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ON THE COVER

Architect Mariam Kamara, founder of Atelier Masōmī, is redefining architecture in her home country of Niger.

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Designers around the world came together for GRAY’s Virtual Design Expo.

Thank you to all the designers who spent time chatting with us recently. Watch their videos to hear about how they stayed creative during quarantines and their outlook on the future of design.

resilience wins

year and a half ago, when we locked in issue themes for 2020, we had no idea how relevant “The Warrior Issue” would be by the time we began its production. As we scouted stories to include, the world around us was reeling from a growing pandemic, job losses, economic uncertainty, and civil unrest. 

To us, in the context of design, warriors are designers who just don’t quit. They exhibit true grit and determination as they push themselves and their work to the next level to effect positive change. In this issue, we’ve invited creatives at every career stage to share their stories: a
Japanese industrial designer who challenged the tenet of form versus function and went on to become one of the most prolific and influential designers of the 21st century; an internationally acclaimed interior designer who still deals with gender disparity; and designers from around the world who united around a common goal during mandatory quarantines, and whose relentless creativity sprouted new products, messages of hope, and limitless inspiration.

 

BEFORE YOU MOVE INTO THE REST OF THE ISSUE, I'D LIKE TO TAKE A MOMENT TO SAY THANK YOU to our readers, social media followers, and advertising and sponsorship partners who have taken the time to send notes of encouragement and gratitude, and who have stayed with us during this unprecedented time in history. Your outpouring of recognition is so heartwarming and validates the tremendous amount of hard work and long hours that our team pours into GRAY to ensure that our work is meaningful.

For GRAY, like many small businesses, this year has been the most challenging we’ve ever faced. But we moved quickly at the onset of the pandemic to assess how to best support the design industry with our platforms. We immediately dropped our subscription rates and removed the paywall from the digital version of the magazine to enable even more people to discover its stories and resources. As stay-at-home orders extended, we sought to keep our audience engaged and to provide as much face time as possible by launching our Virtual Design Expo and symposium on April 1. The digital event, which included live talks with local and international designers, new product galleries, and more, was so successful, it will continue indefinitely on our website. As businesses began to reopen, we redesigned our weekly e-news to arrive on Monday mornings, and we completely redesigned our website to better accommodate video and other media content. In late August, we’ll be rolling out a new video series, “In the Design Lounge,” featuring roundtable discussions about today’s design business climate. And when it comes to the much-anticipated GRAY Awards, we’ve decided that the competition is more important this year than ever, so we’ve been busy imagining an alternative to a large, in-person gathering that will still provide a live presentation and celebration of this year’s winners. 

 

We miss you and eagerly await the day when we can see you all again in person. Until then, we offer this moment of escape and inspiration. 

 

Enjoy,

Shawn

INTEL

FIRST LOOK

New products, creative solutions, acts of kindness, and words of wisdom. Designers around the world have rallied with support and innovation during the pandemic. Here are just a few of the things that came across our radar.

#designmustgoon

RETHINKING URBAN ENVIRONMENTS IN THE MIDST OF THE PANDEMIC, Austrian architecture firm Studio Precht proposes Parc de la Distance: a social-distancing-friendly park laid out in the wandering pattern of a fingerprint. The concept offers a gated outdoor space lined with tall hedges and features paths that circulate guests from the edge of the park to its center and back around again. Sound a little too isolated? Cofounder Chris Precht explains that the height of the hedges will vary so that visitors are intermittently immersed in nature or able to see across the garden. 

Once COVID-19 retreats, the park will provide a safe haven where visitors can escape the noise and bustle of the city, and even enjoy some alone time—should the need arise again in a post-pandemic world. “I have lived in many cities,” Precht says, “but I think I have never been alone in public. I think that’s a rare quality.”

