Mariam Kamara

1_Empathy / 6D – Spaces, Systems, Objects, Products, Graphics, and Experiences

Mariam Kamara is a designer for local communities. Her design ideology is “design that sustains people,” and thus works intensely to create spaces that include everyone in a way that supports the equity, economy and environment of that area. As a Niger-born architect who studied in the US, Kamara utilizes her education to empower others who grew up in her native country. Kamara’s work highlights her social and emotional skills of empathy as she can truly understand the thoughts, emotions, and needs of the communities of Niger since she grew up there. In the Hikma Religious and Secular Complex, Kamara designs a dynamic space, redesigning the original mosque, adding a courtyard and a brand-new library. By adding a library, the architect reinstates the idea that knowledge can be secular and religious. Kamara includes women groups into the mosque with the addition of the library. Women in the region typically would pray at home, getting left out of the space of the mosque. The inclusion of this group begins to showcase Kamara’s empathetic design strategies, at the community level, creating a more inclusive space and experience. Graphically, the exterior and interior details of the building appear traditional for the Dandaji community, fitting into the local context, while using contemporary building materials. The work showcases a balance between tradition and contemporary style.


Kamara’s Hikma Religious and Secular Complex references the 9th century, Bagdad’s Bayt al-Hikma, or House of Wisdom (even in its name), drawing on the historical space of theological and scientific research as inspiration. This reference hopes to reinvigorate the peaceful relationship between secular knowledge and religious expression that the culture experienced centuries before. The mosque utilizes contemporary metal structural support and detailing instead of traditional wood (a scarce resource of the region). In effect, the mosque blends tradition with current times, creating a profound spatial experience that community members can be proud of. Furthermore, Kamara uses the local soil as a building material to create compressed earth bricks (CEB) which use passive techniques, creating more efficient materials for the region. In the process of making CEB, local masons learn the techniques which can be used for other buildings in the community. Natural indoor ventilation and exterior planting (along with drip irrigation) recall past/ancient techniques that the local culture once used. The building is a testament to the balance of past + current to create a brighter future.


Kamara’s Hikma democratizes the idea of the mosque, including everyone, transforming the space into a center for the community. By challenging what a mosque can be, Kamara reintroduces the local community to its past culture, reminding them that complete knowledge can be the combination of secular and religious ideas. Now, the community has a better chance at educating their youth for years to come, creating more opportunity for the people. Kamara not only democratizes space, but she blends local tradition with contemporary ideas/materials to create a unique and engaging style. The pillars of sustainability- equity, environment, economy- pour through her designs in every aspect and process of the project from design and construction to actual use. The design narrative of Hikama is that of all Kamara’s projects: “design that sustains people.” This design ideology has the ability to create amazing cultural change, one community project at a time.

4_Would Kamara’s Hikma succeed in a different context?

Kamara specifically designs with the intention of that community in mind. There’s a site-specificity in her material, spatial, and structural choices. Where many western-thinking designers employ object-based architecture (like Gehry), Kamara’s designs focus on a specific community’s culture, environment, economy, etc to make social change and a more functional community. If the building was placed in a different context, the references to local tradition through spatial and material choices would be lost and rendered meaningless.