Tosin Oshinowo’s cmDesign Atelier is a cultural powerhouse

cmDesign Atelier from Nigeria is part of our series of profiles of architects, spatial designers and builders shaping West Africa's architectural future

UNDP Project Ngarannam by cmdesign atelier
(Image credit: Tino Chiwariro)

CmDesign Atelier founder, Tosin Oshinowo, is a multitasking powerhouse – and as she starts listing her recent creative exploits, it is clear that the Lagos-based architect has been busy. ‘I am an architect first, though I am involved in other aspects of the creative industry,’ she explains. ‘I head up an architecture studio, which employs ten architects, designers and project managers. I have a furniture line called Ilé-Ilà, for which we design and produce contemporary pieces using Indigenous fabrics. I sit on the board for the Lagos Theatre Festival and co-curated the 2019 Lagos Biennial, themed ‘How to build a lagoon with just a bottle of wine?’ And I am currently curating the 2023 Sharjah Architecture Triennial, titled ‘The beauty of impermanence: an architecture of adaptability’. 

exterior view of Coral Pavilion by tosin oshinowo


West African studios: cmDesign Atelier

Educated in the UK, Oshinowo feels her work is ‘grounded in a deep respect for my native Yoruba culture, with a desire to celebrate the history, knowledge and traditions of my context in West Africa,’ she says. Fusing modernism with the African context has been a life-long project for her. This has resulted in work that she describes as ‘afro-minimalist’, celebrating West African design and culture, and supporting and promoting the region’s rich traditions. It is exactly this approach that becomes the thread that runs through all her seemingly disparate projects, uniting them all under a single creative force. 

‘Whether I am curating the Triennial and shedding light on other practices from the region, building new housing for a community displaced by Boko Haram with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in north-east Nigeria, or designing beach houses and furniture – everything I do is to celebrate the people, culture, talent and traditions of my region,’ she says. ‘I aim to demonstrate to the world that we are an overlooked significant potential, with solutions, practices and ideas that are missing from the global conversation as a vanguard of the field.’

Render of shading at UNDP Ngarannam

(Image credit: courtesy UNDP and Tosin Oshinowo)

Her design portfolio spans from lush residences, to an upcoming retail interior for Adidas, and a recently completed project for the UNDP in Borno, Nigeria, which involved the master plan and design of a new town settlement for a displaced community. Oshinowo’s portfolio is nothing if not diverse. She picks the Lexus International commission for Design Miami 2020 as a defining moment in her career. ‘[It] amplified my international profile and allowed me to explore and showcase my skills and interests in culturally relevant and contextual design,  which my practice has become known for,’ she says.  

lexus freedom to move project by tosin oshinowo

(Image credit: cmdesign atelier)

This variety and cross-pollination between disciplines, scales and contexts feels crucial for Oshinowo. ‘After all, architecture doesn’t exist in a vacuum,’ she adds, while stressing the potential architecture has when it comes to working with its surroundings. ‘I believe there is a need for architecture to produce more contextually relevant buildings that draw inspiration from their locality, but also adapt to work in harmony with the environment and climate. Air conditioning is the single most deviating invention to the contextual development of design in my location. Considering our challenges with climate change, we need to re-think our response to how we make our buildings habitable.’ 

UNDP Project Ngarannam

(Image credit: cmdesign atelier)

West African studios: the series

From Senegal to Nigeria, and from Niger to the Ivory Coast, West Africa is vast and brimming with potential. A powerful mix of peoples and cultures, and in some nations, exponential demographic and economic growth, makes this part of the world a locus of change. The result? A dynamic new generation of studios that operate in the architecture realm and push the boundaries of their field to a promising future. Architects, spatial designers and builders converge here to create a unique, rich melting pot of fresh thinking and innovation that will no doubt reshape the way we think about architecture globally.

A version of this story appears in January 2023 Wallpaper*, The Future Issue, available now in print, on the Wallpaper* app on Apple iOS, and to subscribers of Apple News +. Subscribe to Wallpaper* today

Ellie Stathaki is the Architecture & Environment Director 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), Glenn Sestig Architecture Diary (2020) and House London (2022).