 

WE WERE HERE

“For hundreds of years now, Chilkat blankets have documented history, clan migration, and stories for the Indigenous peoples of the Northwest Coast of America and Canada,” says artist, teacher, and community facilitator Lily Hope (Tlingit). “Chilkat Protector will serve as a record of this time. In the future, people will know we were here, and we survived. We are still weaving.” Created by Juneau, Alaska-based Hope as a way to document the pandemic, Chilkat Protector is a mask featuring Chilkat weaving on thigh-spun merino and cedar bark warp and merino weft yarns, with tin cone and ermine tail embellishments. The piece will be on display through October 25, 2020, as part of the Washington State Historical Society’s 15th annual In the Spirit: Contemporary Native Arts virtual exhibition.

Sydney Akagi Photography

DOMESTIC JUNGLE

Italian multimedia artist and designer Matteo Cibic’s series of rugs—inspired by the forests of the Andaman Islands, which form an archipelago in the Bay of Bengal between India and Myanmar—was designed while he quarantined at his home in Vicenza, Italy, where he was “dreaming of pure, untouched wilderness.” The collection, woven from wool and silk in vibrant colors, is hand-knotted by the master artisans of Jaipur Rugs in a remote village of Rajasthan.

NO TOUCHING

Designed to mitigate the inadvertent spread of COVID-19 and other pathogens, the Sigma Touch Tool is an instrument for interacting with high-touch surfaces. Named for its shape, the fluid brass form features an eyelet for attaching to a key ring, a hooked surface for pulling door handles, and a subtle protrusion for use as a stylus for elevator buttons
or keypads.

UNTAINTED

LOVE

DRINKING AND DANCING ARE POSSIBLE IN THIS HAZMAT SUIT CONCEPTUALIZED FOR PANDEMIC NIGHTLIFE. The novel coronavirus has had a devastating impact on the music, hospitality, live events, and nightlife industries. To help revitalize them, designers Miguel Risueño, Sagdas, Juan Civera, and Francisco Zurita of Production Club (the team behind art installations and events for Skrillex, Riot Games, and others) created the Micrashell Futuresuit, a solution that allows people to safely interact in close proximity to one another. The airtight personal protective suit has an extensive filtration and breathing system that employs regulators with N95 filters, and also offers seemingly unlimited features—from phone and sound integration to a supply system that allows wearers to consume beverages. As of press time, the patent-pending suits are in the prototype phase as the design team collaborates with medical-device experts to fine-tune the invention. Production Club has already received requests for orders and hopes to bring the next-level garment to market in the near future. Visit their website for comprensive details.

RISE

ABOVE

In the early months of the pandemic, the art collective Electric Coffin brought Seattleites levity, joy, and hope with its large-scale projections of custom Mylar balloons scattered across the city. Working with the Paper Crane Factory for mobile projection, its Rise Above images appeared on landmarks, a hospital, and other buildings, and included uplifting messages such as “Thinking of You” and “We Will Dance Again.”

 

 

DESIGN DNA

LAYER UP

OBJECTS OF DESIRE

Pining for change of indoor scenery? GRAY has a surefire solution for every style, and every surface, in your home. Don't be afraid to pile on the layers with these top picks, from de Gournay to Christian Lacroix.
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FLIGHT + FANTASY 

Part of the L’Odyssée collection of fabrics and wallpapers from Christian Lacroix Maison (available through Designers Guild), Oiseau Fleur Bourgeon is an enigmatic jacquard weave with a soft shimmer, embroidered details, and a grand botanical scene.

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WHEN FASHION MEETS INTERIORS 

Fashion designer Erdem Moralioglu—known for his sumptuous floral patterns and feminine silhouettes—partners with de Gournay on luxurious silk wallpaper and fabric so gorgeous, you’ll want to wear it. The Imperial Yellow colorway (shown) is created when watercolor is painted onto hand-dyed silk, which is then backed with paper.

