by STIRworldJan 26, 2023
Nigerien architect Mariam Issoufou Kamara's architectural studio atelier masōmī is known for its designs that draw inspiration from traditional monuments and vernacular structures. As we anticipate the project completion of many of their works including the Bët-bi museum near Kaolack in Senegal, the design of which is inspired by the area's ancient megaliths, and the brick architecture of Niamey Cultural Center in Niger, atelier masōmī recently unveiled their design for the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Presidential Center for Women and Development (EJS Center). In Liberia's capital of Monrovia, the centre will provide digital access to former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s personal and professional archives.
The design of the EJS Center takes inspiration from Liberia’s architectural heritage, especially the traditional palava huts. Palava huts were traditionally considered a reconciliatory space for healing in the wake of conflict as they encourage community-based interactions. In Kamara’s design, it is the architectural form of the palaver huts that take the main stage. Drawing from the tall, pitch roofs—which was a mechanism for managing Liberia’s heavy rainfalls—the EJS Center also adorns an exaggerated slanted form. As these huts were mostly found in rural areas, a group of these palava huts were used to impart a sense of community and togetherness. At EJS Center, this community feeling gets reimagined to create a civic purpose.
"The design is a direct response to the history, climate, cultural and architectural heritage of Liberia, Africa. The project is an introspection into the challenges faced and on the strength and hope brought about by inspirational leaders such as Madam Sirleaf. The first woman Head of State on the continent, her ability to bring communities together, and be supported by those communities in return, particularly women, was an important component of the conceptual vision of the project. The objective was to design a building that captured the sense of humility, service to a people, grounded in cultural authenticity and great vision that symbolises Madam Sirleaf’s work,” shared Kamara.
Considering the climatic conditions of Liberia, the material palette proposed for the centre includes local materials such as raw earth bricks, fired clay bricks, rubber wood and woven palm leaves. The intent behind this material palette also extends to the architects' aim to incorporate local builders, manufacturers and craftswomen in the project and help promote economic sustainability. Defining which, the studio states, “Rather than importing materials and skills, the construction of the EJS Center will be a process of building a contemporary, state-of-the-art complex in direct partnership with the people of Monrovia.”
Furthermore, the whole project aims to be as sustainable as possible. Through a series of simple strategies for minimising energy consumption and material waste, atelier masōmī is shaping a building that can act as a model for future projects of the region in terms of sustainable design. "The design maximises natural light over artificial lighting, through the addition of abundant skylights and windows, which helps to circumvent Monrovia's lengthy electricity shortages. Opportunities for natural ventilation keep the interiors cooler in the hotter months and provide a lower reliance on artificial cooling. This effort in lowering energy consumption will be enhanced by the use of solar panels to provide a sizable portion of the electricity for the Center’s day-to-day operations,” adds the studio.
In the realisation of the EJS Center, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf chose an all-women team. While Kamara is the lead architect for building design, Sumayya Vally of Counterspace will be the exhibition architect and Liberian architect Karen Richards Barnes, the local architect. As the series of exhibition rooms currently being designed by Vally, the courtyards flowing amid the functional areas and gathering spaces would mend them all together into one place for the people to meet. At the conclusion of the many things that the Center aims to be, atelier masōmī shares, “The result will be a place that serves as a beacon in the world and aims to energise and instil a sense of self-pride and optimism in its visitors, particularly Liberians."