HIKMA: Legacy Restored in Niger

A derelict mosque in Niger is revived into a hub for the community

HIKMA: Legacy Restored in Niger

A derelict mosque in Niger is revived into a hub for the community

Hikma religious and secular complex is a community node in Dandaji, Niger, juxtaposing a new mosque next to its predecessor, now retrofitted into a library. The two are linked by inclusive public spaces..


The once-derelict mosque, now library, seen from the minaret of the new mosque.
© James Wang, Atelier Masōmī

Hikma means ‘house of wisdom.’ The project – a 5,238m² cluster of programmes and spaces – seeks to promote literacy and social interaction.


The Hikma is a place where the secular and religious activities can co-exist.
© James Wang, Atelier Masōmī

The villagers had initially considered demolishing the old mosque and replacing it with a modern concrete structure. However, the architects, Mariam Kamara of Atelier Masōmī in collaboration with Yasaman Esmaili’s Studio Chahar, advocated for its restoration and reuse as a library.


The old mosque is now a reading space that welcomes women and young people.
© James Wang, Atelier Masōmī

Next to the repurposed building is the new mosque, accommodating 1,000 people. It has two prayer halls and two ablution spaces and is separated from the library by a landscaped plaza that is used as a playground and for community events.


The older building is carefully restored and transformed into a modern amenity.
© Maurice Ascani, Atelier Masōmī
Traditional knowledge in a new light

To restore the old building, Kamara invited the original masons to join the project’s team, calling on their skills and know-how to complement some of the contemporary techniques being used.


The restoration of the library shell deploys new techniques.
© James Wang, Atelier Masōmī

That approach allowed local craftsmen to get familiar with adobe-enhancing additives and erosion protection. Reinforced concrete, cast in-situ, was favoured for walls to be rebuilt or repaired.

In place of wood – a traditional but scarce resource – metal was used to create partitions, stairs and a new mezzanine floor in the library.


The project uses compressed earth blocks made with soil that is found onsite.
© James Wang, Atelier Masōmī

The new mosque and its ancillary structures are made of compressed earth blocks (CEB), which consist of soil and a strengthening agent to form a composite that lessens maintenance and construction costs. For the main structure, raw clay is manually packed and moulded around wood dowels.

The exterior was plastered with a mix of clay, shea butter, sand and non-traditional laterite. Re-plastering, which otherwise would be required annually, is now limited to once every decade.


A durable composite plaster is applied to the exteriors to lower the overall maintenance costs.
© James Wang, Atelier Masōmī

Most of the project materials were sourced within a 5 km radius of the site.


The roof of the new mosque reveals patterns that are typical to the architecture of the region.
© James Wang, Atelier Masōmī
Low-cost meets high-performance

Natural ventilation, combined with the thermal mass of the CEBs, keeps indoor temperatures within the human comfort range passively, eliminating the need for mechanical cooling.


The material choices in Hikma create a passively-cooled and comfortable interior.
© James Wang, Atelier Masōmī

Extensive planting throughout the site further reduces the risk of overheating.


The site plan shows the new mosque and the library, surrounded by a landscaped plaza that offers comfortable outdoor spaces.
© Atelier Masōmī

An underground tank captures the season downpours and a drip irrigation system limits the landscaping’s water requirements.


The site section shows the location of the rainwater tank, situated under the plaza.
© Atelier Masōmī

Hikma serves as a compelling model for arid climates, merging old and new methods to deliver cost-effective and low-impact solutions.


The project succeeds as a learning space in part because it is a comfortable oasis in an otherwise extreme climate.
© James Wang, Atelier Masōmī

The library is accessed by women and young children offering opportunities for literacy.
© James Wang, Atelier Masōmī

The project is also noteworthy for its spatial programming, creating opportunities for women and young people to engage in public life. This is an important takeaway for communities elsewhere who are similarly bound by conservative social norms.

The project won Holcim Awards Gold Middle East Africa in 2017 and the Global Holcim Award Silver the year after for its humanitarian design for an underdeveloped region with harsh climatic conditions.

Read more about the project on Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction website.

Post sponsored by the Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

A Novel project is innovative in one or two ways, say, material use, passive design, community engagement, etc. Performance, here, might be discussed in quantitative or qualitative ways.

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Fact Sheet

Disclaimer: Location provided as reference only. Exact site may differ.

W: Hikma

Dry climates have low annual mean precipitation and humidity levels, with distinct seasons and wide diurnal swings, often with hot days and cold nights. Traditional architecture uses heavy materials for thermal lag, shade and evaporative cooling for comfort.

There is no performance metrics for this project.

Architects:
Mariam Kamara, Atelier Masomi, Niger
Yasaman Esmaili, Studio Chahar, Iran

Building Contractor:
Entreprise Salou Alpha et Fils

Engineering:
URBATEC

Metal Fabrication:
Atelier de Technologie Métallique

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Good design often reveals what we do not know we need. But such a feat depends not only on what we tweak and improve, says Kjetil Trædal Thorsen, but how we re-imagine the process. The question is: where to start?
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