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GARDEN WALL 

Virginia Johnson, a Toronto-based artist and textile designer whose clients include Vogue, New York magazine, Kate Spade, and John Derian, launched her first wallpaper collection in May. Cabbage Allover (shown in Midnight) captures one of Johnson’s favorite subjects to paint (flowers) and is printed on clay-coated paper in the United States.

ART UNDERFOOT 

Himalayan wool blended with Chinese silk and subtle dye variations give the Sina carpet a velvety, almost painterly quality. Handwoven and hand-dyed, this limited series is only available at Driscoll Robbins’ Seattle showroom.

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AN ODE TO WANDERLUST 

Artist and painter Serena Dugan launched her eponymous collection of fabrics and wallpaper, Serena Dugan Studio, earlier this year. A highlight is this modern but feminine pattern (available in three colorways; textile shown on bench), which captures the vibrancy of the famed Italian island of Capri and was inspired by an Italian midcentury botanical sketch.

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PERSIAN RUG COMEBACK

Inspired by the extraordinary Polonaise carpets—woven in Esfahān and other weaving centers of Persia during the late 16th century and throughout the 17th century, with only 300 surviving today—Jan Kath’s Polonaise collection, done in his signature unconventional style, offers contemporary, reimagined versions. 

FEATURE

AFTER MORE THAN TWO DECADES of working for large entities including Seiko Epson and ID Two (now Ideo), industrial designer Naoto Fukasawa launched his eponymous studio in 2003 and went on to become one of the most prolific and influential designers of the 21st century.

THE WARRIORS

 

A 1998 prototype for the Seiko Kinetic Auto Relay wristwatch. Photographed by Hidetoyo Sasaki.

QUIET

BEAUTY

EMBRACING THE CORE ESSENCE OF AN OBJECT, JAPANESE INDUSTRIAL DESIGNER NAOTO FUKASAWA CAPTURES THE SUBLIME SIDE OF SIMPLICITY.

 

By Naomi Pollock

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simple circle encased in a small square, Naoto Fukasawa’s wall-mounted CD player was a dramatic departure from convention. Unlike the usual nondescript box with its blinking lights and buttons, his unadorned device was modeled after the familiar Japanese kitchen fan. While its exposed, spinning disc echoed the fan’s whirling blades, a pull-cord served as its on-off switch. Instinctual yet innovative, functional yet fun, Fukasawa’s clever idea was conceived in 1999 and subsequently produced by Muji, becoming one of the Japanese retailer’s most popular items and catapulting Fukasawa into design stardom. 

 

What distinguishes Fukasawa’s products is the thought he puts into each one so that it can be used, as he puts it, “without thought.” Fukasawa does not strive for invention or personal expression. Instead, his straightforward shapes, neutral colors, and rounded corners are encoded with information based on the designer’s keen observations of human behavior. The study of the unconscious ways in which the body naturally engages with an object is fundamental to Fukasawa’s design process. This approach yields products that practically anticipate the user’s next move—even before a finger is lifted. 

 

Fukasawa began his career as an in-house designer at the Japanese electronics giant Seiko Epson, which he entered following his 1980 graduation from Tama Art University’s Product Design department. After eight years, he was ready to leave. Cognizant of differences in design practices worldwide, he was eager to go overseas and landed a job with the San Francisco firm ID Two (now Ideo).

 

Fukasawa’s California stint coincided with the rise of Silicon Valley and provided a chance to work on cutting-edge, computer-related projects for Apple and other tech companies. Fukasawa could have stayed on in the United States, but instead chose to return to Japan in 1996, first running Ideo’s Tokyo office and then launching his own studio in 2003. “I wanted to be an international designer, but I also wanted to be Japanese,” he explains. 

Courtesy Driade

The stone-shaped fiberglass Koishi pouf, designed by Fukasawa for Italian furniture company Driade, pairs the tranquil forms found in traditional Japanese gardens with a vibrant, modern color palette.

