World renowned architecture firm heads to Abuja:cheers:
Tue, 19 Aug 2008 20:20
Louis Karol is enthusiastic about his architecture firm's waterfront project in Abuja.
A new world class waterfront complex in Nigeria's capital Abuja is gaining enormous momentum. Jaco Maritz talks to Louis Karol, founder of the multi-award winning architecture firm involved with the project.
How did Louis Karol get involved with the Jabi Lake Waterfront project?
One of the major projects that we have been involved with for many years, in fact for over 20 years, is the Cape Town Waterfront. We have built many of the buildings and a lot of the things at the waterfront were motivated by us. Then we got a call from our clients Old Mutual who said they want us to go to Nigeria. They've been approached by a Nigerian firm to propose a building complex in Abuja. So we went to Abuja and saw this Jabi Lake. We saw the kind of potential that there could be, and immediately drew up a concept for it. The models were built and two weeks ago we presented to the minister and received virtually a standing ovation.
We are doing the architectural work - the design and the construction drawings – as well as project management. For each discipline we will also have a local partner, which is required by law.
What features will the waterfront complex have?
The Jabi Lake is a tremendous feature on the western end of the city and our Nigerian clients have acquired the rights to about 27 hectares of land on the edge of the lake. What is being proposed is a beautiful shopping centre, hotels, and office and residential complexes. The shopping centre will have a most impressive food court which will really become the main meeting place in Abuja. It will also feature amphitheatres, cinemas, and all the elements of design to create a place that will become the heart of the city. You will be able to come out of the hotel and jog for kilometres along the lake on a special broadwalk. You will also be able to walk into the lake on a promenade, sit down in the middle and have tea. .I believe the waterfront will be a major happening in the social and commercial life of Abuja.
When do you expect the project to be finished?
I think it is probably a ten year project, I mean it is enormous in size. But I would really like to think that the first stage - the shopping centre, a five star hotel, a three star hotel, and the beginnings of the residential and the office complex - will be on-stream in about three years. We hope to break ground sometime in September or October this year. It is gaining an enormous amount of momentum.
The architects of The Palms shopping centre in Lagos said in an article that they had to simplify their designs because of the inexperience of Nigerian construction firms in building complicated designs? Are you also taking local construction limitations into account for your design?
No, we are designing a world class building.:cheers: I really don't believe that they can't do it. The chairman of the Nigerian company we are dealing with read philosophy and economics at Oxford, he read law at Cambridge, he read business at Harvard. Nigeria is a country with a population of 150 million and has fantastic people. It is just a matter of the right organisation and the right motivation. I'll be very, very surprised, and I'll be very, very disappointed if there aren't local firms able to do what we need them to do.
Have you already secured anchor tenants for the shopping centre?
Well that is all in the process now. We've have received interest from South African tenants and from various line shops. And they'll be talking to traders in Nigeria and I'm sure they'll be talking to traders in London.
And how do you find it working with Duval, the Nigerian partner?
Duval are the local partners who conceived the scheme per se. I think they are absolutely fantastic - highly sophisticated, educated and cosmopolitan people. They respect you, and of course, when a client handles you in that manner, you become better, you become more enthusiastic, you become more creative.
What do you see as some of the challenges in completing this project?
I don’t think it is any different to any other project. When we started the shopping centre at the Cape Town Waterfront, nobody believed in it. We wanted Woolworths to open a shop in the complex and the, now deceased, MD of Woolworths said it will never work. How terribly wrong he was. Will there be obstacles in the way? Absolutely, but then what scheme doesn't have obstacles. Will we have to be more pro-active? Absolutely. Will we have to think out of the box? Absolutely, but that is all part of the fun.
Do you foresee Nigeria's electricity problems affecting this project in any way?
Oh absolutely, we will be generating our own electricity on site that will cope with outages of at least two and a half days. We will be using Abuja power, but when that is down we will have a full standby power. Interestingly, the Koreans I understand are building a huge power station in Abuja which will be powered by gas. I believe that contract is actually on the way now.
Why do think so many South African companies have entered the Nigerian market, compared to those from America or Europe?
The advantage that South Africans enjoy is that we relatively understand Africa. South Africa is being used by foreign firms as the engine to go into Africa. Why did China buy into Standard Bank? It is easier for Standard Bank to go into Africa than for a Chinese bank. We've always been a small country and we've become experts in adapting. When you go into Africa you have to think out of the box.
Why will this project be a success?
The reason why I think we are going to be successful is first of all in our office we have a team of very talented and very dedicated people. It is also fantastic to have Old Mutual behind this project with all their experience and muscle. And it would appear to me that they have a partner in Nigeria who are just fantastic people. I don't have a minute's doubt in my mind this is not going to revolutionise the town. Next time you go to Abuja, go spend an evening in the lobby of the Hilton Hotel and watch the people. Watch how they are dressed, watch how they behave and then you'll know what fantastic potential there is in Nigeria.