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Museum & Garden in Ilorin, Kwara State - In Conversation With The Team

February 2, 2022

A conversation between Tilewa Adeoye and the design team behind the new museum and garden project in Ilorin

CLIENT: Kwara State Government
ARCHITECT: Studio Contra
DESIGN TEAM: Jeffrey, Olayinka, Yemi, Ndukwe              

Renowned for its pottery and textiles and home to the first ever Nigerian museum (the Esiẹ Museum), Kwara state is on the verge of an urban and artistic revival. This revitalisation is already underway with the construction of The Institute of Contemporary African Art and Film, another Studio Contra-designed project that was conceived by the Kwara State Governor, His Excellency, Abdul Rahman Abdul Razaq as a “standalone architectural and urban expression to align Kwara’s rich cultural heritage with its ongoing urbanization.”

In the same vein, Ilorin Museum & Garden is intended to be an iconic addition to the art scene; one that will potentially compete with Lagos in attracting visitors from across the country, and perhaps inspire a similar revival in other states while promoting  pan-African collaboration. “This project will undoubtedly put Kwara and Ilorin on the map in a new way.”, says Yemi Ogunleye, the project lead. To provide the general public information on this project, the design team shared their thoughts during an in-house project review session.

You are currently working on the Ilorin Museum and Garden. What was the brief of the project?

Yemi: The brief was to design and build an iconic regional museum in the centre of Ilorin, the capital of Kwara State, that can attract visitors from around Nigeria and West Africa to view ancient art and regional artefacts, both old and new. Furthermore, we were asked to retain and restore one of the existing buildings on site, an old structure that was the office of the first ever governor of Kwara State when the state was first constituted in 1967, seven years after national independence. In fact, this small, unassuming and now decrepit building is the reason the selected site was chosen for the museum project. The museum is also an avenue for preserving and redeveloping an old, architectural piece of Kwara State heritage and giving it new life. 


Exterior View of The Museum Adjacent To Original Colonial Era Building

From your perspective as the architects, what is the relationship between art and culture and how does architecture play into this?

Olayinka: Architecture can be a frame or receptacle for culture, in the same way that a frame holds and circumscribes a painting. Without imposing itself, it can create a bounded environment that can help us to become attentive  and sensitive to art and receptive to its cultural meanings. 

What is Studio Contra’s ethos and design process? Was the approach the same for the Ilorin Museum & Garden project?

Jeffrey: Our goal is always to deliver timeless spaces that are beautiful and elegant in their expression. We emphasise three aspects in every project: Concept - using the brief and site to inform a conceptual foundation for the project that has depth, integrity and clarity; Culture - wherever possible we consider the context of our work and its meaning as an artefact within an existing culture; and finally, Craft - our work is bespoke and carefully crafted. We work hard to resolve complex details in each aspect of the project and try to be sensitive to the material palette of each space. Although projects may vary in their scope, we ensure that these three elements of our work are given the right attention.

What was the concept behind the proposed design?

Yemi: The concept was to wrap the exhibition spaces around a central courtyard that would become the inner heart of the building, while other parts of the plan could shoot outward to connect with other parts of the site and beyond. The building is composed of three sections which relate to program: a medium height public gallery, lobby and conference area with full views to the inner courtyard and forecourts, a grand exhibition section (9m tall double height space illuminated by a skylight with occasional views into the courtyard and side gardens, and a tall viewing tower (16m tall) with views of the whole site and beyond to the city. For the old Governor’s office, we designed a restoration and upgrade for the building which maintains the language of the original while infusing it with a new program.

Defining The Building Position From Site Context

What is the total area of the key sections of the project?

Jeffrey: The different parts of the project and their corresponding areas are: Museum Building - approx. 2,400 sqm; Welcome Centre - approx. 300sqm; Landscaped Spaces - 2,700 sqm; Back of House and Utility Space - approx. 350sqm.

You are often involved in projects that fall within accessibility and public space realms. What is the reason for your keen interest in these areas?

Olayinka: For the simple reason that designing buildings that are accessible to the public allows us to reach a wider audience with our architecture and hopefully, have a bigger impact on shaping the cultural narrative and heritage of our cities and creating a shared sense of 'civic-ness'.

View of Lower Exhibition Space Displaying Artefacts

View of The Grand Exhibition Hall

What does public space mean in a city like Ilorin? Do you see potential for tremendous improvement on the current state of affairs?

Jeffrey: We don’t think there is nearly enough public space or green space in our Nigerian cities; Ilorin is no exception. These spaces provide much needed psychological respite from the stressful demands of normal urban and commercial activity. They also provide nodes for community engagement and give identity and definition to cities. We are encouraged that Kwara State is interested in preserving some space for greenery and cultural activity within the city and hope to see other major Nigerian cities doing the same.

Logics of Massing and Form Evolution

The Museum is to be built using reinforced pigmented concrete and brick. What informed the materiality?

Olayinka: We have chosen materials that have an inherent mass and heft to them. This is for practical as well as symbolic reasons. This is a public building housing a new institution and we wanted it to appear very grounded in the land and permanent; as though it had been there for a long time and would remain. The pigmented concrete and brick are meant to complement each other and evoke earth-tones which further root the building in place. In fact, we have plans to manufacture the bricks locally, using local clay. Practically speaking, the mass of the walls allow for better insulated interior spaces with a stable, cool temperature. Finally, these are materials that do not require finishing or applique - they are themselves the final expression, and weather very well over time; requiring minimal maintenance and no painting or rendering at all.  

What is one technical detail that is integral to this project?

Yemi: We designed a skylight to run the entire length of the main exhibition spaces, a total of  47m X 2.7m. This is the main source of natural light for the interior and presents something of a technical challenge to detail correctly so that it brings light deep into the space without allowing excessive heat gain or sun damage to sensitive works.

Museums are usually tailored to specific themes. Has the theme for the Ilorin Museum been decided?

Jeffrey: The museum will showcase ancient artefacts such as the Esie soapstone figures originating from Kwara, indigenous textiles, traditional art and important archaeological artefacts. The institution will occasionally display collections from other cultures and histories within Nigeria as part of its temporary exhibitions and will highlight new works as well. 

Reception and Entrances Overlooking Courtyard

Will the Museum be state-funded?

Olayinka: Yes it will be and it is expected that, just like the Palais de Lomé, this will spur considerable expansion of art and cultural activities across multiple levels.

When is the expected commencement/completion of building works?

Olayinka: The project will go to tender at some point this year, 2022, after which the contract will be awarded and construction will begin. 


When we first received an explanation of the design at the first meeting with the architects, we were mostly thrilled about the use of pigmented reinforced concrete walls and brick and excited to bring it to life. We were also very impressed with the voluminous amount of necessary information and architectural concept drawings we were presented with. Upon first glance, the design task was presumed to be simple but we quickly realised the technicality of the design. The most challenging aspect of the design was the coordination of the structural roof concept with the M&E service items within a restricted shared space.

Museum & Garden, Kwara is one of the most important projects to be built in Kwara in years and we are excited about this addition to the cultural and architectural landscape of the State, and Nigeria as a whole.

View from Public Courtyard Garden

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