Today, Fukasawa has found a perfect balance between the two. With half of his clients in Europe, he is active globally—a testament to the universal appeal of his work. Yet Fukasawa’s design sensibility remains rooted in Japan. Ironically, a major benefit of time spent abroad was Fukasawa’s development of a deep appreciation for traditional Japanese aesthetics. “Because I was out of the country, I could better see the beauty in Japan,” he explains. And in that beauty he found kernels of inspiration. It was while reading haiku—17-syllable poems highlighting a single moment—that Fukasawa realized that design could also underscore the joy of small, ordinary actions, like sipping coffee or picking up a pen. 

 

Take the Hiroshima Armchair. Its rounded back and arms wrap the body supportively, inviting the user to sit back and settle in. Created for the Japanese furniture-maker Maruni Wood Industry in 2008, the design began with Fukasawa’s empirical study of chair comfort. He noted that the seat angle needed to buttress the body and that people tend to lean sideways while relaxing, then incorporated these observations into his scheme. As if carved from a single chunk of wood, the chair is made of separate components that fit together seamlessly. Unsurprisingly, the design became a best-seller for Maruni. Now the company’s art director, Fukasawa extends his vision beyond creating his own products.

Working with manufacturers like Maruni is just one way in which Fukasawa has broadened his impact on the design industry. He is a member of the Muji advisory board, a director of 21_21 Design Sight (a hub of design-related events and exhibitions in Tokyo), and a former chairman of the Japanese government–sponsored Good Design Award. But among his most far-reaching contributions are the Super Normal workshops and exhibitions, which he curated with British designer Jasper Morrison.

 

The two designers have been good friends since the mid-1990s, when Fukasawa first visited Morrison’s London studio. Fukasawa recalls that they had lunch together at a casual, self-service café, where Morrison ordered one bowl of soup with two spoons. “He didn’t say anything. He just gave me a spoon so we could eat together,” Fukasawa recalls. “I was so touched.” There was no need for words nor explanation. They were already on the same page.

BELOW: A humidifier designed for Fukasawa’s own appliance and
sundries brand, ±0. MIDDLE: The prototype for an LED watch.

Hidetoyo Sasaki; Hidetoyo Sasaki; Akihiro Ito / un(amana group)

ABOVE: Fukasawa designed the ceramic Tetra vase for B&B Italia in 2005.

BELOW: Fukasawa designed the interiors of the Issey Miyake boutique in Japan’s 

Ginza district. There, aluminum panels, spaced to allow garments to be displayed according to different themes, are imbued with a traditional nasukon (purplish-navy) color.

Masaya Yoshimura (Copist); Aioi Pro Photo Co., Ltd.

ABOVE: Opened in 2020, the Kagoshima Bank Head Office Building features streamlined interiors by Fukasawa.

“Jasper is the rare person who really understands the simple culture of Japan,” Fukasawa explains. This shared way of thinking became the basis of Super Normal, a project that selected everyday items from various places—such as a blue plastic kitchen basket from Japan or the Bialetti espresso pot from Italy—and exhibited them in Tokyo and London in 2006. The show neither celebrated the objects’ appearances nor championed their designers. In fact, many of the items were created anonymously. Instead, it singled out objects so completely integrated with daily life that they are practically invisible. Through the eyes of the exhibition’s curators, the audience could see these items anew. Many exemplified the inherent, though unintentional, beauty of a form inextricable from its function.

 

Though machine-made and mass-produced, these Super Normal items share this and other qualities with the daily-use goods historically made by local artisans in Japan from wood, bamboo, and other materials. “They were not trying to make beauty,” Fukasawa says. “They were just trying to make the best tools they could.” These traditional items are categorized as mingei, a term meaning “arts of the people” coined by Sōetsu Yanagi, the philosopher, critic, and father of one of Japan’s design pioneers, Sori Yanagi. Concerned that industrialization might render them extinct, the elder Yanagi gathered mingei ceramics, textiles, and tools and used this collection to launch the Japan Folk Crafts Museum in Tokyo in 1936. Fittingly, Fukasawa became the institution’s director in 2012.

