Timi Akindele-Ajani documents a group of Black Londoners who built their own homes in the 1990s

The film, commissioned by the Architecture Foundation, highlights the persistent housing discrimination faced by Black British communities.

Date
31 August 2022

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Nubia Way is a documentary directed by filmmaker and photographer Timi Akindele-Ajani, which explores the story of a group of Black Londoners who came together to build their own homes in Lewisham during the early 1990s. The project was a means of both highlighting and fighting against the persistent housing discrimination faced by Black British communities. Incorporating archival footage from the build alongside present day interviews with self-builders, architects, historians and economists, the documentary offers an insightful look into a momentous act of architectural self-reclamation that, until now, has remained largely undocumented.

Timi was approached by the Architecture Foundation to direct the film in early 2021. “I think in 2020 they had a bit of an awakening and realised they wanted to tell architectural stories from a broader perspective and the Nubia Way was one the stories that they decided to tell,” Timi details. Instantly, it was a project he wanted to be involved with. A Black Londoner himself, he was shocked to have no prior knowledge of the story, “despite its massive significance in not just architectural history but black British history”. Compelled, therefore, to spread the story further, Timi was also dedicated to representing “the power of this amazing story”.

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Timi Akindele-Ajani: Nubia Way, commissioned by Architecture Foundation (Copyright © Timi Akindele-Ajani, 2022)

When looking for aesthetic inspiration for the film, Timi needed to look no further than the Nubia Way houses. A series of angular, artfully modernist buildings, that still manage to have a warm, homely feel to them – with rooftop gardens to boot – Nubia Way is a masterclass in considered, multi-purpose architecture. “When you visit Nubia Way, you really do feel as though you’re no longer in London, let alone the UK,” Timi explains. “The homes have got this beautiful combination of vivid colours one might find in places like the Caribbean but then also an architectural sensibility that feels quite European in a way.”

The chance to include old footage from the original build came somewhat as a pleasant surprise. One of the self-builders, Leonard Guy, is himself a filmmaker, and captured the process of building his home. But, he never got round to using the film – “it’s just been waiting there to be used,” Timi adds. The archival dimension soon became an integral part of the project for Timi, not only for the resonance it has but also for the storytelling dimension.

Having worked on such a people-centric project, Timi met some particularly interesting people, one being community worker Eroll Hall. Raising awareness of the single Black fathers in need of accommodation that had been turned away – and even laughed at – by local housing authorities, Eroll highlighted to Timi just how vital such a scheme was for people who could then raise their families in a safe and stable environment. “He emphasised that these were homes for people in housing need, but also made points about the social benefit the homes provided in terms of the stability that the scheme offered, – stability for people who otherwise wouldn't have been able to have that stability.”

Timi hopes that the film will inspire people to take action in any way they can to preserve the Nubia Way homes, whether that be the architectural community banding together, or people campaigning for the houses to be listed. And, reflecting on the project as a whole, Timi outlines his favourite element of the film to be the joy so evident in the self-builders, and the love they have for their homes. “In spite of the fact that it was quite a challenging and difficult task, I think it's a beautiful example of community and togetherness,” Timi concludes. “In a world where individualism is rampant, we need reminders of what can be accomplished collectively.”

GalleryTimi Akindele-Ajani: Nubia Way, commissioned by Architecture Foundation (Copyright © Timi Akindele-Ajani, 2022)

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Timi Akindele-Ajani: Nubia Way, commissioned by Architecture Foundation (Copyright © Timi Akindele-Ajani, 2022)

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About the Author

Olivia Hingley

Olivia joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.

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