Ever heard of landscape architecture? It is the design of outdoor public areas, landmarks, and structures to achieve environmental, social-behavioural, or aesthetic outcomes. It involves the systematic investigation of existing social, ecological, and geological conditions and processes in the landscape, and the design of interventions that will produce the desired outcome. In simpler terms, it is the architecture of outdoor spaces.
To give more insight into this field is my Inspiring Woman for this week, Fadera Williams, the MD/CEO of Hermon Empor, a leading landscape firm. She explains more about her chosen field – landscape architecture.
“I would give a vivid illustration,” she begins. “Birds build their nests on trees but they do so in a manner that is not detrimental to the trees. Also, bees build their beehives and do not affect the environment negatively.
Of all the species, it seems as though it is only man who builds houses and disturbs the environment. We build roads and we destroy the river basins; we drill oil and we disrupt the ecosystem of the aquatic organisms. My responsibility as a landscape architect is to create a synchrony with the environment and the technology in question (be it a building technology or otherwise). We prepare environmental impact assessment reports for major constructions, for oil drilling activities, for any activity that would generally affect the environment negatively. We also design private, public outdoor spaces, hotspots of social interaction, health farms, urban agriculture gardens, parks and gardens, and so many more.”
Fadera admits that the profession is generally considered a masculine field, and she explains why: “It is considered so because of the nature of the job that it entails. Due to its strenuous nature, it is viewed as an exclusive preserve of the men, but I am not moved by that as I see beyond the limitations of being a woman. My goal is to produce results, and anyone can produce results irrespective of their sex.”
What then is Hermon Empor and what are they into? “Hermon Empor is a vision,” she states, “a leading landscape firm committed to innovation, beauty and respect for the environment. At Hermon Empor, our slogan is ‘your environment tells me who you are’. There is a Yoruba adage that says ‘show me your friend and I’ll tell you who you are’, but at Hermon Empor, we say ‘show me your environment and I’ll tell you who you are’. It all started as a dream. As a young botanist, I had applied for a couple of jobs considering that during the bank ‘boom’ days, any course studied in the university was an acceptable prerequisite for working in a bank. We even had people who studied Yoruba Language employed by banks then.
I really did not want to work in a bank for personal reasons. So, I applied to other multinationals such as Unilever and Coca-Cola and, well, I wasn’t taken – end of story! So, I started out as a popcorn producer in Ibadan. I called it ‘Fade Foods’. I would make the popcorn in my shop in Agbowo, Ibadan, pour it into little nylon bags, label it, seal it, and then sell to retailers at a certain price.” But that was not all.
“After a while,” she continues, “the demand overtook the supply, and then there was need for expansion, but due to lack of funds, I had to close my popcorn ‘factory’ because I wasn’t meeting supply orders while my customers switched to a consistent chin-chin seller because popcorn was not regularly available. I didn’t give up. I started selling wears – shirts, tops, ladies’ pants, trousers and the like.
I would go to ‘china town’ in Lagos, buy at a certain price and then resell to university students. I even started a ‘Zobo’ (Hibiscus sabdariffa) business at some point. I called it ‘Cool sip’ Zobo. I guess I always had the entrepreneurial drive. “In 2005, however, I got tired of petty businesses because I could not sustain my expenditure with my revenue if there was no expansion. Then, based on the advice of my husband who was my fiancé then, I started offering garden design to people as a service. He said to me, ‘You are a botanist and you know about plants. Why don’t you start offering this service to people instead of saying you can’t do anything with botany besides being a teacher?’ Those were his exact words. I took his advice and started ‘Fadelandscape’, which later grew to become Hermon Empor.”
And so, how has Hermon Empor fared so far? Very well, she says. “We have had a range of clients, and we have done numerous jobs, from designing private outdoor spaces and individual residential homes to designing corporate outdoor spaces for British Gas Oil & Exploration Nig Ltd, as a subcontractor under SAS Space Design. We also worked for Bedmate Furniture Ltd, amongst other corporate bodies. We have designed public spaces for outdoor scenery as a subcontractor for Ogun State. We designed the country home of the current secretary to the state governor’s house in Ondo State, to mention a few, and we are consistently looking forward to offering our services to as many more as so desire.”
Interesting anecdote, you would say, but it all did not come without challenges. For Fadera, “Life in itself is a challenge. The truth is at every stage of life, everyone faces a challenge or the other. It’s just that one person’s challenge differs from that of another person. So, yes, I did and still do face challenges. However, the greatest challenge I have had to face in this business has been a lack of enlightenment of people on the importance of landscape architecture to their lives.
They believe it’s only for the rich people. This is certainly untrue. As population increases, land use demand increases, transportation demands also increase. Our erratic power supply has not made it better, so everyone attempts to generate their own power. This leads to increased pollution, especially in the cities, and even some suburbs are now being affected. People just drop dead anyhow these days.
The answer is to lower these carbon emissions from our cars and generators. Simple biology tells us that plants take in CO2 and exhale O2. This is how plants clean up the city. Everyone should have green areas in their homes, especially if you have a generator. Funny enough, that is not always the case. Of course, knowledge in this area translates to more jobs for us, so you can understand why I said it is a challenge.”
It’s easy to conclude that Fadera is a workaholic, and she insists that diligence and dedication to work cannot be overlooked. “I’d quote a stick-on paper my elder brother Adeoti Adeyemo, a specialist internist, always had on the wall in his room while we were growing up. It says: ‘The heights that great men achieved was not by sudden flight, for they, while their mates were deep in sleep, toiled through the night, burning the midnight oil’. The summary of it is that ‘hard work pays’. I flog my brain and put it to work. I work my fingers to the bone to make sure I stand before kings and not mere men, as the bible says. My value contribution to the world includes my intellectual capacity and my personal integrity.”
But Fadera is not all about work without attention to family. She elucidates: “It is sad today because there are not many successful female role models who have a solid home front. I don’t intend to follow that trend and, therefore, I have made up my mind to be a submissive wife to my husband and a good mother to my children. I am so blessed to be married to my friend and my greatest encouragement, Akintoye Williams, who is an engineer. I would not even have known I could do any of the things I do today but for him. So you can imagine. I just want to use this medium to thank him again for standing by me all the way and making sure that the raw gold becomes purified – me! I believe the family is an important unit of the society. If we have good families, we would have a good society. So, I constantly try to make sure I don’t tip the scales in favour of work. I balance both.”
Fadera’s other areas of interest include poetry and music, and she is currently running an entrepreneurial mentorship campaign to assist young graduates and final year students so they can have a softer landing than she did when she started out. “I have written a couple of poems and songs, just for the sake of it. I also love football. In fact, I played for Queen Elizabeth Hall when I was in the University of Ibadan and the Awo Hall girls trashed us silly. Anyways, I don’t play anymore – Super Falcons? Nah! But I watch football and I am an ardent fan of Manchester United,” she concludes on a lighter mood.