 

Bringing two of his passions together, 21_21 Design Sight hosted a show curated by Fukasawa titled Mingei – Another Kind of Art in 2019. It presented 146 traditional and contemporary items selected by Fukasawa from the Japan Folk Crafts Museum collection. Because of COVID-19, exhibitions and other public activities have been curtailed throughout Japan. Yet there may be a small silver lining to this pandemic. As Fukasawa notes, sheltering in place has been a boon for Japan’s flagging furniture industry. “Now people care more about the quality of life at home,” he says. And nothing accomplishes that better than thoughtful design.

Masayoshi Hichiwa / hue(amana group)

Designed in 2004 for the annual Takeo Paper Show,
these juice packages embodied the show’s theme, “Haptic.” Each design replicated the look and feel of the fruit whose juice the package contained.

 

James Wang; Atelier Masōmī 

COVER STORY

BOUNDLESS
POSSIBILITY

Drawing inspiration from her childhood in Niger, architect Mariam Kamara is addressing the political nature of public space while reclaiming the Nigerien architectural vernacular.

By Rachel Gallaher

ABOVE: Architect Mariam Kamara transformed a derelict mosque into a library that shares its site with a new mosque (pictured here) for the village of Dandaji in Niger. ABOVE RIGHT: Kamara, who grew up in Niamey, Niger, founded her architecture firm, Atelier Masōmī, with the goal of maintaining an intimate dialog among architecture, people, and context. 

James Wang

GROWING UP IN NIAMEY, NIGER, IN THE 1980S, ARCHITECT MARIAM KAMARA BECAME AWARE OF THE CONCEPT OF BOUNDARIES AT A YOUNG AGE. 

As a teenager living in a French-colonist-designed capital that lacked an urban language that accommodated socializing for women (traditional gathering places, such as the village square or community water source had been eliminated), she, like many women, found it difficult to find her place in the public realm. Although women and teenage girls aren’t confined to their houses (they run errands, attend school, visit one another), it’s solely men and adolescent boys who participate in faada, or the gathering in front of someone’s house to play cards, talk politics or sports, and drink strong mint tea, often until very late at night. Faadas are an important part of social life in Niger, and the exclusion of women creates a social divide along gender lines. 

 

“I remember being annoyed that I couldn’t sit out with the men,” Kamara recalls of her teenage years, “but as a girl, if someone drove by and saw you, they might consider you loose.” To get out of the house and have some private time with her friends, Kamara took advantage of the custom of walking guests at least halfway home after they had visited her place—an unconscious loophole that allows girls in Niger to participate in public life. “If my friend came over, then at the end of her visit I would walk her to her house, as is the custom, and stand in front of her house to talk for a bit and then go on my way.” Using their daily routines of shopping, errands, and paying visits to friends, women are able to keep a pulse on the neighborhood, see and be seen, and catch up on news, but always appear as if they are in motion or on their way to the next destination. 

 

What was once everyday life for the young Kamara would eventually become the basis for her thesis as she completed her Master of Architecture degree at the University of Washington, and have a strong influence on the very foundation of her practice, Atelier Masōmī, which is rooted in the belief that architecture is political, and that it has the power to elevate, dignify, and provide a better quality of life.

“Like most children, I grew up drawing,” Kamara says. “In Niger, we didn’t have art classes or art-related assignments, so I spent a lot of time at home drawing. As I got older, I started to attract attention from the adults with my drawing, and soon I was sketching portraits of my friends and giving them to their parents. I came from a very science-dominated family, however, and in my mind, pursuing something creative wasn’t an option, even though architecture was the perfect intersection of those two things.”

 

Both of Kamara’s parents were engineers, and after graduating from high school she decided to pursue a field that she thought was “reasonable.” It was the late ’90s, and the tech industry was booming, so Kamara enrolled at Indiana’s Purdue University to study computer information systems. That was followed by two years at New York University, where she earned a master’s degree in computer science. At the time, she recalls, “computers were king.”  

