeria. Now, his pioneering work has been acknowledged internationally as the Venice Architecture Biennale 2023 celebrated Nwoko during the global event's opening days. The distinction was announced upon the recommendation of curator Lesley Lokko and following the approval of La Biennale’s board of directors chaired by Roberto Cicutto.
Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement 2023 winner: Demas Nwoko
The 88-year-old Nwoko said that he 'hoped his body of work helps build a foundation for the future' for young architects today practising in Nigeria, and beyond. His explorations in the vernacular of his region, as well as in sustainable architecture, are inspiring and indeed propose ways of working with local materials and climate in a way that feels timeless – and resonates with today's architectural discourse around environmentally friendly building. He still works today, saying: 'I still want to improve on what I did, not just the design but on the technology of building. Whatever I work on – art, design, architecture – comes from the same process of creativity. The aesthetics must also include function, and today that is often forgotten.'
Lokko said at the award's announcement recently: 'One of the central themes of the 18th International Architecture Exhibition is an approach to architecture as an “expanded” field of endeavours, encompassing both the material and immaterial worlds; a space in which ideas are as important as artefacts, particularly in the service of what is yet to come. With all of its emphasis on the future, however, it seems entirely fitting that the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement 2023 should be awarded to someone whose material works span the past 70 years, but whose immaterial legacy – approach, ideas, ethos – is still in the process of being evaluated, understood and celebrated.'
She continued: 'Although relatively few, Nwoko’s buildings in Nigeria fulfil two critical roles. They are forerunners of the sustainable, resource-mindful, and culturally authentic forms of expression now sweeping across the African continent – and the globe – and they point towards the future, no mean achievement for someone whose work is still largely unknown, even at home. In 1977, writing about Nwoko’s first commission, to build the complex for the Dominican Institute in Ibadan, the architectural critic Noel Moffett wrote: 'Here, under a tropical sun, architecture and sculpture combine in a way which only Gaudí perhaps, among architects, has been able to do so convincingly'.'
Ellie Stathaki is the Architecture Editor at Wallpaper*. She trained as an architect at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece and studied architectural history at the Bartlett in London. Now an established journalist, she has been a member of the Wallpaper* team since 2006, visiting buildings across the globe and interviewing leading architects such as Tadao Ando and Rem Koolhaas. Ellie has also taken part in judging panels, moderated events, curated shows and contributed in books, such as The Contemporary House (Thames & Hudson, 2018) and Glenn Sestig Architecture Diary (2020).
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