Architect Interview Capital TV Tanzania
Architect Russell Interview Capital TV Tanzania
This was an TV interview with Architect Russell filmed in June 2022 by Capital TV Tanzania in Dar Es Salaam.
Hello and welcome back to another episode of Out and About. My name is Vanessa Victor. And on this weeks episode we are sitting down with Architect Russell. Architect Russell has a huge social media platform and following (YouTube , TikTok Instagram & Skillshare ) If you are a person who likes to indulge in social media You might have come across some of his work We are going to discuss a multitude of things. So keep it locked, right here on Capital Television.
Hi, Russell. Or shall I say Architect Russell?
You have caught my attention personally because of your unique style of talking about design and architecture. You have a huge following on various social media platforms. But before you got into the whole social media aspect of your career. Why did you choose this line of work? Why did you decide to do architecture?
I was always good at drawing, so it came from that. And then at school, one of my subjects was Design and Communication and my teacher said I had a talent for design. So then I was considering graphic design, but then I ended up going into architecture. I think that was after I went to… my parents, took us to New York for like five days and seeing all these buildings and stuff that kind of influenced me. I wanted some kind of career, but it was like, it’s like a narrow path. Like, okay, I’m going to be an architect. And that’s what I chose. And I just went all the way and did it. Once you set your eye on something that’s quite powerful and you can go all the way. I didn’t want like those, people I knew took all these these things like.. they did a degree in something, but then they do something completely different. It’s like, what was the point in your degree? But at least with this career, that’s the advantage. In my career it was like, okay, I want to be that and go all the way. Studying a long time. But I did it. So yeah, so that’s how I came to that.
What’s the first thing you ever designed that was actually built?
Actually it’s probably a here in Dar Es Salaam because the reason why I left was the UK was I wasn’t designing much, I was like just doing bits on projects. There’s all these big guys have control over the projects and they get to design it. And then you’re the small person with no experience. They just get you to draw it. Or you just do what they say and change it. But my first project was The Luminary project in town here, which is opposite Epi’dor. It’s an office building. That was actually it’s weird. I had to come over here to say like thats my first one. I can actually say, okay, I designed it and it’s built. Unlike all the other projects I worked on before, it’s always the other people controlling it more and stuff like that.
And what’s been your most memorable building that you’ve designed or had a hand in?
I think that one, because it was my first one and the first one in Tanzania and it got like a LEED sustainable rating, gold rating. It’s the first one in Tanzania. It’s not perfect, but it set a benchmark for future projects. So yeah. And I’ll never forget that one.
So let’s look into a little bit of some of your Instagram posts or some of the social media posts. You tend to really look at how small things cause some of the things you talk about in your videos I would never think the attention to. Like the size between railings, the number of steps going down. Is this something that you learn while you’re learning your craft?
Most of that stuff. Because at university, you’re learning design a lot. Because to be an architect, a lot of it you have training. You know, it’s like a doctor, its like seven years full time study and then it’s a minimum of two years training and then exams and stuff. But that’s mostly design and this kind of professional studies as well. Like what you have: professionalism, what you have to do to be honest and stuff like that. But stuff like that, what you mentioned, like mistakes, that is kind of building regulations. It’s health and safety. You got to learn that when you working. There’s a lot of rules, especially in the UK where I come from, if you build it like that, it’ll get removed, you won’t be allowed to. They’ll come on site and they’ll tell you to… the government will tell you to remove it.
And when I came here, there wasn’t really much to that. There’s not much building regulations here. So I kind of adopted the British ones because it’s the only thing I know . Because I have no one to.. in the UK they pick it up and they tell you that’s wrong, but here there’s no one to do that. So I’ve become an expert on the regulations and the codes now. So I know, I pick everything up now.
But do we have building codes here? (Tanzania)
I better not go there really. There are some, but .. don’t think that there are. If you ask me, I say no. But there are some, apparently. It’s a bit funny, that one. Well, that’s to say, there’s no other code I can use. That’s what I use it.
Have you like been around Dar Es Salaam, been to some buildings and like, oh my God, this is dangerous?
