For a long time, Architecture has been a marginalized field. Its canon is Western, primarily white, and a male-centric industry with a predominantly Eurocentric focus and education. Yet, even in Africa, western architects still have an extensive influence on the architectural landscape of the region, and female African architects remain vastly underrepresented.
Since the arrival of Europeans in Africa in the 15th century and the subsequent transatlantic slave trade, colonial, post-colonial, and imperialist eras, many of the architectural styles predominantly seen in cities and coastal areas that have been influenced by western architecture became a source of inspiration. Eurocentric aesthetics, infrastructure, and economic standards were used to measure the value and prosperity of post-colonial societies—often viewing indigenous cultural and traditional practices as primitive and needing modification to be perceived as civilized.
After the Black Lives Matter movement of 2020, the industry began addressing its problems with diversity and race. Architecture and design activism campaigns, network groups, and advocacy initiatives such as Black Females in Architecture, ArchiAfrika, united➃design, and Where are the Black Designers are examples of institutions working towards creating positive change in the field through dialogue and action.
A pool of talented architects has emerged with design philosophies that inform the creation of contemporary buildings using traditional African building techniques and employing sustainable materials like mud, wood, and local stones. Read on to discover four female architects from the continent reclaiming the pre-colonial ingenuity and diversity of African architecture.
Already a household name in the Middle East, Egyptian architect Shahira Fahmy’s architectural practice endeavors to balance existing framework—tradition, culture, and urban morphology (the study of urban forms and the processes responsible for their transformations over time), with new spatial design concepts.
With an ethos grounded in the power of teamwork, she is the founder and principal of the architectural firm Shahira Fahmy Architects (SFA). Their chosen fields of design are diverse, ranging from large-scale urban development to products and furniture. SFA’s projects can be seen across Egypt, New York, Switzerland, and the Middle East. One of their most significant works includes an Arabic-inspired residential building, Block 36—situated in Sheikh Zayed City, Egypt. They believe that architecture is intended to be experimental and fulfill its social obligations.
Fahmy graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in architecture from the faculty of Engineering at the University of Cairo and a Master’s in Architecture at the same university. She received both the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Young Architect Award and the Harvard Center’s distinguished Loeb Fellowship in 2015.
Delfina Foundation Expansion, Victoria, London, UK. Photo: via @shahira_fahmy
Block 36, Westown, Egypt. Photo: via @shahira_fahmy
Pyramids Heights House, Giza, Egypt. Photo: via @shahira_fahmy
Mariam Issoufou Kamara is a Nigerien architect and founder of Atelier Masomi, a boutique sustainable design practice in Niamey, Niger. Kamara was previously a software developer working in startups in the United States. After spending a decade in tech, she went back to school, graduating with a Master’s degree in architecture. The career switch might be unusual, but Kamara wanted to fulfill her teenage dream of becoming an architect.
She gained international recognition in 2018 after being chosen for the Rolex Mentor Protege scheme and mentored by acclaimed Ghanaian-British architect David Adjaye for two years. Kamara, speaking about her time spent as Adjaye’s protegee, revealed, “I got the chance to learn from this amazing person, this master of the craft”. She continued, “It is the most important thing that has happened in my career and my life as an architect.”
In 2019, Kamara unveiled designs for the Niamey Cultural Center in the thriving Gounti Yenna Valley of Niger’s capital—inspired by Hausa and Songhai traditional architecture. It comprises a collection of raw earth buildings and will include the city’s first metropolitan library built since Niger became independent from France in 1960. It will also house a gallery, performance hall, and café. In addition, Atelier Masomi is currently building its first office named Yantala in Niamey, to be completed in 2022. It will be the city’s first multi-story building using compressed earth bricks that help to regulate heat and serve as a “tribute to sustainability.” As a collective, the firm they strives to develop inventive ways of using local, renewable, and inexpensive materials while exploring new adaptations of native architectural techniques.
Hikma Religious and Secular Complex, Niger. Photo: via @archdigest
Niamey 2000 Housing project. Photo: via @archdigest
Dandaji Market, Niger. Photo: via @archdigest
Co-founder of architectural incorporated design studio Limbo Accra, Dominique Petit-Frère is on a mission to create a new urban landscape in Ghana and other West African countries. The 28-year-old New York native wants to build things that positively impact her generation and future generations to come.
Rapid growth, changing identities, and new developments amidst high real estate prices have put Accra and many other cities in the continent in a sort of limbo, trying to modernize but still uphold indigenous culture and history. In response to this, Limbo Accra is an innovative, spatial design practice that is community-focused and reimagines architecture through its approach with incomplete concrete buildings for luxury houses abandoned across African cities. In addition, the studio provides areas for experimentation in design, architectural production, and public art. Petit-Frère explains, “Much of our work emerges from research and interdisciplinary design projects are rooted in the experimentation with the aesthetic and cultural significance of unfinished, decayed concrete structures in West African cities.”
The studio is currently designing its first built project, which will also be the first comprehensive recreational skate park in Accra, Ghana. Named Freedom Skatepark, Petit-Frère has stated that the project’s importance will demonstrate how young designers are making their ideas a reality and contributing to how they want spaces and their cities to exist; an ethos that Limbo Accra spotlights with their meaningful relationship with sustainable design, and creating green communities for a new Africa.
Master plan for Freedom Skate park, Ghana. Photo: via @limboaccra
LimboAccra exhibition at Space 10. Photo: via @limboaccra
”Concrete Skeletons“ Abandoned buildings converted to open art galleries by Limbo Accra. Photo: via @limboaccra
Miminat Shodeinde is a British-Nigerian designer and artist known for her artistic architectural practice that aims to align everyday with the poetic. She is the Founder of Studio Miminat, which was set up in 2015 while she was studying interior architecture at the University of Edinburgh.
Studio Miminat has designed interior projects, including a villa in Portugal and a house in Cape Coast, Ghana. For the 2021 London Design Festival, Shodeinde’s ‘Howard Desk’ was shown from September to October 2021 as part of the Discovered exhibition in partnership with the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) and Wallpaper* to support and promote young, emerging designers.
Her elegant designs have fluidity and sophistication to them while remaining functional. Every project has its own personality. She combines the “complementary” and the “contradictory” and incorporates the old with the new concepts to create “timeless, immersive experiences.” Shodeinde’s projects interweave architecture and art, delving into the connection between form and function. Her diverse background, inspirations, and global approach to artistry also contribute to her impressive design and architectural practice.
Private Guest House, Cape Coast, Ghana. Photo: via @miminatdesigns
Private Guest House, Gloucestershire, UK. Photo: via @miminatdesigns
The Oscar Chair. Photo: via @miminatdesigns
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