Romarick Atoke, the hut builder

Someone once said: “Africans do not need a degree in architecture to build cabins.” I would have liked to see that person discover Romarick Atoke for who Architecture is like a second skin, and who build a lot of things not only cabins. Entrepreneur, architect, Beninese, young, passionate and committed, aren’t all these adjectives featuring perfectly Romarick Atoke?

For hours we have been talking about clay, urbanism planning, acoustics, and land development, so that by leaving I had not the same perception of space. I could see him now in a more aesthetic, more calculated manner.

Forbes identified him as one of the thirty young people changing Africa today, the one who by his actions answers a big question: “What do you do for your country?” Romarick asked me another big question: “How can we build a country without architects? I suggest you to discover that young Beninese, who in the literal sense, adds its contribution to the development of our country and of the whole continent.

How can we build a country without architects? Click To Tweet

A Benin architect with only is 30 years old. It is what we can call a quite atypical profile. Why did you choose such a little known profession in a country where the master builders are omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent?

The choice was made naturally, but with the help of my father also. Earthbound, because since my childhood with my brothers and sisters, we used to go to spend our holidays on the farm to travel kilometers to the fields and sometimes to weed and harvest seeds. This is also where the love for the land came to me and I succumbed.

We need masons. But also we need professionals for the design and implementation of innovative projects, with architectural identity and designed according to the codes of conduct.

Do you think Architecture is a “White craft and job”?

Not at all! It’s a job for all. And besides, one might appeal to “white” to design a project in Africa; but they can’t do it correctly without a narrow collaboration with a local or regional architect. To design a project it is important to know the territory and the built environment in which it fits the habits and manners as well as sensitivity of users, etc…

We should avoid copying and pasting architectural. Western architecture is not necessarily suited to the realities of tropical Africa. Does a White need to cook fufu on his terrace? We must be able to adapt foreign expertise to local realities. And for that reason, a local professional is capable and skilled to design.

Western architecture is not necessarily suited to the realities of tropical Africa Click To Tweet

Romarick Atoke, Irawo

Today you are an architect and Entrepreneur. But it all started in Coulibaly Technical high school Coulibaly with a vocational Training Certificate (CAP) in help designing.

Indeed, I have studied at Coulibaly Technical High school in Benin, and my studies  were crowned by a Vocational Training Certificate (VTC) of Help designer  and Building Quantity Surveyor, and after a high school diploma  in civil engineering option. Then I did two years in Accra where I got my degree in English and computer science. Just after, I went to Tokyo thanks to a scholarship from the Japanese government. I got my degree in Japanese language and another one as senior architectural technician. I eventually landed to Paris where I got a bachelor then a Master in architecture at the National Superior School of Architecture of Paris La Villette (NSAPLV).

Today I am a graduate State Architect. After more than a year as project manager architect in a Parisian architectural agency, I will defend my thesis this month of January in order to subscribe to the Order of Architects in France. I am the founder and the CEO of AFRIKArchi association,  I am also publication director of AFRIKArchi Magazine (paper and digital), Architect within an agency in Paris, Director of Global ArchiConsult and  Consultant of Africa, in addition of all that I also do  architectural photography  – urban planning and landscape exclusively in Africa.

What is ideal carried by AFRIKArchi?

I like sharing a lot. With some classmates, we launched AFRIKArchi which is now an African pride. We organize the world’s largest architectural competition – Planning and engineering dedicated to Africa and brings together each edition more than 1,000 participants. In parallel, we conduct other activities such as magazine, traveling exhibitions, conferences, as well as professional and social network. All this aims to create competitiveness, cultivate creativity among young architects, planners and engineers.

So the Charles-Henri Besnard Quelen Price, AfrikArchi, Forbes, these trips around the world and the entire success story are not due to relations or social position? Are you not a “son of “?

“The monkey’s hair does not reveal how he sweat and yet he sweats!.” Social position, swabbing relations, son of…. These words are not in my vocabulary. My father was a lawyer and not an architect or ambassador or policy maker! It would be difficult for me to say that this success have anything to do with these words.  But one thing my father did was his ability to guide me, and give me the tools to get there.

I saw myself granted a scholarship to Japan, but only after I passed some exams. In France, I was conducting my business life alongside my undergraduate studies. I had to “job” and make a living as everyone in Paris. For many years, I have provided at 100% from my needs without any contribution from my father, who unfortunately passed away.

