Architect Fitzgerald Umah and I have many things in common – we are both men of many parts, skills, activities and directions.
I call him Fitz. We met almost three decades ago as Lectors in our parish, St. Agnes Catholic Church Maryland, Lagos, with his father, Richard Umah who became our in the new millennium president.
Sadly but coincidentally, Richard Umah died on 16th October 2007, exactly the same day my father, Dennis Eboigbe passed on a year earlier in 2006.
But Fitz produced a replacement for his father, Richard. Richy, Fitz’s first son, was born on 12th February 2011, the exact date I was born in 1954. So the connections are almost uncanny.
Fitz, who is the immediate past chairman of The Nigerian Institute of Architects, Lagos chapter, is my MD, Principal Architect/Partner at Contemporary Architecture Limited, where I have been Chairman since 2010.
Just as my marketing communications profession has taken me through journalism and broadcasting, (Radio Nigeria and Voice of America), International Trade and Public Affairs (Canadian Trade Commissioners Service and the Canadian High Commission) and banking, (Brand Management, Corporate Affairs, Energy and Consumer Banking in UBA); so also has Fitz practiced his profession, Architecture, in banking, having served as Assistant Head of Projects at Fidelity Bank and as Project Manager at Diamond Bank, apart from his professional architecture practice, construction, and product importation, mostly of security doors, tiles, granite and fine wines from Italy.
Our international travel résumé shows something of ‘Where is Where’ to visit for business, conferences and vacations. Two of a kind and ‘Men of many parts’ indeed!
Now Fitz, the Lagos Boy, has found a second home in a place many of us would probably not have thought he would go – the 50th State of the United States of America, a place where the temperature can fall below -35° Celsius. Compare that temperature to Lagos’ top of 38.9°C and you know how his body may feel when he comes in and out of Nigeria.
So let’s go with Fitzgerald Chukwuemeka Umah to Alaska.
COME WITH ME TO ALASKA – By Fitzgerald Umah, Guest Writer
Over the last 3 decades, I have studied and practiced Architecture in the Tropical Region. But two years ago, I found myself in the North Pole precisely Alaska – an Arctic region. As an Architect, I found the place very beautiful despite the extreme cold weather, characterized by long daylight during summer and longer hours of darkness during the winter. This experience and reality triggered my curiosity, and so, I started to study Alaska which is not among the lower 48 of the US.
It is interesting how the rivers and sea freeze in winter but thaw in summer. It is indeed a wonder of nature and the “architect” in me was inspired. To learn more I decided to take a course in ARCTIC ENGINEERING at the University of Alaska at Anchorage, recommended by two friends in Alaska.
During the course I found out the following:
- 21% of land in Alaska is permanently frozen (Permafrost Area).
- Over 90,000 Alaskans live on permafrost area.
- About 40% of Alaska land mass is water and gets frozen in winter that trunks drive over them to shorten their travel time.
- Alaska has about 1,800 Island, most of the communities are not connected by road so they rely on air and sea transport for supplies.
- Alaska has about 400 Airports (they have more airports than some countries).
I am glad to have completed this course and happy to take more. Many thanks to Dr. Hannele, Dr. Orson and all of my course mates for their support. It was indeed an exciting learning experience for me, and a significant moment for my architecture practice. The better we understand our environment, the better equipped we are to improve our lives and living conditions.
Alaska is a beautiful place.
It is a U.S. state at the northwest extremity of North America. A semi-exclave of the U.S., it borders the Canadian province of British Columbia and the territory of Yukon to the east and has a maritime border with Russia’s Chukotka Autonomous Okrug to the west, just across the Bering Strait.
Russia offered to sell Alaska to the United States in 1859, and it became a state on January 3, 1959.
Alaska is not a hustle-bustle place like Lagos State or London, UK. The entirety of the state has a very laid-back feel to it, so if you love an easy-going flow, then Alaska is one of the best places for you to live. However, if you love the bustling pace of New York, even Alaska’s capital city Anchorage cannot give you that. But during summer solstice, Anchorage gets 19.5 hours of sunlight in a day.
The oil and gas industry is the largest component of Alaska’s economy. Nearly 85 percent of the state budget is supplied by oil revenues. The fortunes of Alaska’s oil industry, and therefore many sectors of the economy, are dependent upon world oil prices.
Alaska may be considered one of the most expensive states to live in as most of its cities and towns consistently have a cost of living that is more expensive than the national average but there are cities in Alaska that are affordable and still provide the lifestyle that people crave.
Alaska has no state income or sales tax. The total state and local tax burden on Alaskans, including income, property, sales, and excise taxes, is just 5.16% of personal income, the lowest of all 50 states.
Alaska is one of 29 states with a minimum wage above the US federal minimum wage of $7.25. The minimum wage in Alaska was $10.19 throughout 2020 and increased to $10.34 in January 2021.
The state also pays its residents over $1,000 every year just for living there. Permanent residents who opt into the state’s Permanent Fund Dividend Division can receive yearly cheques of up to $1,100 a year.
The five most popular jobs in Alaska are:
- Zoologists and wildlife biologists
- Geological and petroleum technician
- Airline pilots, copilots and flight engineers
- Material moving workers
- Commercial pilots
Even though it is the largest state in the US, Alaska’s population is sparse. With 24-hour daylight during the summer months and 24-hour darkness during the winter, many people find Alaska to be a strange and mysterious place.
But that is what makes the place more interesting. Come with me!
Fitzgerald Umah is Managing Director & Principal Partner at Contemporary Architecture Limited, Lagos, Nigeria.