Ever since I was young, I can remember I could draw things to the delight of my playmates. At school, our art teachers would find my drawings impressive and would be encouraging towards my getting formal training about it. I was so good at it that I would make pencil and other medium artworks that soon started to get me little commissions from individuals or couples who would request that I draw their silhouettes, busts or other artworks for them to decorate their homes and offices with.
When I finished high school I was admitted into college to do a pre-degree course, at the end of which I applied to read architecture, but my scores were too low for me to be given the course. Instead, I was offered another course different from what I had chosen. Young, enthusiastic and optimistic, with the whole future ahead of me, I bluntly rejected it. So, I returned back home.
My Plan B was to pursue a diploma in architecture from a polytechnic, then go back to the university, to read a degree so as to graduate as an architect and exploit my creative ability in designs and arts. It was while I was waiting to be re-admitted to continue pursuing my ambition that a big brother of mine suggested that since I was gifted with a good command of English, I should go and do a stint as a radio presenter/dj at the new FM radio station being test-transmitted, which was about to be commissioned.
And that was how I got introduced to the world of broadcasting. A small stint ended up becoming a full blown engagement and the media bug bit and infected me for life, never to be cured. When the academic year returned for me to apply for my degree course, instead of applying to read my original passion, I applied into 2 different institutions. One for architecture and the other for… mass communication. I was that infected.
I got admitted to read the diploma in architecture at the polytechnic, with the degree in mass communications changed by the university, again, to another course. Much as I was willing to become a professional media person, I indulged in studying my architecture with zeal, excelling to be admitted to earn a bachelor of sciences degree and later a master of sciences in the university. So, what did I do with my journalistic abilities?
Well, I continued my internship as a broadcaster throughout my architectural education pursuit. I continued my radio programs productions and presentations under the watchful eyes of professional broadcasters at the FM station, thus learning-on-the-job to become a household name in my home city of Kano and environs.
And by the time I graduated and came back to the media scene, a full trained architect, my radio colleagues, some formally trained too as graduates of mass communications wanted me with them to start a communication company SoundWord & Sight Communications, which we did to render media services to private as well as corporate clients.
And that is what eventually brings up the title of this piece on Architectural Journalism. “What is architectural journalism?” one of them asked me, after I told them that was what I intended to practice in our newly incorporated organization. Till this day, many are still asking me the same question, how can an architect be a journalist all at the same time?
Traditionally, you are either an architect who designs and supervises construction of buildings and built external areas surrounding it or you are a journalist, who engages in gathering and dissemination of information to the public through a mass medium. But you can definitely not be both. So many, even in both professions, ignorantly think and some even believe this notion.
Most have never heard of the term architectural journalism. And to demonstrate in practical terms what I meant and thus prove my claim of being an architectural journalist, I conceived, developed, produced and presented a radio program title ‘Paradise Earth’, which first got aired on Radio Kano II 89.3 FM in 2001.
It was a production that dwelt on educating, informing and enlightening the listeners about architecture, designs and the built environment where man lives, works and plays. It aimed to teach people how to take advantage of their internal and external environment, based on information and knowledge, thus maximizing to the fullest the benefits of living environment, thereby simulating a piece of “paradise” here on earth as the program’s name implies.
The twice weekly episode was beginning to gather momentum when I got employed by M. T. Waziri & Partners belonging to Arc. Musa T. Waziri (late) of the former Ella & Waziri Associates fame and had to move from Kano to the biggest construction site in Africa then, the Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria, the city of Abuja as a resident architect on some multi-billion naira projects, which included Nigeria Re-Insurance Headquarters, Ministry of Justice building and the Military of Defense Cenotaph for the architectural firm.
While in Abuja, words got around that the popular radio presenter cum architect, yours truly was then living in the city and offers were made by some media outfits for me to come and start a program or two about architecture and buildings generally on their airwaves. But in order not to excite my employers, as well as be able to concentrate on my scheduled responsibilities, I unceremoniously declined. It was only after I returned back to Kano, that I finally resigned my appointment to eventually continue practicing my chosen career of interest, in what is now formally called architectural journalism.
Sadly, like I said earlier many do not know about this exciting specialized field of communication. It is usually studied as a post-graduate program by persons with one form of architectural training or another. Often qualified architects, with the talent and passion for writing, instead of following convention, that is, sit in a studio, design buildings and structures, manage construction sites and supervise building projects, would choose to write about architecture and buildings, landscape and the environment, telling their stories in a manner and technicality only architects can express to the reading, listening or watching public.
So, what do they do? Architectural journalists, sometimes referred to as Design journalists (DJs) usually engage in reporting, documenting, making technical analysis, critiquing, writing articles etc about all aspects of the design profession, buildings construction, landscapes and the environment for both print (newspapers, magazines, newsletters, advertorials etc) and electronic (radio, television and now internet programs) media houses.
Architectural journalists contribute immensely in disseminating information about developmental project and its short and long term impact on the community. They partake in introduction and institution of very important governmental policies as regard buildings. These journalists enlighten the populace about building codes and ethics and also document for history and posterity, matters that affect the built environment.
They inform about new designs, design means, digital software and packages, while educating the society about innovative approaches and modern techniques of construction. These architects tell others about existing as well as new technological advancements as it relates to new building materials and ways etc. Thus, this is clearly a niche in the field of journalism, only people with special background knowledge on the subject matter can best deliver.
Specialized publications on architecture, interior decorations, landscapes and gardening, building accessories, properties etc such as Architectural Digest, Architectural Records, The Architect and many other homes, houses and offices related local, national and international magazines are owned, edited, produced and published by formally trained architects, who train further as journalists, with a passion for writing and informing about designs and the built environment.
In some instances, non-architect journalists, who have never had any training with regards to architecture, but have keen interest in writing about buildings and environmental projects, are usually assigned on bits by editors in various media houses, could decide to acquire the necessary qualifications such as a post-graduate diploma or a master degree in architectural journalism, so as to sound professional and highly technical in their reporting.
So, the next time you hear about the term architectural journalism or you meet someone introduced to you as an architectural journalist, do not find it amusing or even funny. You might just be exposing your ignorance about a profession that is highly recognized in advanced countries, so much so, presidential award ceremonies are organized to honor these special breeds of architects cum journalists. For, there are architects and there are journalists and in-between the two divides, there are architectural journalists.