20 June 2022

LISI graduate Sampson Umenne: “I studied with passion”

Профессор Сампсон Уменне

Professor Sampson Umenne

Sampson Umenne, professor of architecture from Nigeria, graduated from the Leningrad Civil Engineering Institute (LISI, now SPbGASU) in 1976. In 1983, he completed his postgraduate studies here, after which he completed an internship and returned to the African continent. There he taught, headed the departments of architecture at the University of Jos in Nigeria, at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in Kenya; created and headed the Faculty of Architecture and Department at the National University of Science and Technology in Zimbabwe; taught at the Department of Architecture at the University of Botswana; founded and headed the first architectural school in Namibia –  the Department of Architecture at the Namibian University of Science and Technology. Having arrived in St Petersburg, the professor found time to visit his alma mater.

I went to the Soviet Union with the intention of studying civil engineering. But at the preparatory department of the Leningrad Polytechnic Institute (LPI, now the Peter the Great St Petersburg Polytechnic University) I was advised to enter the architectural program, and I began to attend drawing classes at LISI. At the same time, I had to study other subjects – Russian, chemistry, mathematics, physics at LPI. It wasn't easy, but I was ready for it. I studied with passion. Nine months later, in 1970, I successfully passed the entrance exam in drawing and became a student at LISI. 

– Did you have any favourite subjects?

One of my dorm roommates studied urban planning. For the first five months we had the same program. Then it split up, but we constantly exchanged opinions. Since then, architecture and urban planning have been my favorite subjects. As a subject in my specialty, I loved building and complex engineering, as well as mathematics

I remember well the academic side of my student life. We, foreign students, were taught almost everything. It was believed that in the future we would need it in the conditions of developing countries. And so it turned out: in Nigeria, where I come from, an architect is both a builder of houses and complexes, and an urban planner. He must be able to solve many different problems of social and community development. 

– You speak Russian very well. 

At first I had difficulties with the language, I slowly took notes of lectures, did not have time to write them down. But the teachers gave as much advice as needed without any problems. I worked under the scientific guidance of Boris Viktorovich Muravyov, Viktor Fedorovich Shapovalov, I also remember Leonid Pavlovich Lavrov. I received special help from classmates and dormitory roommates. I must say, both teachers and students were very friendly. Everyone helped me, and I also helped everyone. I became an external dissertation supervisor for an international student named Joseph Diogo. And as the head of the all-union and urban communities of Nigerian students, I visited Moscow and other Soviet cities. It seems to me that we really tried hard, but with current students it is sometimes difficult. But I love working with them. I have a lot of graduates, I can say that they are literally everywhere in Africa. And when we meet, they rejoice – I really appreciate this. I also value my articles and research. I managed to do a lot at universities in African countries, where I lived and worked from 1983 to 2021. I owe my success to the university – one of the best in the Soviet Union, and now in Russia. 

– What topic was your thesis devoted to? 

The topic of my thesis was a hotel complex in the city of Enugu, the capital of Anambra state in Nigeria. I wanted to work on something related to my homeland. Something specific, characteristic only for our country. When I graduated from high school, I received an invitation to graduate school from the Ministry of Higher and Secondary Specialized Education of the USSR. But I wanted to go home, get practical experience. For three years I worked in architectural and construction companies. Then I came back to LISI to do an internship and pass the candidate minimum for admission to graduate school. This was in 1979. In graduate school, I again took up the topic of the architectural complex of the center of small and medium-sized cities in Nigeria. After graduate school, in 1983, I underwent an internship on the topic “Working Enterprise in Industrial Complexes”. This specialization was needed to work in the metallurgical industrial complex in the city of Ajiakute, Nigeria, which was built with the assistance of the USSR. 

– Please, tell us about your research. 

My research is based on the thesis that architects and builders inevitably influence the environment in the course of their professional activities. But in what way – positively or negatively? Having built a house, it is necessary to preserve what surrounds it. It affects what we breathe, our health, our resources. This is the focus of my scientific research in the field of architecture and urban planning. 

– Has the university changed during your absence? 

Of course, a lot of new things have appeared at the university, but some things have remained the same. At the entrance is my favorite tree. I was surprised that it was still there, every time I pass by it. And the city itself, although renamed, is still beautiful, one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Wherever I am, if I say that I studied in this city, I hear – “Oh, you are lucky!”. Because everyone knows St Petersburg. This is my favorite city. 

– What can you wish to current students? 

To study well. They should take advantage of the opportunity and pay maximum attention to their studies.

Text: Tatiana Petrova
Photo: Kristina Kovyla


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