Lagos Wooden Tower by Hermann Kamte

Architect Hermann Kamte’s wooden ambition

The late Zaha Hadid famously once said: "If you want an easy life, don't be an architect". As a young Cameroonian architect following in Hadid's footsteps, Hermann Kamte can certainly empathise.

"Architecture is simple and incredibly complex at the same time," says the 25-year-old. "The challenges are many, but the potential rewards are high. In my opinion, architects are like philosophers - the more they learn the better they are."

The last 18 months have certainly been a steep yet highly rewarding learning curve for Kamte. Graduating from the prestigious EAMAU (Ecole Africaine des Métiers de l'Architecture et de l’Urbanisme) in the Togolese capital Lomé in 2016, he went on to found Hermann Kamte & Associates (HKA) soon afterwards.

A small yet rapidly developing architectural practice, HKA is based in the Cameroonian capital Yaounde. To date the atelier's projects have been mostly based in central Africa countries such as Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon.

"HKA is just embarking on its journey, but we want to bring a new dynamic to African architecture," says Kamte. "Our goal is to contribute to shaping the world, to ensuring human wellbeing in harmony with nature through our designs."

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Article written by Daniel Allen

Lagos Wooden Tower could be a trendsetter

Yoruba symbols

Inspiration for the envelope comes from the history of Edo, Yoruba and Hausa people. Lagos is the oldest site of Benin Empire and it is awesome to see traditional symbolism in this modern city.

Lagos Wooden Tower - floor plan

There are apartments with 1–4 bedrooms and communcal areas like gardens, swimming pool and children's playground.

​​The wooden extension consists of three blocks of five floors with various living units reflecting the needs of urban context.

 

City Above the City wood architecture competition

HKA's vision was a driving force behind the Lagos Wooden Tower, the atelier's  submission for Metsä Wood's City Above the City architecture competition in 2016. The contest invited participants to suggest solutions for new housing on top of existing urban buildings, using Metsä Wood's Kerto® LVL (laminated veneer lumber) as the main material.

Kamte's highly innovative design, which was shortlisted in the City Above the City competition, used Kerto® LVL to construct an 87-metre tower on top of an existing concrete building in the heart of the Nigerian capital Lagos, Africa's largest city. Mixed residential spaces, separated by open floors featuring sky gardens and amenities, are shaded and ventilated by a stylised wooden envelope that reflects Nigeria's Yoruba heritage.

"Our first goal was to come up with a progressive design that offered solutions to the challenge of urbanisation and population growth in Lagos," says Kamte. "The second was to ensure that the city's extraordinary cultural diversity was reflected.

"Kerto LVL products are light, flexible and strong," continues the architect. "With wood used for all parts of the tower's load-bearing and non-load-bearing structure, the system allowed us to design a building that is radically different to all other contemporary architecture in Nigeria."

Wood is the natural choicefor construction

Lagos Wooden Tower by Hermann Kamte 
 

Material of the moment

Hermann Kamte has long had an affinity with wood. "The profile of contemporary wooden architecture is still very low in Africa," says the architect.

Seeing wood as a valuable and sustainable resource that could benefit Cameroonian society at large, Kamte began studying wooden construction when he was in school. His Lagos tower represents the culmination of years of study, and a desire to change the architectural status quo.  

The good news is that our Lagos project has really caught people's imagination and highlighted the potential of wooden construction in Africa," continues Kamte.  "It has been a real pleasure to see how much the project has been appreciated by the African community."

Prize-winning wooden architecture

  • Wooden Tower of Lagos by Hermann Kamte
  • Wooden Tower of Lagos by Hermann Kamte
  • Wooden Tower of Lagos by Hermann Kamte
  • Wooden Tower of Lagos by Hermann Kamte
  • Wooden Tower of Lagos by Hermann Kamte
  • Wooden Tower of Lagos by Hermann Kamte
  • Wooden Tower of Lagos by Hermann Kamte

Widely dubbed Africa's first wooden skyscraper, the profile of the Lagos Wooden Tower has gained increasing elevation since the City Above the City competition. HKA is now preparing for several international exhibtions in Europe, with the project set to feature as the atelier's most recognised work.  

Among a clutch of other awards and nominations, the project has been shortlisted for the 2017 World Architecture Festival Awards, alongside heavyweights such as BIG, Heatherwick Studio and Zaha Hadid Architects. It was also a winner of the 2017 WAFX Prize in the cultural identity category. The WAFX Prize is awarded to future projects that identify key challenges that architects will need to address over the next decade.  

"The Lagos Wooden Tower was our answer to the overriding question posed by the City Above the City competition: namely, 'How can the urban roofs of today be transformed into the building plots of tomorrow?" says Kamte.

"Metsä and Kerto LVL inspired us to envision the new above the old in an African context," continues the young architect. "It is gratifying to see the dialogue which the tower started continue to gain momentum. Much more than a building, this project is also a vision."

Sustainable urban construction

Lagos Wooden Tower by Hermann Kamte 
 

Future focus

When it comes to infrastructure, Africa is a work in progress. In many African cities, rapid economic growth is now driving frenetic construction (such as in Lagos). Poorly planned urbanisation is leading to the creation of slums, characterised by poor living conditions and little regard for the environment.

Yet thanks to pioneering young designers such as Hermann Kamte, more and more of Africa's new architecture is winning widespread acclaim for its innovation and sustainability, Considering the use of wood in African architecture, Kamte sees a challenging yet burgeoning future. 

"Wood is one of the materials which allows us to change our environment and bring an emotional touch to our surroundings," says the architect. "Construction with wood is flexible, sustainable, efficient and adaptable for every climate. And it can result in beautiful buildings."

Given that wood is a fast, light and green construction material, why hasn't wood been used more widely in African contemporary architecture to date?

"I think the biggest challenge is the lack of an industrialisation process," says Kamte. "Right now, for African designers and builders, concrete and bricks are far easier to obtain and a lot cheaper.

"Yet this can change," he continues. "As we raise the profile of timber-based architecture, so demand will grow and wooden building solutions will become cheaper and more accessible. With firms like HKA working hard to create and encourage opportunities in this area, I'd say the future for use of wood in construction is promising."

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