Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative mentee Mariam Kamara is part of an exciting new generation of African architects. Collaborating with her mentor, renowned Ghanian-British architect Sir David Adjaye, she created an innovative design for a cultural centre for her home city, which was presented at the prestigious 17th International Architecture Exhibition this year.
Niger-born Mariam Kamara is part of a new generation of African architects challenging the dominance of Eurocentric design in modern architecture. The protégé of renowned Ghanaian-British architect Sir David Adjaye – who began her mentorship through the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative – Kamara is looking to the past to build for the future and putting people at the forefront.
It makes sense then, that when tasked with designing a new cultural centre in her home city of Niamey in Niger, she organised workshops with local high schoolers, artists and performers to hear what they wanted for the city. “In a desert city, they worried about green spaces and places they could go for peace; and if it’s green, it is probably cooler, too,” she says. “They also wanted a place that would reflect local traditions.”
Joined by her mentor Adjaye, Kamara’s journey back to her village in Niger and to the ancient city of Agadez, where residents live in houses built in the 14th century, became the foundation for her plans for the cultural centre. Sustainable design was built into the structure from the very beginning, with towers of locally manufactured bricks creating shade, while allowing for ventilation, a cooling system and water retention.
“Building out of earth is really important to make it sustainable, but also to be livable without having to use air-conditioning inside,” she explains. “With that comes the opportunity to use local masons; the space may look different but it uses the same principles they are used to, without having to bring in outside expertise.”
Kamara’s mentorship with Adjaye has played a vital role in her development as an architect, helping her hone her ideas while empowering her to take risks. “Working through this project with David has allowed me to trust my design instinct more. This has allowed me to confirm my voice and not apologise for it,” she says.
Kamara’s designs were presented at the 17th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia this year. For the fourth time, Rolex was the Exclusive Partner and Official Timepiece of the exhibition, the Swiss watchmaker having long held a deep interest in the connection between timepieces and architecture. “Rolex has long championed ideals that encourage human ingenuity and the ability to achieve the highest standards of performance,” says Arnaud Boetsch, Rolex’s director of communication and image.
Photography: Rolex / Thomas Chene