Esther Abisola Omole, ’21, discovered her passion for architecture as a child while roaming her grandfather’s neighborhood in Lagos, Nigeria. She noticed how the design of buildings emphasized large gathering spaces, while statues and carvings marked the pillars and walls. Omole began to sketch her surroundings: red clay roads, green and bronze school gates, ornate churches and mosques. She also noticed the hindrances to daily life—so many potholes—and wondered: What if you combined the beauty of Nigeria’s traditional architecture with the attention to quality she associated with American infrastructure?
Omole was raised in Hollywood, Fla., but she considers the Mafoluku neighborhood in Nigeria her second home. The eldest of three siblings and one of more than 40 cousins, she says her close-knit family stressed to her the importance of responsibility and excellence. Her maternal grandmother would often place her hand on Omole’s head as she prayed to Allah, saying in Arabic, “You were built for greatness.”
At Stanford, Omole channeled her desire to create spaces into her studies, declaring architecture as her major this spring. She also explores her identity through writing and art.
‘Traveling to Nigeria allowed me to immerse myself in a whole different world. I was never trapped into one way of thinking.’
“I love shaping spaces. I love design. I love creating places for people, and if I think about the people I love, it’s my family. I have a gift that I can bring back to Nigeria. I can go back there and use my skills for practical good because there is need there.
“My grandmother would pray five times a day. When she came to stay with us, I would watch her—when I was in Nigeria too. I would feel her touch on my forehead, on my shoulders. When she would pray those prayers over me—I remember when it started affecting me [profoundly].
“A lot of my [writing] pulls on being Nigerian American, female, black, African American—those are all parts of my identity. If I write about my name, that is informing my Nigerian American identity. If I talk about my hair, that is presenting as a black person. Or if I talk about my classes, and there are only boys, I’m thinking, ‘OK, that’s informed by my female perspective.’
“I joined the Chocolate Heads [Movement Band] on accident because I thought it was an artist collective, but it was actually people dancing. It’s now one of my favorite places to be. I’m in a corner drawing. I’m entering that really great flow state that you enter when you just do something you love, and you feel like you’re in a different place.
“I am an artist who is aspiring to create beautiful forms and buildings—someone who is present where a lot of people that don’t look like [me] are present. But in the future, there will be two of me, or three of me, or four of me because I was there.”
Diana Aguilera is a staff writer at Stanford. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.