CONVERSATIONS: EXCLUSIVE WITH GHANAIAN-AMERICAN ARCHITECT & VISUAL ARTIST, RAPHAEL OGOE

  • 2020-04-11

Over the years, contemporary visual artists, such as Raphael Ogoe, have strived to successfully carve their own path to create groundbreaking artworks characterized by authentic storytelling that deserve accolades. Raphael is a New York-based architect, artist, designer, and entrepreneur, who trained under world-renowned architect Robert A.M. Stern and contributed to the project design, management and administration of a broad range of projects with various responsibilities. Notable projects include:

The design of a high profile 80,000sq meter residential development in Shanghai, China, The Museum of American Revolution in Philadelphia, a state-of-the-art museum that is LEED Silver certified, The Construction Administration and project management for the two new 425 bed Residential Colleges at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, Design and Project Management for the new addition and renovation of the Hewitt School in New York, The design of a 220,000 sq ft headquarters for American Water Co. in Camden, New Jersey, and he assisted in the Quality Control and Quality Assurance for multi projects including institutional buildings in New York, Court House in Georgia, Clubhouse and resorts in South Carolina.

Raphael Ogoe brings a range of academic and professional experience to his work. He also has extensive knowledge in graphic design, digital modeling and visual arts.


FA: Briefly tell us about your background.

Raphael: I am a Ghanaian American Architect, Artist, and Designer, born in Accra, the capital city of Ghana where I was greatly influenced by traditional daily life which nurtured my interest in art from an early age.


FA: Growing up as a child, was it your ultimate dream to be a visual artist and an architect?

Raphael: Growing up in Accra when it was still feral, nature was relatively pristine and not yet conquered by this much urbanization I was greatly influenced by my surroundings which left a great imprint on my creative imagination. I started drawing and creating at an early age. I used to draw a lot of cartoons; Mickey Mouse, Captain Planet, Superman, and other superheroes. I even attempted to build a wooden bicycle. In high school despite constant pressures from teachers to pursue science and math, I stuck to my passion and continued my training in visual arts. So, I always knew I wanted to be a creator, an artist – an architect.

FA: How will you define your signature style? Do you have an essential philosophy that guides you through your creative process?

Raphael: I believe that each project is unique and must belong to its place and time and must inspire its users. I consistently seek to articulate these core values in all my work. I seek to push beyond conventional standards for sustainability, innovating high-performance approaches that align with each building program, site, and resources. My architectural style is a culmination of an evolutionary process that derives beauty from form, economy, and efficiency.

FA: It’s not an easy task to excel in your career field. But you are progressively becoming a household name. How will you describe the evolution in your work when you began until today? What personality trait do you possess that helped you to build a successful career?

Raphael: Work hard, believe in yourself and your dreams. I also believe persistence and determination are the keys to success, you could be gifted, talented and well educated but you have to be relentless to excel in any career. I simply pursue my instincts and interest instead of established conventions. I always challenge myself to produce something better and greater than my last work. So, in other words, my best work is my next work!

FA: What is the most exciting and challenging aspect of your career? Also being an architect, designer and artist could be demanding. How do you combine all three aspects to produce groundbreaking projects without giving more attention to one?

Raphael: Working in the architecture profession is appealing because of the pressures and fast-pace to produce and deliver work. However, I find drawing and painting more fulfilling and therapeutic. It is a way to collect my thoughts and to ponder on design concepts, strategies as well as life in general. I always produce art after each major architectural project deadline. It helps me to clear my mind and to harness creative energy. Ultimately I believe design and creativity is my passion and lifestyle because they come easily to me.

FA: You have exhibited “When Titans Return”, “Lucid Moments”, and “Return to the Future”, what was your objective for these projects? Did the launch meet your expectations? Any shortfalls?

Raphael: ‘When Titans return’ was my first solo exhibition in America. It was an honor and a tremendous experience for a major gallery and institution to host a large body of my work for an entire month. That rarely happens for many artists so I was very privileged and thrilled.  The exhibition deconstructed and merged ancient iconography and oral narratives about historical African figures and also explored everyday imagery to develop historical stories and cultural practices of sub – Sahara Africa.

