Mosque Renovation to Library Earns Place in AIA Emerging Professionals Exhibit

How did you get involved with the Dandaji Library project?

In 2008, I was a teammate with Mariam Kamara in a graduate studio at University of Washington and since then we have been working together on several projects around the globe. Mariam is from Niger and recently she was approached by Dandaji village leaders to get some help turning the old mosque to a library and designing a new mosque for their village. We both decided to volunteer our time to work on this project.  

Dandaji Library Interior

Dandaji Library Interior

How did you alter the original mosque to modernize the structure and make it suitable for a new library and community asset?

After going through several design concepts and talking with the community members, we decided to respect the existing structure and restore it to its original status while technologically enhancing its earth finish material and wall base for more durability and protection against water erosion.

To create the library, we are introducing new modular elements in the space that create divisions, book stacks, tables, and chairs. The modular paneling system is created by threading locally-woven ropes and fabric through metal panels, which evoke the lattice quality of the wood decking above the ceiling’s reinforced abode dome ribs. The paneling system creates flexible and generous spaces that accommodate different group sizes.

The newly defined spaces have various characters and form enclosed reading/workshop spaces on two levels along with semi-open and open outdoor spaces. By adding a mezzanine level with a similar structure as the modular panels, the users come closer to the intricate design and textures of the traditional ceiling and its beautiful domes.

Why was it important to this community that the mosque be rehabilitated rather than demolished and have something else be rebuilt?

The mosque is a sacred place for the village and this sacredness has not disappeared even though the building has fallen into disrepair. Since the mosque cannot accommodate the growing population of the village, a new mosque is to be constructed in an adjacent site but there is an empty sacred space that is still precious for the villagers because of its meaning and history.  

The village’s first library and literacy center can carry a similar level of value for the village while celebrating its old character and cultural legacy. For example, the old mosque’s Mihrab – a niche that indicates the direction to Mecca – will be designated as a religious studies area in the new library.

The Dandaji Library will not only impact children through enriched literacy opportunities, but provides space for community groups and workshops. How might other communities benefit from improving, modernizing, or rehabilitating underutilized properties?

The process of identifying, caring for, and curing underutilized spaces brings hope to communities, creates social hubs, and gives the community an opportunity to be part of the decision-making process for their environment. The process of rebuilding not only creates new spaces that can physically serve the community, but also promotes positive thinking and is a practice for being resourceful and making the best of what is available.

How does this project resonate with your architectural practice?

By working on this project, and similar ones, my practice is to approach each design task with fresh eyes and to minimize my assumptions and implicit biases. Each new design task is a unique challenge to solve and explore, and the architect’s responsibility is to identify the most resourceful design solution that can improve the quality of life for all members of the community.

The AIA 2016 Emerging Professionals Exhibit theme is “It Takes a Community” and honors projects with a focus on community impact and engagement. Why do you feel that these qualities are so important to the profession?

Architects create spaces for people. Therefore including the future users of a space in the design process should be seen as the most natural part of the design process. Community involvement in the design process promotes design equity by making architecture available for more people and let the users actively have an input in shaping their own environment and improving it. Furthermore, engaging community in the design process of public projects like the Dandaji Library gives the users a sense of ownership and engagement that is the key for utilizing and maintaining the building in the years to come.

What does it mean to you to be recognized as an Emerging Professional?

The AIA defines Emerging Professionals as young architects who have been practicing for less than 10 years. As an emerging professional I have the opportunity to work with experienced professionals and can observe and learn through practice. I also represent a new generation that is shaped in the era of collaboration, global visibility, and connectedness. I think architecture is moving toward becoming a more collaborative profession and the emerging professionals can look into the future with fresh eyes and offer new perspectives, promote change, and believe in a better future.

dandaji photo3

The Dandaji Library will serve youth and provide space for community and women’s groups


All images by Yasaman Esmaili and Mariam Kamara