Yeah. Like this one I saw the other day. Staircases a lot. And there’s a lot of apartments I see, the staircases just open in the lobby. It’s got to be enclosed. There should be a door on it and a wall. A fire protected wall and door. If the fire goes out in the corridor must be like couple of minutes, It will go up the stairs and through the building. You got to have a fire protected
wall and fire protected door on there so that that minimizes the smoke and fire. It’ll take longer an hour. So once the fire alarm goes off, you’ve got more time to escape down the stairs. But if it’s open, then it’s not going to last long. And there’s other things with stairs as well. Like, you know, like for high storey building, if you got parking and if you’re parking in the basement, you’re not supposed to have a stair, that goes directly from above. I’m talking about fire escape stairs that go straight into the basement. There should be a separate stair coming out the basement from above. They are not suppose to be joined. Yeah I see that a lot here. And then you get railings you mentioned. You’re not supposed … It’s okay if the building is not going to be used by children, like if it’s an office or something, but if it’s going to be used by children, then horizontal rails like children under six can climb up them. And then the gap needs to be like quite small things like that.
“If the fire goes out in the corridor must be like couple of minutes, it will go up the stairs and through the building.”
Ideally there would have to be probably vertical right?
Yeah. Yeah. Oh you could. Yeah. It can design a pattern or something. Yeah. And this, so like this fire and their safety, so this is to. Building regs are to do with really the reason why we have building is for health and safety in and around buildings. To ensure that no injuries are other lives lost. Yeah. And of course, no lawsuits. Yeah of course. But it’s not just like falling, it’s health as well, like air and stuff like that’s a bit onto sustainable sustainability as well. There’s some there’s codes for that. They’re not enforced, but there’s like I go by LEED codes, (Leadership and Energy, Environmental Design) which is like a global, it’s like the most common green building rating system in the world. And that has like you can kind of use in like case I kind of use them like codes now so so you stuff like… There’s people working and living sometimes, live in basements with no windows that’s unhealthy. Every room, every occupied room should have fresh air in there. I mean. Yeah, and I’ve seen people who work in the basement room. They have an office in a basement. Yeah, there’s no windows. If you got no windows, then you got to put mechanical ventilation, fresh air in there.
It’s interesting that that you look at things like that and when you see them to me, I’m thinking, oh, yeah, duh. Well, common sense. But I wouldn’t necessarily think about it . If you hadn’t like pointed it out. And that’s what’s so interesting about the videos that you do. So why did you decide to transition into sort of doing social media?
Yeah, that’s exactly like what you said. Not many people not know stuff about buildings or care about buildings, really. And I moved here and I thought like, no one’s going to know who I am. I’m just this architect in Tanzania. Noone knows where this is and all this stuff, I was thinking, oh hell with it, I want to be somebody. And I started reading about social media and started watching people on YouTube and stuff. And I got into it and I thought, hell with it, I’ll just put myself out with not giving, don’t care what people think. And I just did it every day. I’ll give something as well, not just doing selfies. I try to give them and that’s just I. Show off. Yeah, yeah. So I try to keep information. As I started.. First I didn’t know what I was doing. I was just doing, like, quotes from, like quotes from famous architects while walking down the street. And I’d say something because I thought, like, who’s going to listen to me? No one’s going to listen to me. They don’t know who I am. And I was doing travel vlogs on YouTube as well. And after a few thought, No one’s going to watch this because they don’t know who I am and no one wants to see some guy on holiday, you know? So I felt like I’ll start talking about what I’ve learnt, what I’ve learnt at university, what I learn every day, what I learn at work. So I just it’s kind of leaving pieces of my brain in these videos or something that like was always on my mind for years like and because I think not many people want to listen to the stuff like but someone must want to listen to it, you know. So what was the most maybe surprising or interesting that you learnt once you started getting into social media and posting these videos?
What type of feedback would you get? What type of comments did you get?
I think that’s the most rewarding thing is the feedback you get. You get a lot of messages and comments. Not all good, but most of them are good. And you get people on the street like saying I’ve learnt so much from your videos, that’s really fantastic. People saying “I’ve gone to university because of you”, and stuff like that. So it’s pretty amazing.
So what are some of the bad feedback.