‘Lucid Moments’ was our first exhibition in Accra, Ghana at the African Regent. The objective was to identify and bring together emerging local artists to showcase their talents. For many of the artists featured in the exhibition that was their first time participating in an exhibition.  As a novel exhibition, it came with a lot of logistical challenges but with the help of an amazing team. We were able to pull it off.

‘Return to the Future’ was our sophomore exhibition in Accra and with our experience and lessons learnt from our first show the event was much successful and we were able to engage and attract a larger audience. Our next objective and goal is to have a highly curated art festival that will include both visual and performing art by local artists as well as artists from the diaspora.

FA: What are your views on the architectural culture of Africa, particularly your home country – Ghana? Also, did you experience any recent developments in architecture during your recent visit to Ghana? Any suggestions that can help improve what is being done already?

Raphael: Architecture is still a growing profession in Africa. Gradually, people are appreciating the services of architects, which is encouraging. Nevertheless, there is a need for proper policy enforcement and improved planning in our communities. Many individuals are not adhering to strict codes and are building homes without proper planning. This results in poorly developed communities, lacking a sense of identity. However, I believe that with committed reforms and support, the African continent can and is gradually correcting these anomalies. 

I am greatly impressed with many of the new buildings, eco-lodges and infrastructure developments in Ghana. There is a good synthesis of foreign and local influences in a lot of the architecture. However, I think we must push for natural reservations and urban parks in communities. We are rapidly developing and we need spaces where people can meet, interact and have social encounters to celebrate our humanity.

FA: What inspires you to draw often? Can you tell us about your creative process?

Raphael: My drawings are a form of storytelling; it’s how I explore the concepts between feelings and history. My works usually examine personal and shared black experience in the diaspora. I use allegories and historical figures to explore cultural identity, masculinity, femininity and the physicality of humanity. I am inspired by everyday imagery, architecture, symbolism, textile and other cultural practices of sub-Sahara Africa. My creative process is quite simple but methodologically I usually sketch or capture concepts through photography and then juxtapose them to form a composition. 

FA: When executing an architectural project, do you consider environmental and social sustainability in your designs? What do you think is the most effective way of presenting a project?

Raphael: The importance of sustainability in a building cannot be overemphasized. Buildings have a major impact on the environment and it’s becoming increasingly critical to consider the environmental impact of each project holistically. My designs usually explore the use of readily available and locally sourced materials or materials that have less embodied carbon. I also use passive strategies such as massing orientation, cross ventilation that should result in low operational energy. By careful analysis and dialogue with clients, as architects, we can enlighten our clients to embrace and implement sustainable practices. The most crucial device that we have is that of advocacy.

FA: What is your ultimate goal when it comes to your work? What legacy do you want to be remembered for?

Raphael: Probably too early to talk about legacy but I don’t want my legacy to be about what I did for myself but rather what I am doing for the next generation. I sincerely believe in the creativity and ingenuity of youth in Africa. There are so many talents I want to help unearth, mentor and provide a platform and opportunity to effect the change and development we so much need in the continent. Most of future urbanization in the world will happen on the African continent and   I believe creativity, art, and architecture will play vital roles in many industries in the development of Africa. It is important to prepare the youth for this mission. That is why I curate these annual art exhibitions to showcase some of the emerging local artists and creatives in Ghana.

FA: When not busy, what do you do for fun?

Raphael: I love to travel and go sightseeing. I always immerse myself in the art, architecture and the culture of places I visit.

FA: Can you share a few invaluable lessons you learned over the years that took your career to the next level? Any advice for aspirants who wish to embark on the same career path as you?

Raphael: You must get through the valleys to reach the peaks in this career and in life. I quickly realized there is indeed a silver lining in every dark cloud, every challenge contains the seed of its own solution. I have been much more effective in many tough situations. In other words, resources are built within us and with God’s guidance, self-determination, you can overcome any adversity. Above all else believe in yourself, your abilities, and your instincts.

To connect with Raphael Ogoe, go to:

www.rafogoe.com
Facebook: Raphael Ogoe
Instagram: @rafogoe