 

Post-university, Kamara entered the tech sector, working as a software developer and a software engineer, but, she admits, she could not shake her “desire to become an architect. It followed me the whole time.” 

 

By 2008, Kamara and her husband had relocated to Seattle, where he had accepted a job with Microsoft. Two years later she enrolled in a master’s degree program in architecture through the University of Washington, where the curriculum focused on subject areas that Kamara already had a deep interest in, including sustainability, regionality, place identity, and materiality. 

The mosque and cultural center in Dandaji, Niger, serve as a hub for culture, education, and religion. It is a place for the community to gather and strengthen the ties among individuals of all ages. Kamara tapped into the local architectural style, materials, and manpower (the masons who built
the original mosque were invited to join the team) to complete the project.

Courtesy United4Design; Maurice Ascani

“I started becoming aware of the importance of space in community and the ways in which the built environment has been used historically, often for harm,” she says. Take Niamey, for example. The capital city, which is located in the southwestern outcropping of Niger, is split by the Gounti Yenna Valley—a geographic divider that the French took advantage of when they started to colonize the area in the 1890s with the sole purpose of extracting and exploiting the its natural resources. Niamey was established in 1926 and within a decade, the master plan for the city had the colonizers primarily settled on the west side of the valley, building Eurocentric infrastructure and housing that favored nuclear families. (In Africa, family units tend to be amorphous. Extended family will often come to live with other family members for months at a time, and families will often take in a cousin or other relative to permanently live with them. The houses built by the French were not conducive to the local family structure or culture.) Indigenous Nigeriens, especially those without financial means, were forced to the east, segregated on their own land. 

“That divide essentially created two cities,” Kamara says. “On one side you had the European, economic, and political elite, and on the other were struggling neighborhoods. Even today, all that comes with that divide remains a part of the social fabric of Niamey, as well as almost every single African capital affected by colonialism.” 

 

Tapping into this history, as well as her experience as a young woman in Niamey, Kamara wrote her thesis, “Mobile Loitering,” as a response to public space needs in Niger’s contemporary, postcolonial society. 

 

She credits two of her advisers, Elizabeth Golden and Vikramāditya Prakāsh, with having a strong influence on her academic career, especially Prakāsh, who introduced her to theoretical, postcolonial texts and encouraged Kamara to explore ideas outside of the colonial, Western paradigms and narratives.

 

During her last year at the University of Washington, Kamara began receiving job offers, but soon realized that she wasn’t interested in working at a big architecture firm. 

 

“I was interested in doing work in Niamey, and I kept joking that I was just going to start my own NGO,” she recalls. “I repeated it so many times that Elizabeth [Golden] and my studiomate Yasaman Esmaili said, ‘You know what, maybe that’s not such a crazy idea.’”

 

In July 2013, Kamara, Golden, Esmaili, and German architect Philip Sträter launched United4Design, an architecture collective that, for its first venture, designed an urban revitalization project in Niamey. “My whole plan had been to graduate, take a month off, and work on a project in Niger,” Kamara says. “I had already been talking to some investors about designing modern housing that was affordable for buyers but would still make economic sense to developers as well.”

 

The finished project, the award-winning Niamey 2000 housing complex, was completed in 2016. Its design was a response to a housing crisis in Niamey. Rather than using the more-accepted concrete for the 18,000-square-foot building, the United4Design team utilized local materials (including unfired earth masonry) and passive cooling techniques to protect against Niger’s scorching temperatures. Taking inspiration from the region’s precolonial cities, the structure reintroduces the concept of intertwined housing, while also providing individual families with privacy. It positions six units where, traditionally, a single-family house would stand. 