When one is not a “son of” someone but yet want to change the world, he has to find means to make it happen. I am proud to have sweated to obtain support, and a network.

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When one is not a "son of" someone but yet want to change the world, he has to find means to make it happen
When one is not a “son of” someone but yet want to change the world, he has to find means to make it happen

Becoming this self-made-man must have demanded you a lot of strength

As any entrepreneur, I faced many situations. Entrepreneurship is colliding, falling and know how to always get up and move forward. I am an eternal optimist, but also realistic. This helped me to persevere.

For example, when I launched the first competition ARCHIGENIEUR AFRICA with the association, we almost didn’t make it, actually we had hard times launching that the edition about 6 months after the originally scheduled date. Why!? We had no funding, even though we were technically supported by professional and recognized institutions. But we didn’t give up easily! We had 80% self-financed that edition, 20% was a funding of 2000 € that we obtained from a town hall in France.

All this has shaped us and caused us to change the strategy to carry out all our projects. You have to grab the opportunities that present themselves to us because there are not available all the times. I learnt how to not complain, and always move forward while remaining cautious.

In a context where gerontocracy, architectural anarchy, unemployment and “expatriate phobia” rule, do you see the return to your homeland as a scaring perspective?

Not at all! Besides, for me it is not an option. If I conducted until today all these actions toward Africa, I can not see myself staying outside to act efficiently. I prefer to be among those who are on the field. For us, who went abroad we also have things to bring to our country. Actually I’m in Benin at least every three months and I intend to settle there for my projects in Africa.

Then it is true that on projects, clients seek to impose their rules without considering my expertise. They say I’m either too young or that I try to play the” Guy who comes from afar with white acting pretentions”. In addition, Architecture is a work which appeals to conceptualization design, the customer doesn’t see at first the materialization of the work, and he can think you want to steal or fool him. Another thing is to design the plan of a house and notice unfortunately that the stone builders are not able to reproduce it correctly.

Romarick Atoke, Irawo

Although the environment there is not favorable to it, do you think that vocations to architecture should increase?

Vocations to the architecture should increase tremendously, and in an exponential way. To build Benin, we need to have more professionals. In addition, we don’t do a job because it gives money but mostly because it is motivated by passion. Architecture is a profession full of pitfalls and obstacles. We must dream more and less sleep. We cannot sleep and hope to get everything. The base is to organize, to “prioritize”. And especially for such a business, you need to communicate.

We must dream more and less sleep. You cannot sleep and hope to get everything Click To Tweet

Is the both Benin and world citizen that you are, willing to make any recommendations to our State?

How can we build a country without professionals? Without Urban planners? Why always look for expertise with others? The “local consumption’’ concept must also be applied to architecture! Emergence must be accompanied by professionals and they must be trained. We have no architecture schools in Benin. Today to study architecture, you have to go to Lome which is one of the few sub-regional architecture schools. With annual tuition reaching 2.5 million CFA, you can see that it is not given. In addition to these costs must be added the rent fees, the money for food and the many other expenses a student have to do.

We can already start to think about creating one, but also be ready to put the means to give quality courses adapted and updated. The state could set up committees or take the Architects to organize periodic training – seminars and forums – conferences and round table during which professionals judged on their expertise can cultivate the desire and creativity among young architects or engineers.

We can set up a more elaborated structuring program which will lead to a school of architecture, like Ivory Coast did in the end of 2015, with the creation of their first school of architecture. There is a need to think about basic electricity, without which we can not do anything today; also think to students financial aid  without huge rate of interests, and finally think about undertaking  second steps after the first one are done.

How can we build a country without professionals? Without urban planners? Click To Tweet

Cotonou, Irawo

What is a Romarick Atoke, great lover of the land and Dangote, can bring to his country?

I think I can help Benin to set up training facilities, for the developing of young people willing to become more competent and competitive. I am regularly invited to the round-table conferences and recently I was invited to a round table organized as part of the COP 21, where I talked about my activities and shared my perspective on many topics related to architecture – urban planning and construction in Africa.

I work on a project titled “The Great Cotonou” to provide sustainable solutions to decongest the Benin metropolis. For example, one can simply use data from meteorological studies such as rainwater volumes to define the appropriate excavation of drains. I expect also to open the subsidiary of Global Archiconsult in Cotonou and with the practice of project management in Benin, train young peoples. I have no narcissistic ambitions; I just want to see things change.

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