Sunday, December 7, 2014


Arc. Tijjani Muhammad Musa in the studio.

Ever since I was young, I can remember I could draw things to the delight of my playmates. At primary school, our art teachers would find my drawings impressive and would encourage me towards getting formal training about it. I was so good at it that I would make pencil and other medium artworks that soon started getting me little commissions from individuals or couples, who would request that I draw their silhouettes, busts or other artworks to decorate their homes and offices.

When I finished secondary (high) school, I was admitted into Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria to do a pre-degree course, at the end of which I applied to read architecture, but having the wrong A-Level combination, I could not 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 to Kano.

My Plan B was to pursue a National Diploma in architecture from Kano State Polytechnic, then go back to ABU Zaria for the architecture degree, so as to graduate and exploit my creative ability in designs and arts. It was while I was undergoing my diploma course, that a big brother of mine suggested, since I was gifted with a good command of English language, I should go and do a stint as a radio presenter cum dj at Radio Kano II 89.3 FM, a new radio station then which was being test-transmitted, soon to commence operation.

And that was how I got introduced to the world of broadcasting journalism. 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 communications. I was that infected.

Gustavo Penna’s Lincoln Residence

That year I got admitted to read the diploma in architecture at the polytechnic, at the same time got another admission to read a degree in mass communications at Bayero University Kano, only for this latter to be changed by the university admission committee, once again, to another course, a degree in Economics. Since I had intended to become a professional media person, I could not accept to read something else. So I refused, once again too, to read a course I did not apply for. 

Instead, I indulged in studying my architecture with zeal, excelling at the end of it to be admitted to earn a bachelor of sciences and later a master of sciences degrees at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and a course of my choice, Architecture. Next, what did I do with my journalistic abilities?

Well, I continued my engagement as a broadcaster throughout my architectural education pursuit. I continued my radio programs production and presentations under the watchful eyes of professional broadcasters at the said 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 a fully trained architect, my radio colleagues, some formally trained too as graduates of mass communications, wanted me to come and start a communication company with them. This we did and thus SoundWord & Sight Communications, a fully incorporated multi-media outfit, with which we rendered media services to private as well as corporate clients, was born.

And that is what eventually brings up the title of this piece One For Architectural Journalism. When we first started, it was strange to the journalists that an architect wanted to operate in the media terrain. They kept wondering how designs and construction of buildings could be merged with dissemination of information using mass media. "What is Architectural Journalism?" one or two of them would often ask me.

Standing the mic. Teejay 1 smiles

It was only after I clearly explained to them what it was all about that they understood what it all meant. Little did I know most people know nothing about this exciting, but relatively unknown profession. 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 people have never heard of the term architectural journalism. Now, to demonstrate in practical terms what I meant and thus prove my claim of being an architectural journalist to my media colleagues, I re-launch a radio production I earlier conceived, developed, produced and presented titled '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 informed about some of the basic things involved with good designs and aesthetics in a building, both internally and externally. It aimed at 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 implied

Just when the twice weekly episode was beginning to gather momentum on the airwaves, I got employed by M. T. Waziri & Partners, an architectural firm belonging to Arc. Musa T. Waziri (late) of the former Ella & Waziri Associates fame and so 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 company.

Hotel Burj Al Arab Dubai

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 in 2003, 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 anything 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.

Carren Jao
Carren Jao art, architecture & design journalist
Architectural journalists contribute immensely in disseminating information about a 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 in the media. These journalists enlighten the populace about building codes and ethics and also document for history and posterity, matters that affect the built environment.

Architectural journalists inform about new designs, means of designing, digital software and packages, while educating the society about innovative approaches and modern techniques of construction. They also write about happening at architectural events, both locally and internationally, the building material participants, the architects and design practices in attendance etc. The papers presented at colloquiums, seminars, conferences and so on are also given publicity via these architectural journalists.

These architects tell others about existing as well as new technological advancements as it relates to new building materials and building methods 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. Such ordinary journalists 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 hybrids, the architectural journalists.

(c)2014 Tijjani M. M.
writes from SoundWord & Sight Communications Ltd Kano, Nigeria.

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