 

Kamara had officially launched her own firm in Niamey in 2015 (she has spent the past few years splitting her time between Niger and Rhode Island, where she previously had an adjunct associate professorship at Brown University) with the goals of investing in the local economy and culture through her projects, and treating architecture as a social act. If existing boundaries were the result of a corrupt, exploitative system, then looking beyond those boundaries (and even breaking them down) could be a defiant act of not only resistance, but resilience as well. 

 

Kamara’s 2018 Regional Market project in Dandaji (a city about 300 miles east of Niamey) made her an architect to watch. Designed around an ancestral tree, the market features aesthetic references to the area’s traditional market architecture of adobe posts and reed roofs, but pushes
the typology forward by using compressed earth bricks and metal for durability. A colorful canopy comprising individual, recycled-metal shading structures provides shade for shoppers and sellers and elevates the experience with panache. 

 

Months of extensive research, including an understanding of culture, religion, gender roles, and economy, guided Kamara and her team during the design process. For each public and cultural project, she holds meetings with the community she is designing for to better understand its needs and how it will use a space. As a pre-design exercise for a religious-and-secular complex, also in Dandaji, Kamara asked local teenagers to write down and draw their ideas for the kind of gathering place they would like to use. The finished project turned a derelict mosque into a library that shares its site with a new mosque for the village—the proximity of the two spaces allows local youth to positively engage with both education and religion. 

ABOVE LEFT: The Niamey 2000 housing project, designed by the United4Design architecture collective (of which Kamara is a founding member), sought to address the housing crisis in Niamey, Niger. The design increases density (placing six units in a space that would traditionally hold one single-family house) and reintroduces locally sourced materials into the urban vernacular. ABOVE RIGHT: The regional market stalls in Dandaji, Niger. 

“I CANNOT BE AS STRAIGHTFORWARD AS SAYING THAT WHAT I DO IS JUST ARCHITECTURE. I AM WORKING WITH PEOPLE AND PLACE AT THE CORE, BUT THERE IS ALSO EVERYTHING THAT GOES INTO THAT, FROM CLIMATE TO THE ENVIRONMENT TO CULTURE. IT’S SO MUCH MORE THAN JUST BUILDINGS.” 
—Mariam Kamara, Atelier Masōmī

Architect David Adjaye with Kamara in Niger. In 2018, as part of the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, Adjaye chose Kamara to be his mentee for a yearlong project collaboration. The pair designed
a youth cultural center in Niamey, and hope to break ground on the project in the near future.

“THERE IS A GENERAL ISSUE IN THE ARCHITECTURAL PROFESSION, WHICH IS FINALLY BUBBLING TO THE SURFACE ABOUT THE LACK OF GENDER PARITY IN THE CREATION OF OUR BUILT ENVIRONMENT. I THINK IT IS A VERY RELEVANT AND PROFOUND DISCUSSION THAT NEEDS TO BE PLAYED OUT. MARIAM IS CRUCIAL TO THE EVOLUTION OF THIS CONVERSATION. I KNOW SHE WILL CONTINUE TO BRING HER VIEWPOINTS ON AFRICAN MODERNITY AND ARCHITECTURE TO THE FORE.” 
—David Adjaye, Adjaye Associates

A sketch by Kamara of the youth cultural center she designed with Adjaye;.

FROM LEFT: Adjaye and Kamara with a group of architectural models and a drone-view image of the youth cultural center’s site in Niamey; Adjaye and Kamara with an architectural model.

In 2018, Kamara was chosen by architect David Adjaye to participate in the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative. The program pairs gifted creatives who are early in their careers with internationally recognized masters in the areas of architecture, dance, film, literature, music, theater, and visual arts, for a year of collaboration in a one-on-one mentoring relationship. Born in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and based in London, Adjaye is widely known for his design of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., and the Ruby City arts center in San Antonio, Texas. Kamara and Adjaye worked together to design a youth cultural center in Niamey.

