Q&A With Architect Mariam Kamara

mariam kamara
Mariam is proud of her firm’s work in renovating a derelict mosque in Dandaji, Niger, turning it into a community centre that includes not only a new mosque but also a library. The centre is named Hikma, meaning“wisdom” in Arabic. Image credit: James Wang.

INTERVIEWED BY Lindi Brownell Meiring

Software-developer-turned-architect Mariam Kamara, founder of the Niger-based architecture and research firm atelier masōmī, puts people at the forefront of her practice.

We chatted to her ahead of her talk at Design Indaba 2019, running from 27 February to 1 March.

Why the move from computer science to architecture?

Architecture was actually my original career choice, but I didn’t think it was reasonable to pursue a creative field. Computer science was simply a more sensible option. Even after many years as a software developer, I couldn’t shake the feeling that architecture was really my path. I finally took the leap when I came to view architecture as a conduit for positive contributions in the social, economic, cultural and often even political dimensions of a place.

You designed the award-winning Hikma religious and secular complex in Dandaji, Niger, in collaboration with Yasaman Esmaili. What impact did you want to make?

It seemed to us that all around the world, religion is coming up against scientific, secular knowledge, with extreme strands of all religions rising everywhere. This is also true in Niger, where more than 90% of the population is Muslim. So for us this project was important because it allows us to take part in the discourse, designing a place of peace and harmony that taps into a fundamental precept of Islam: the pursuit of knowledge. It is a learning space that also has a place for worship where everyone in the village is represented and has a way of taking ownership. For the youth of the village, having the very first library where they can have access to literature (and not just textbooks) will be very impactful in helping widen their horizons and improving their language skills and school performance.

Read the full interview on pages 278 and 279 in VISI’s 100th issue. To see more of atelier masōmī’s work, visit ateliermasomi.com.