Young, creative, talented and brilliant Cameroonian architect, Hermann Kamte is the author of several masterpieces including “Lagos Wooden Tower” the first wooden skyscraper proposed in Africa. Founder of HKA (Hermann Kamte & Associates). He believes that “Awards are trophies or certificates, but honor is emotion and sensibility… I don’t want to be the most famous or awarded African architect… I want to be the architect who made a solid contribution for society as Leonard de Vinci did before for Europe”
Tell us a bit about your childhood?
I come from a modest family in its strict form but we have always lived in the warmth and friendliness of the big African family. Born February 20, 1992, in Yaoundé Cameroon, I grew up free from the basic needs that undermine the current society. I remember, however, that we have always lived in working-class neighborhoods of Yaoundé. Academically, I inherited the method and know-how of my aunt “Clarisse”. From elementary to high school, I have always been first in my class. But all this is true only before the year 2009, this was the real changeover of my teenage life.
During the academic year 2008, my academic success got the better of me, while I found the school a little too mechanical, I related myself with a strange kind of friends for which the school was of no interest. My only pride was to think of myself as an entrepreneur, something the school years had to teach me. In 2009, when I was in college, my results went down so much that I experienced my first school failure; 9.63 / 20. I was even fired from the school.
In 2010, in my final year class, I calmed down and reconciled my two studies and business. I have always been very close to reading (novels, comics, etc.), cinema, cartoons, music, finance and politics. I keep a happy memory of my childhood. Childhood is not the future, but like any building your life rests on a foundation that is inevitably your childhood.
Where did your passion for architecture come from?
My passion for architecture was born in 2011 at the EAMAU (the African School of the Crafts of Architecture and Urbanism) but the dream of being an architect is anterior, it is further housed in my childhood follies. As a child, I often projected myself on three aspects at the same time; the builder, the businessman and the politician without giving it a deep meaning.
My first contact with architecture came from the National Geographic Channel’s “Megastructure” program in 2004 or 2005. It was impressive to see what man can do with “sand and some pebbles” thanks to his ingenuity. A child dreams a lot, but the reality of life happens to kill the passion, the dreams and the ambition of the less persevering.
Until 2011 nothing predisposed me to become an architect and I was very far from becoming one. After obtaining my undergraduate degree at Mbala II high school in Yaoundé, I started university studies at the University of N’Gaoundéré. I became friends with “Mohamad Ahmad Bargawi”, from whom I came across the results of the previous year of the EAMAU competition.
I inquired, spoke with relatives and my parents, I had favorable advice and time to decide, my dad had enrolled me in the competition. The real turning point of this story is that at the end of the contest I finished 24th in Africa and 6th in Cameroon. Cameroon chose 5 so I was off the list and the first on the waiting list. It is in October 2011 that someone contacts my father to keep him informed that the 5th withdrew. That’s how I found myself in Lomé, Togo, in November 2011 to begin my training in Architecture. Here is My romance with Architecture!
Tell us how does one become an architect?
Already to be an architect you must first integrate a school of architecture, then you must follow the curriculum that can vary between 04 or 06 years depending on the institution and the structure of the program. At the end of the diploma you are an Architect, that’s what the general public think, now what is it? The classic error of the learner is to believe that once out of school he is an architect which is not legally wrong but the superior is the basis of the body.
For many of the graduates will have around 5 years of experience before they will begin to identify themselves to the profession. But most architects, do not have a real success before the thirties, it is a job that requires a long time of learning, patience and discipline.
In my opinion, I humbly think that to become an architect or a good architect, you have to be what the sociologist calls a “deviant”. This deviance has nothing to do with crime, It’s clean, but it makes sense in the figurative sense.
An architect is a criminal of ideas, it is necessary to kill the older ones, to emit new ones and to be in this constant renewal to avoid the status quo. This procedure turns the architecture project into an adventure.'If You Want an Easy Life, Do not Be an Architect' Zaha Hadid Click To Tweet
As an African architect, what can you tell us about architecture in Africa?