 

“I felt an affinity with Mariam’s outlook and aspirations,” Adjaye recalls. “When we went to Niger, we did a series of workshops with the community and listened and learned from their insights. This community engagement set the foundations for the project and informed the design of the Niamey center. Through these conversations, the need for meeting spaces and for cultural spaces—and particularly public spaces for women—became clear. Public buildings and communities in a Muslim country are essential, and providing the first municipal library, as well as performance and art spaces, is vital to the continuing development of the people and the community as a whole.”   

 

As with many architecture projects around the world, the start of construction has been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. In the meantime, Atelier Masōmī is keeping busy with design work. Kamara is currently working on plans for two residential projects and an office building, and is in the negotiation phase of two cultural projects—all in Niger. 

 

Although she isn’t opposed to eventually taking on commissions in the United States or elsewhere outside of Africa, she has deep convictions about the influence of the built environment on individuals and society as a whole. Reflecting on the cultural center she designed with Adjaye, she recalls showing teenage focus groups the drawings: “Before I unveiled it to anyone else, I showed the kids,” she says. “They were taken aback and had a hard time imagining a building like that could be in their city. That utter disbelief [stems from having] a self-esteem that is constantly bombarded by the message that things made by you or your people, with your local materials, aren’t good enough, or can’t possibly have anything to offer. [So when they] see an example of how it can look, that is incredibly powerful.”

 

LAST CALL

CONTRACT HIGH

Courtesy Karin Bohn and House of Bohn

Bright and bold terrazzo colors the walls inside CMMN GRND’s shared, gender-neutral washroom. 

ALL INCLUSIVE

A come-as-you-are philosophy fuels Vancouver's CMMN GRND, the gender-neutral fitness and social wellness collective where a playful, nostalgia-inspired design encourages community.

 

By Lauren Mang

The reception area features bold terrazzo paired with walnut cabinetry for a retro look not typically found in a fitness facility.

he typical fitness facility brings to mind a hyperathletic, overtly sexualized, and often-intimidating atmosphere. For CMMN GRND, a new 3,600-square-foot fitness and social wellness collective in Vancouver’s mixed-use Olympic Village, mother-and-son owners Cheryl and Dylan Archambault sought the exact opposite. “The jumping-off point for the design was the desire to create a space that celebrates all body types and orientations and brings people together,” says Karin Bohn, Founder and Creative Director at Vancouver-based interior design firm House of Bohn. The nostalgic interiors reference a 1970s mid-century modern aesthetic—from a time before social media when people connected IRL—and feature retro materials such as terrazzo, walnut, stacked stone, and brass accents. In the reception area, a living room concept, complete with brown vegan-leather lounge chairs, a coffee table, and a large communal table, encourages gathering and provides space for events. 

 

CMMN GRND’s shared, gender-neutral washroom is clad in colorful terrazzo, and several of the tiles’ hues (orange, yellow, teal, and black) make appearances on paint-slicked hallway ceilings and arches. “For some people who don’t identify with either gender, it can be intimidating to have to choose one particular space,” Bohn says. “Having the washroom area be open to everybody really creates a sense of community.” 

 

A stacked-stone wall in the yoga studio doubles down on the 1970s aesthetic. It’s like a throwback to your grandma’s basement, if she were super chic and wore Halston. The rest of the room is painted black to spur inward reflection rather than a focus on the reflection in the mirror.

 

“The space does exactly what it was intended to do: bring people together,” Bohn says. “It’s all about community and breaking down barriers and is the epitome of come as you are.”

FROM TOP, LEFT: A large communal table encourages gathering; vegan-leather chairs and a round coffee table in the living room help spur conversation; the open-to-all washroom creates a sense of community; the vibrant spin studio features LED lighting that can change color to the beat of the music.

“MOST GYMS ARE HYPER-SEXUALIZED AND CAN BE SUPER INTIMIDATING. THIS IS THE OPPOSITE.” 
—KARIN BOHN, HOUSE OF BOHN
GRAY magazine issue No. 53, The Warrior Issue

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