Ive been called a few names, especially at the beginning. But it’s weird when you start off, no one’s no one’s really supporting you at all. And everyone is just taking the mickey out of you. And they don’t understand why you’re doing it. A lot of people, they still do this to a bunch of that. But now you start to get more followers, you get a bit more. It’s silly really. Then people start to get you a bit, understand you a bit more.
Do you get recognized on the streets of Dar es Salaam now?
Yeah, all the time.
So you’re a famous face?
I wouldn’t say that.
Well I own this from my own myself. I think the first time I met you, we have a mutual friend. I was like, Wait, this is the Russell you are always talking about. Yeah, about me. I watch his videos on Instagram. Wait. You know, Russell? Because I really enjoy watching your videos because it’s always really interesting, but I’m learning things that I don’t. I didn’t know that I needed or wanted to. Yeah, then I did because I just came across one video and then I was like, Oh, wait, there’s more. Keep scrolling, keep scrolling, keeps, keeps rolling. And I think that’s what is your style of delivery as well is interesting. You do keep it very light don’t you?
You have to be because they’re short videos a lot. I did YouTube for like a year. I did a lot of videos like nearly one a week and I learnt all my editing skills on that and camera skills and stuff. So then I hit TikTok and Instagram Reels and it’s like different. It’s like you practise the first 3 seconds are really important, so you got to say something outrageous or something that’ll catch people’s attention. You can do stuff like that and you got to look enthusiastic. So, like, that’s the most important thing. Then they’ll watch the rest of the video. Yeah.
Are you an extrovert? Because from your videos, I would have said yes, but after I’ve met you…
I don’t know. I’m an introvert. Yeah, yeah, I think so. I sometimes feel I get used to talking to the camera, you know, it’s like my best friend now. They say, Yeah, it might be a next extrovert on the camera a bit, but no, I’m quite. I’m not like, yeah, I suppose I am a bit. Yeah. I’m not like very talkative with other people when I go out, I am when I am, when I get more comfortable with people after a while. But like I have more, I have I prefer to have a small amount of close friends than a lot of. A lot of a big group. Yeah. Acquaintances. Yeah.
Some people will think of architecture and be like, Yeah, it’s design and stuff, but it’s not really art?
It is art. It’s across between… that’s the thing that’s different about it. It’s a cross between art Science.. oh its got everything. Like geography. Physics, engineering. It’s a lot when you study
and there’s a lot artistic stuff involved. You have to draw and they start you off you even have to draw a painting. One of the first things we ever got taught to do at uni, which is weird. We were told to go to a concert and draw what we heard. That kind of gets you a bit creative. You just kind of expressing, like just whatever you feel, like an artistic painting. That really gets your creativity flowing, you know? You should try that sometime. And they told us classical music as well because there there’s a classical music concert in town.
And so as an architect and as a designer and as an artist, do you get creative blocks, especially if you’re if you have to create these videos. You don’t feel like doing videos every day or every week. There’s days when you just want to do other things. Would do. Do you have those moments?
Yeah, I have like a system now that kind of I have many. For the videos I have is like a brewing pot of ideas. I put them in this app. So if you have an idea, you just put it down like it might come
like in the middle of work or something. I might have an idea. I’ll just write it down. Then I have all these ideas written down, so I might have like 50 ideas. And then they’ll have another column it’s kind of developing the ideas. The second stage is like writing the script, so some of the ideas might just be an idea, but they’re not developed with any script. So thats like stage 2. Then some ideas might be ready to film. So that’s that’s constantly ongoing all the time.
How many ideas do you have right now?
I don’t know, like a little bit messy. I can check on my phone. I’m not alone. So I do this because that might be that would mean even if you have 100 ideas, you just system down and then you slowly start developing. Yeah. So it’s probably about 50 there in just, idea, Then there’s probably about like 20 in progress. And then there’s about this about oh God, there’s about ten in there to film, ready to film.
Does Dar Es Salaam give you a better backdrop for shooting your footage and your content?
