ALÁRA had the pleasure of speaking to Mariam Kamara, founder and director of architecture firm Atelier Masōmi, on her passion for rethinking contemporary architecture on the African continent. We discuss designing from an African perspective, to the balance of form vs function in design. Read the full interview below:
Who is Mariam Kamara and where did the inspiration for Atelier Masōmi span from?
I am an architect who grew up in Niger, where the main body of work of my firm is. You can say that the place itself is what is giving the work its identity – Niger is a country with a wealth of architectural history and heritage still visible today, the work we do there draws immensely from that and from contemporary life and culture as it exists today.
What designer/era/oeuvre would you say has had the most influence on you?
I wouldn’t necessarily single out an era or person, I draw inspiration from a variety of sources (architecture being just a small subset). There is so much art, design, or even music out there that is compelling and moves one. I think it comes down to absorbing things that speak to a certain ethos, way of looking at life and at what matters.
“We must start by knowing more about ourselves. A lot of our history has been erased unfortunately, or has been presented as somehow inferior.”
How do you navigate between design for form vs design for function?
Why must we separate the two…? Different projects or typologies can call for a different degree of intimacy between these two aspects of spatial design, so being overly rigid about one or the other doesn’t come naturally to me. Form is great and beautiful, but if it ignores function entirely, then how good is it really…? Similarly, if we obsess over function and ignore the form that results, have we not sacrificed something of consequence…? There is a balance there somewhere, but it must be allowed to be fluid.
You’ve previously advised African designers to stop looking to the West for inspiration, in your opinion, what structures can we put in place to further educate and “expose” young designers to the works and legacies of African design leaders?
We must start by knowing more about ourselves. A lot of our history has been erased unfortunately or has been presented as somehow inferior, so it is not an easy task. And perhaps this is why we are tempted to look elsewhere. But the question for me is to figure out how we want to move forward with dignity, self-respect, and confidence. In light of our most recent history, it actually means that we have to create new paths, new images that are truer perhaps, and find all the ways we can of sharing them with the world.
“If we obsess over function and ignore the form that results, have we not sacrificed something of consequence…?”
What are you spending time now on?
I used to paint a lot some years back and all but stopped. I have been feeling the need to get back to it recently, it helps me calm my mind and clarify my thinking sometimes.
Do you have any unrealized projects?
For me, the practice of architecture is one long journey, which I just started out on recently. I love the process as much as the end results, so I hope to have the privilege of seeing what happens along the way.