Beside specific difficulties and inherent to each country, the job of the architect has a lot of future in Africa, since in relation to other continents nothing is really done. There are many things to invent and reinvent, but that’s a transversal reading.
In-depth research shows that construction is not easy, in many countries there is a big difference between lifestyle, urban practices, urban planning, urban applications. In many cases, there are no texts, and in other cases when they exist, they are not put into practice.
It’s a real mess. But I think that there is a rise in the rigor of this application, because we have realized that we will not get out at this rate. Certainly, we must congratulate the work that is already done. African architects are not the least brilliant, but our context exposes us to situations of discomfort. In a warring world of ideas between continents, ours still has a lack of vision, on these priorities.
All attention covers politics, even the media and forums supposed to inform the economy or finance. So, in the face of these challenges we understand better that architecture has a lot of future if you see things in the definition of Winston Churchill “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity, an optimist sees the opportunity in each difficulty”
What are the difficulties that you face in your job?
In practice in general, the difficulties are of several kinds. Cameroon is not a country very docile in the practice of architecture, it is even complex and difficult to define. Paradoxically, there is a lot of public market but very few competitions to access it, moreover the reading of procurement remains difficult to read.
For a young architect team like ours is like leaving Mario Kart games to try the Rubix’s Cube, it’s worth it but it’s not easy. There is private control, she is young, representative but fragile because she is not yet very well informed of the role of the architect.
Here, the architect remains a misunderstanding and architecture therefore a real mystery. It is difficult to practice in an environment where those who pay your fees do not always know why they do it, even if you take the time to explain it to them. Most of the client’s sentences begin with “you architects …”, there is a very mistaken view of architecture.
The architects are very indented and the engineers in first, the result and the incident on the Cameroonian cities is very hideous. We are working on solutions, we have some leads but they have to prove themselves before being unveiled!
Your company “Hermann Kamte Associates” HKA has to its credit several projects including: a wooden tower of 87 m in Lagos, Nigeria. Tell us how you got this idea?
With a certain logic, each project tells a story or story to tell. The Lagos Wooden Tower is inspired by a series of events, including but not limited to the vision of sustainability, resilient or smart cities, and finally the memory of place or space.
Beyond that, the important thing is to be able to interpret and retransmit all these past or historical images to shape the future of society. The project is therefore influenced by this context and furthermore a strong aspect of HKA’s work philosophy is that we like to integrate cultural presence into our design process.
I believe that for each project, the main questions that must be answered before the first stroke of the pen includes: What are we building? For who ? And why ? I am sure that the same building with the same material and the same architectural program will be very different if it is located in London, New York or Shanghai.
The context that today “Lagos Wooden Tower” is the first wooden skyscraper proposed in Africa, gives added value to the power of a concept. A decisive aspect of the conception is the respect for the integrity of a people by putting the social parameters of a cultural entity back into the forefront: the Yoruba.
Briefly the idea of the wooden tower comes from a succession of answers, and this is the true magic of this project!
What inspires you and motivates you?
Whether it’s justified or not, reasoned or not, it does not matter whether it makes sense or not, I firmly believe that I can help change the world through my creations. I was born and I practice in a country (Cameroon) where society faces several challenges.
Every day is a perpetual fight, or a struggle for survival for a small part of the population with very few solutions to satisfy them. My great motivation is to help shape a better future and well-being for the needy. I think that our work as an architect puts us at the forefront of social responsibility. Once executed, a project can make a whole people smile and bring about a substantial change in their lives.
A word for the young ones who aspire to be architects?
To all these young people who aspire to be an architect, I mean there is room and the world needs them to bring pragmatic solutions to the problems he faces. Contributing to the well-being of your peers must be a motivation deep enough to embrace this profession, you have the right and the duty to bring your signature to the edification of the world. Be sure to leave an indelible trace of your passage.Those who are crazy enough to believe that they can change the world are actually the ones who do it. -Steve Job Click To Tweet
Head straight to discover his works, awards, news and publications here.