Yeah, I like that because that’s unusual. You didn’t even get many British architects, Dar es Salaam. And I like to show people what it’s like, because its an unusual place, its quite interesting. I love to film outside. It’s difficult to film outside. I love to film outside, most of my videos are outside. I do a few at home nowadays, but it’s difficult walking around filming here. Some people don’t like the camera and they think you’re doing something bad. But I’m not. Sometimes I say things about buildings- have to be careful. But for people, people sometimes they see a camera. They don’t like it here, you know. So that’s quite a challenge here. I get stuff like, “Oh you shouldn’t be filming, you need a work permit. I’ll call the police” Stuff like that. So it’s quite scary sometimes.
Have you had somebody come up to you and and told you to stop filming because they think maybe you’re filming them?
I used to get like. Yeah, I’ve got that. And I’ve got like, Oh, that’s a government building. I was filming myself. And then they said, that’s a government building there, you know, not film there, but yeah. Stuff like that. Yeah. And the bad looks as well. I was filming a shop or something or a transformer or something. Some guy just looking at me go, “what you doing?”
But I mean, I guess in some sense if somebody doesn’t understand or doesn’t know what you’re doing for them. Yeah, a bit of an invasion of privacy. They might think they might have their own personal issues and then think, oh, this person’s the person I have issues with sending a stalker to come take pictures.
Well, this was the guy on the other side of the street. But yeah, I have to be careful of that. So you have to be quite sensitive.
Are there places easier to film than others? Because I would assume Oyster Bay Masaki is ok.
Well no, Slip Way, they won’t let you bring a camera in there. It’s weird. The security says you’re allowed to use your phone, but when it comes to camera, they won’t let you use it, which is quite funny. But nowadays I’d like it around my home. That’s where I want my videos are in a Upanga I’m trying to keep close to home. Your surroundings. But in people’s property, basically.
Well, maybe get it, get a better phone. And then just keep shooting.
Yeah thats what I do now I use my phone outside a lot of times.
And since you’re not trying to be racist or whatever it is, since you’re white, most people think you’re a tourist? And not a lot of people know that you’re here for work and yeah. So there’s a you get attention a bit and yeah?
I don’t dress like a tourist most of the time.
What’s the most interesting thing or funniest thing that you’ve learnt about Dar es Salaam, Tanzania since being?
Oh, I think the roads is one of them, but that’s one of the most things that shocked me when I arrived, was the lack of roads. You realise how spoilt people are in Western countries after living here and you appreciate a lot of things and make things how they are and enjoy a lot more. And I look at all that stuff in like Western countries and it’s a bit overdone
and like you don’t need all that stuff. I’ve learnt a lot about simplicity and what’s not required in life
and the important things in life. Learn what’s important and what’s not so important. Yeah.
First of all, how long have you been in Tanzania?
Eight years? I think. Eight years, yeah.
So you’re swahili should be pretty all right?
You going to ask for about swahili – don’t. Not very good no. Only just a few words and stuff. See, I don’t work with many.
So I don’t get a chance to use, to speak it because you’re not around people.
Not during the day, no.
Fair enough. I’ll give you a pass on that.Yeah, but do better. Eight years is a long time.
I know its embarrassing, I hate that question.
So do you see yourself spending another eight years here?
Perhaps. I mean, like I have a permanent job. I’m happy to stay here until.
Until they kick you out?
Yeah. See what happens. Yeah, something like that. But I’m wondering what to do next. And every time I think of what to do next, I always come to the conclusion, I’ll stay here. I’ve looked at jobs in Dubai… all the jobs I looked at, they don’t look as good as the job I got here. I mean, I’m designing buildings and they get built quickly here. Everything’s quick here. The good thing about here, everything’s quick is for the fastest growing city in the world. One of the fastest growing city. That’s what I like about it. It’s it’s fast, you know, in the UK or something. You wait years for a project to come, come about. Here it starts on site, once it started, it goes like really quick. So I like that as well. The experience I had with so many buildings been built here, you probably wouldn’t get that in in Western countries.
Yeah, well, thank you for giving us a little bit of your time. It’s been real.
Architect Russell Interview Capital TV Tanzania
This was an TV interview with Architect Russell filmed in June 2022 by Capital TV Tanzania in Dar Es Salaam.
Russell M. Henderson is a practicing RIBA Chartered Architect based in Tanzania, East Africa.