Demas Nwoko is a renowned Nigerian architect and the recipient of the Golden Lion Lifetime Achievement Award of the Venice Architecture Biennale 2023. The awardees are decided by the Venice Architecture Biennale board of directors at the inauguration of the exhibition on May 20, 2023. The renowned architect is known for his architectural and artistic contributions to our society.
Prince Demas Nwoko, born in the year 1935, belongs to an area of Idumuje Ugboko located in Nigeria. The area located in the North local government area of Delta State belongs to Obi (King) Nwoko II. He was brought up and inspired by a place that inspired him to take up architecture, and he grew up appreciating his town and family who have designed structures. In 1956, he pursued his education in fine arts at the College of Arts, Science, and Technology.
After receiving a scholarship from the Congress of Cultural Freedom, he pursued further studies in scenic design at the Centre Français du Theatre in Paris. He was a lecturer at the University of Ibadan and a publisher for the New Culture Magazine.
The Venice Biennale 2023 is curated by Lesley Lokko who is a renowned architectural educator and academic. The exhibition was held in Venice from the 20th of May 2023 to the 26th of November 2023. The exhibition is divided into six parts with 89 participants showcasing exhibits that focus on futuristic designs. The prime focus of the installation is to utilize the most important tool known to mankind “Imagination” to create exhibits showcasing the future of design.
“For the first time ever, the spotlight has fallen on Africa and the African Diaspora, that fluid and enmeshed culture of people of African descent that now straddles the globe. What do we wish to say? How will what we say to change anything? And, perhaps most importantly of all, how will what we say to interact with and infuse what ‘others’ say, so that the exhibition is not a single story, but multiple stories that reflect the vexing, gorgeous kaleidoscope of ideas, contexts, aspirations, and meanings that is every voice responding to the issues of its time?”Lesley Lokko, the curator of Venice Architecture Biennale 2023
Demas Nwoko’s architectural designs
Listed below are five iconic architectural works designed by Demas Nwoko:
1. Dominican Chapel | Ibadan
The Dominican Chapel designed by the renowned Nigerian Architect is a landmark structure of Ibadan, situated on a hilltop. The design of the entire complex reflects African tradition in a contemporary architectural style. The design of the chapel is inspired by the Yoruba hut. Demas Nwoko was also a renowned artist so his architecture is an example of expressive design with artistic touch. The interiors of the chapel reflect detailed work (Column carvings, etc.) which has been specifically designed for the space. The space has been lit by a central skylight region in the chapel. The interior structure is supported by 12 pillars representing the 12 disciples of Christ.
2. Oba Akenzua Cultural Centre | Benin City
The performance and exhibition center was designed by renowned Nigerian designer Demas Nwoko. The cultural center is in Benin City near a palace in Nigeria. The structure was initially designed as a University of Benin theatre in 1972. In the later years, it became a government-funded structure that opened in 1973. The architecture and exterior of the structure are inspired by Benin Cities’ traditional aristocratic architecture. Local Red clay exterior architecture created in a cast sandcrete cast (Nwoko’s design – Mix of cement, pebble-filled laterite soil, and sand). The curved theatre of the structure has a seating capacity of 200-700.
3. Demas Nwoko’s Private Villa | Idumuje-Ugboko
Demas Nwoko’s home and studio located in Idumuje – Ugboko is an example of architecture that showcases Nwoko’s design and artistry. The structure has taken inspiration from the elements and planning of the Roman Impluvium courtyard. The traditional habitat that is comfortable yet adequate is achieved in the tropics with modern material applications. The house consists of a central light well cladded in fiberglass that brings about natural sunlight and rainwater. The structure is an example of traditional elements integrated into modern design and application.
4. New Culture Studio | Ibadan
New Culture Studio is located in Ibadan and designed by Demas Nwoko. The material utilized for construction integrates traditional and modern ideas. The school was named the New Culture Studio for Arts and Design as the school focuses on engaging and looking at surrounding conditions. The school was a medium through which Nwoko aimed to create a school to begin to think together. Nwoko believed that the culture should be preserved through construction as each region has its own culture. The architecture and the structures we build should adapt to our needs and our culture.
5. Benedictine Monastery | Ewu (Edo State)
The Benedictine Monastery located in Ewu (Edo State) is designed by Demas Nwoko. The Monastery is a Catholic Church monastery belonging to the Order of Saint Benedict. The structure is designed to be a retreat center that portrays African architecture integrated with the religious sanctity of space. The interiors of the spaces have been well-lit by central skylights which have been utilized in several projects by Nwoko. The monastery designed as a retreat centre can accommodate about 50 guests.