David Adjaye’s Rolex protégée Mariam Kamara unveils cultural centre in Niamey
Drawing on local climate, materials and vernacular, Niamey’s new cultural centre by Mariam Kamara will be a valuable hub for the arts in the region, but also feel at one with its environment
Today’s Niamey is a city in the midst of transformation. The capital of Niger was originally built by the French during colonisation and as such, was created in a way that enhanced the different treatment of parts of its population – the Gounti Yena valley was one of the barriers between two key parts of the city, the more and the less wealthy layers of society.
Now, the city aims to completely reinvent the valley, from a symbol of division to fertile ground for cultural growth and exchange, by populating it with arts and learning institutions, as well as a path that connects the two sides and the nearby riverbank. The newly announced Cultural Centre for Niamey, designed by Atelier Masomi’s Mariam Kamara, is one of these important commissions.
The large scale project is set to house the first municipal library in the city since independence, as well as performance and arts spaces. Conceived to support the city’s growing number of young, creative people, the centre will not only be a space for learning, but also a place where the local community can come together for talks and workshops.
Kamara, who was mentored by Sir David Adjaye as part of the Rolex mentor/protégé initiative, shares a passion for rethinking contemporary architecture on the African continent with the Ghanaian-British architect. ‘The project is designed for the exterior spaces to be as important as the enclosed program with pedestrian paths and gathering spaces breaking what would have been a massive building into smaller structures,’ she says. ‘The objective is to create a building that is a truly public space, democratic in its access and flexible in its use.’
Meanwhile, the architect, true to her signature approach, drew on the local context for inspiration when it came to forms and materials. The building acts as a shelter for outdoor spaces and passively stack-ventilates the enclosed ones, also collecting rainwater in designated ponds and underground tanks for reuse. The main material is raw earth brick, a nod to local vernacular architecture, but also one that makes ‘the buildings seem to grow from the ground’, explains Kamara. §