In "60 Seconds With," ELLE DÉCOR editor chats with creatives and industry leaders, getting the scoop on their life and work in one minute or less. In this installment, he chats with Mariam Kamara the Nigerien architect and founder of who was recently added to ED's prestigious A-List Architecture. Her stunning buildings run the gamut from low-income housing to libraries in her homeland. An acolyte of fellow A-Lister David Adjaye, she builds structures for the people who will one day occupy them. Form follows function, but her formal approach is her own. Those things mixed with a commitment to contextuality and a generally positive outlook make her one of the world's greatest talents in the field of architecture. Kamara's one minute starts...now.
At your firm, Atelier Masomi, the focus is on buildings that improve people’s lives. How does that work?
Architecture has great power to affect people—it’s the spaces we inhabit. And because of that, it can be dangerous to create spaces that have nothing to do with the people who are destined to use them.
What motivates you?
I’m motivated by my history and where I come from. I grew up in Niamey, the capital of Niger, which was designed by the French when it was a colony. The building layouts never worked culturally because of how we lived our lives—for example, there were indoor kitchens, but Nigeriens traditionally cook outside.
Niger can get hot. When building your affordable-housing project, Niamey 2000, how did you ensure that the inhabitants would be comfortably cool inside?
By using local materials. Soil-based architecture—clay and mud—is the most effective for thermal comfort.
Why are aesthetics important?
We’re making architecture not for ourselves but for others. It’s important to send back to the inhabitants an image they can be proud of. Aesthetics should never be dismissed.
Would you ever consider taking on a luxury-condominium commission?
Even a luxury condominium doesn’t have to be obnoxious. You can give any building a soul.
Would you ever like to be referred to as a “starchitect”?
I don’t know what that is. I have no idea what people mean when they say it. If I can leave behind something of value, then I’m happy.
What is a question you’re constantly trying to answer?
How do we create our own modernity and disassociate it from what I call “West-ernity”?
You’re currently teaching at Brown University. Do you have advice for the young architects reading this?
Develop a voice and a mission.