At the heart of architectural innovation and cultural reconnection, Regenerative power by Gbolade Design Studio appears as a symbol of transformation during the 18th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia. This captivating exhibition embarks on an in-depth exploration of how architecture can connect time and space, thanks to the redevelopment of the Lloyd Leon Community Center (LLCC) in Brixton, London like his canvas. Through a captivating narrative that delves into history, unites contemporary communities and inspires future generations, Regenerative power transcends traditional boundaries.
The exhibition is part of The laboratory of the futurea curation by Lesley Lokko which highlights some of the world’s most influential African and African diaspora practitioners. contemporary architecture. Nestled within the Dangerous connection section of the architecture festival, housed in the Arsenale complex, Gbolade Design Studio represents one of three visionary “experimental” practices selected by Lokko. These practices share a common mission: to redefine our understanding of decolonized knowledge and production. In an exclusive interview with STIR, Gbolade Design Studio co-founding directors Tara Gbolade and Lanre Gbolade talk about the inner workings of their groundbreaking facility, Regenerative power and its importance in the context of this year’s edition Venice Architecture Biennale 2023.
“Our installation is called Regenerative power, begins Tara. “The reason for the name is deeply rooted in our experience with the Lloyd Leon Community Center (LLCC) project in Brixton, London. We were commissioned by Lambeth Council to redevelopment of this community center alongside a collaborative team including Urban Symbiotic and Green Tea Architects. In doing so, we were deeply inspired by the people we met at Dominoe’s Club and the Soup Kitchen. They energized us every time we interacted with them, teaching us the game of dominoes, sharing meals, and instilling in us a sense of empowerment. This immersive installations is our tribute to their community.”
Lanre further developed the refinement of their architectural practice. “We wanted to move away from the conventional approach of evaluating a site solely in terms of physical constraints, mass or context. Our perspective puts people, place and community at the forefront of our design process. By first understanding the community, the physical structure of our architecture emerges naturally,” he says.
In their design philosophy, the term “regenerative” takes on meaning beyond its architectural context, as Tara points out, their inspiration is deeply rooted in the broader themes of decolonization and decarbonization. Recognizing the empowerment that comes from understanding the history and culture of the communities they collaborate with, Tara says this understanding deeply influences their work. Their latest project, which revolved around a West Indian community deeply linked to the history of West Africa dating back to pre-colonial times, presents itself as a vivid illustration drawing of their approach. In their interactions with these communities, it was not simply a one-sided exchange of forces and knowledge, as Lanre explains. They engaged in a process of mutual empowerment throughout their design journey. By actively engaging with the Brixton Soup Kitchen and Dominoe’s Club, they immersed themselves in the collective stories, joys and challenges that have shaped these communities.
The installation comprises two finely woven elements, one is an exploration of the deconstructed elements of the building and the other is a representation of their design methodology. Their approach uses a systems mapping strategy, linking various elements, relationships and notes. Inside the installation, Nsibidi ideograms are presented, an ancient form of graphic communication originating in West Africa in the 5th century, well before colonization. Tara and Lanre passionately expand on the interdependence of their design, starting with “place.” The Lloyd Leon Community Center in Brixton faces challenges including heavy traffic and poor air quality. Given that London sees more than 9,000 deaths annually due to poor air quality alone, their design incorporates innovative features such as foam walls to purify the air.
The community aspect is another crucial dimension. Dominoe’s Club and Brixton Soup Kitchen became integral parts of LLCC, fostering a sense of unity and empowerment among their diverse members. Domino’s in particular serves as a unifying force, transcending horizons and bringing people together. To deepen the roots of the community, Gbolade Design Studio has established connections with vital organizations such as the Black Cultural Archives and the Africa Centre. These institutions help preserve and share the rich history and heritage of the Black community in United Kingdom.
Sound plays an essential role in the installation’s narrative. The architects understand the vibrant atmosphere of Dominoe’s Club, where the shuffling of dominoes is a powerful symbol of energy and unity. To keep this spirit alive while being respectful to the neighboring community, materials like cork are used strategically to amplify the sounds of the dominoes and reduce impact noise.
In the broader context of decarbonization, the studio’s choice of materials reflects its commitment to innovation and sustainability. They explore regenerative materials that emphasize reuse and circular economies. From acoustic wall panels made from recycled materials to foam walls and recycled wood elements, each choice aligns with the goal of minimizing environmental impact.
Regenerative power by Gbolade Design Studio encapsulates a profound shift in architectural thinking where community and history take precedence over traditional site-centric approaches. Tara and Lanre are not simple architects; they are storytellers, weaving tales of empowerment and transformation through their creations. It’s a reminder that architecture can be a force for positive change, embodying the regenerative power of design.