Exclusive interview: Freedom Park’s lot of things but profitable is not one

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At the mention of  the name Theo Lawson, what comes to mind is Freedom Park, a multipurpose events venue tucked in the heart of Lagos Island that formerly served as a colonial prison. But Lawson is more than that; for those who do not know, the name Lawson is also associated with the erection of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti’s final resting place and the conversion of his (Fela’s) private abode into a museum  for the presentation of his personal effects.

Last week, newdawnngr’s Deputy Editor, Charles Okogene, sent a set of questions to Lawson that sort to know what inspires him to do the incredible things he has done in the world of architecture.

Lawnson

Happy reading.

Freedom Park was formerly colonial prison yard, what inspired you into transforming it? 

As a second year student of architecture, I had seen the unnecessary tearing down of the old Carter Bridge especially as I had just done a project that converted it into a market bridge that linked Iddo and Idumota markets whilst retaining its iconic features.
So when in 1998 an opportunity arose to save another historical site, I jumped at it. The old prison yard had been abandoned for over 30 years after it failed attempts at redevelopment. I felt Lagos Island needed a park; an Oasis within the overcrowded business district..luckily my wish came through finally 10years later in form of Freedom Park.

 

Lawson

You were associated with remodeling of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti’s residence into a museum. What statement were you trying to make? 

Fela was in many ways my mentor, muse and inspiration through school and I guess today he would be that to almost everyone.
When he died in 1997, I immediately offered to design and build his tomb as payback. Fortunately my proposal was accepted by the family and Fela’s ‘pyramid’ still stands out today.
Years later, I again submitted a design proposal to convert his aging house into a museum, I reached out to the Lagos State Government under Babatunde Fashola, and he agreed to partially fund it and with that the rest of the funding came in timely and Kalakuta Museum is now eight years old.

 In all of these, what has been the reactions of Nigerians towards these your undertakings? 

I guess in someways, they are fascinated by the historical dent to my work, but then again there must be a great sense of pity in the sense that there are no large profits compared to many commercial briefs.

Ogun State where you have remodelled the house of the Kutis, the Anglican vicar’s residence in Otta. Why the special focus on the state? 

I had for many years watched the Kuti home run down after the death of Dolu Kuti. I had prepared drawings and a proposal, which had initially been presented to Gov. Gbenga Daniel and then to the Ibikunle Amosun government years later; finally as a gesture towards Ogun State @50, Gov.  Amosun released funds to establish it.
The Second storey building, built in 1842 in Ota was also hurriedly added to the 50th anniversary projects. This was one of the many residences of Bishop Ajai Crowther when he was spreading evangelism.

Remodeling historical monuments seem to catch more of your attention, can it be said that you are more into what I call ‘architectural tourism’ and why?

I enjoy designing spaces for public interaction as the emotional feedback is palpable. Residential projects are limiting and somewhat boring now.

If yes, when are we expecting your magical hand on the first story building in Nigeria in Badagry?
No comment.

Freedom Park has hosted the best shows held in Nigeria, events, played host to some of the best musicians Nigeria ever produced like Femi Kuti, has it seen you smiling to the bank?  

Freedom park is a lot of things but profitable is not one. From the initial exerting management agreement, the numerous changes at the supervising ministry, economic downturns including Covid-19; coupled with high maintenance costs have made it a labour of love.

What will you recommend to the govts of Nigeria, at all levels, in terms of handling and preserving our historical monuments?
Just do it! Monuments are the grappling-irons that bind one generation to another. -Joseph Joubert

 

Theo Lawson

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