Titi Adeleye is the CEO of EDEN Group, an architectural firm, which is into properties and projects management. She was the former vice chairman of the Lagos State chapter of the Nigerian Institute of Architects. In this interview, she took us through the world of architecture, challenges and other sundry issues.
I have always been a creative person. When I look at anything, I am always looking for a way to make it look better. I have always been fascinated by houses and their designs. So architecture was a natural flow for me because I found out that I was gifted in both the arts and the sciences because architecture is both art and science.
How long have you been in this profession?
I left graduated from the then University of Ife in 1989, almost 30 years ago.
What challenges you have been facing within this profession?
In Nigeria, running your own company can be quite challenging because of the absence of a strong support system. Unfortunately, you have to do almost everything by yourself from providing your own power to accessing funds at very high rates. Sometimes clients don’t appreciate services as well; we live in a society where people are more ready to pay for goods than for services, especially when it is not an emergency or life-giving service. So you find that after putting so much creative effort in a job, some clients ask why they should pay that much for a few sheets of paper!
Are you saying that architecture is not lucrative?
No, I am not saying that. Architecture is quite lucrative but it could be better if the society at large is well educated about it. This does not apply to architecture only but also to all other creative industries. People should be aware that they have to pay for professional services and ideas. It is not ideal to be willing to pay the contractor that is building their houses but not want to pay the person that designed such houses.
You are in a male-dominated profession. How has it been?
Well let me correct a notion here, architecture is no longer a male-dominated profession. As a matter of fact, in a lot of schools of architecture now, you find an equal number of male and female students in the class. A lot of females are in architecture now and they are doing very well.
But are they given equal opportunities, like the men too?
Let me now talk about this: you see in our environment, the Nigerian and African environment, the woman has to still work harder than the men because there is this mindset that make people look at you and still put you in a box as the rest of the females they know. However, the onus is on you to prove that you are a professional and that you know what you are doing. Once you are able to prove that you are knowledgeable in what you do, the opportunity begins to come in. This translates to the fact that it means you sometimes need to work harder than your male professionals. This is because everybody assumes that the male professional knows what he is doing before he proves otherwise but for the female, everyone assumes that she may not know what she is doing until she proves otherwise.
Was there a time you were so overwhelmed with the challenges that you wanted to throw in the towel?
Definitely, any entrepreneur that wants to be honest, would admit to that. Especially when you are starting up, there will be rough periods and rough patches. Sometimes when you look at your friends that are earning salaries and taking allowances and you have to pay rent, pay salaries while they are going on paid vacation you can’t even afford to go on a leave. You are the accountant, architect, business manager all at the same time. So, definitely you will get overwhelmed at some point. But was there a time I wanted to give up? No, I don’t think so because once you have entrepreneurship in you then there usually is no going back. I always say to young professionals, just hang in there, carve a niche for yourself and make excellence your trademark no matter how big or small the job, task or assignment is, after a while you will start reaping benefits, as you start getting referrals and the job goes on autopilot because you have paid your dues.
You have been in the profession for nearly 30 years, what draws you to your project?
That’s a good question because with architecture there are also things that you enjoy doing and things that you excel in doing. As an architect, you don’t get to pick your job all the time because most of the time, your client comes and tells what they want. I personally enjoy religious and institutional architecture. Most of the time a lot of us architects do general practice but while still having an area of specialization.
How do you juggle family life with your career?
A woman has to learn how to prioritize and plan her time, she has to delegate and know how, where and when to ask for help. A woman has to know when to take a break and pray to God for wisdom and strength.
Why do many women dump their careers after marriage as if after marriage they can’t achieve any other thing again?
Sometimes in the African environment, you are not seen to have achieved anything until you are married and if you are married sometimes after marriage you are just made to put your life on the shelf. But I want to say to younger women that you can be married and still realize your dreams. So you should be careful with whom you are getting married to, marry someone who understands what you do and someone who will give you the space to be able to fulfil your destiny.
That is, marry your friend, somebody who is confident in himself and will not be threatened by your success, somebody who will help you, someone who will give you wings to fly. How do you know this person? During courtship when he talks about his vision and future plans, does he include yours? I tell women that marriage is good and it is ordained by God but if God has put a talent or a passion in you alongside with being a married woman, there is always a means to express it. Even if your husband says you should not work or you choose not to work yourself, there are other ways you can do something. You can work from home, or volunteer, you can do church work or set up a charity. Just to find fulfilment. Because after a while your children will grow up and leave home. Your husband and even children go out and meet and interact with achievers who are women like you and subconsciously begin to compare you with these women. I believe every woman must find a way of expressing her talents and deriving fulfilment from the inborn talents.
What do you enjoy about your job?
Having a concept in your mind and working hard on that concept, designing, drawing, interacting with clients and eventually seeing the end product, a building that once existed in your mind as a physical reality is so fulfilling. I also enjoy it when clients are so satisfied that they send in referrals or become repeat clients.
How do you unwind?
I listen to music, I have a passion for mentoring teenagers and young adults. A lot of them are my friends so when I am in their midst I unwind by dancing, singing and gisting. I also learn a lot from them through what we call reverse mentoring.
Do you have any beauty routine?
Yes, it is not really a beauty routine but I exercise because I believe exercise helps everyone to de-stress, it helps to be emotionally balanced and it helps you to be fit. I watch what I eat because a lot of things we put into our bodies these days are not healthy. Beauty is not a superficial thing, beauty is from within. If you take care of your body, exercise, watch what you eat and sleep well, then try as much as possible to avoid negative things and negative people the beauty will come from within.