In the United States and the United Kingdom, women typically account for nearly half of architecture students, yet somehow they are less than 30 percent of all licensed architects. When it comes to African women in architecture, there aren’t any statistics that highlight the percentage of women in architecture, however, it appears that the numbers are even smaller. A 2017 Women in Architecture survey revealed that many female architects have encountered sexism, bullying, discrimination, and pay gaps between their male counterparts at comparable points in their careers.
Despite this, there are a myriad of pioneering women trailblazing within the field. Here, we take an introductory look into seven African women in architecture and the work that they are bringing to the table.
Shahira Fahmy, Egypt
Born and raised in Cairo, Egypt, Shahira Fahmy has become one of Egypt’s most sought after architects. In 2005, Fahmy founded Shahira H. Fahmy Architects, which specializes in interior and product design and has completed projects across Egypt, Middle East, Switzerland, and New York. One of Fahmy’s most recognized projects to date is Block 36, a contemporary Arabic-inspired residential building in Cairo, Egypt that was completed in 2008. Fahmy also takes on residential projects for private clients and believes that architecture is meant to be experimental while also fulfilling its social responsibilities.
Rosemary Orthner, Ghana
Rosemary Orthner has been around design and construction her entire life. Growing up in Ghana, her family operated a construction company, thus giving her exposure to architecture from an early age. With both Ghanaian and Austrian roots, Orthner has found success with Orthner Orthner Architects (OOA)–the firm she co-founded with her husband, Martin Orthner– with both residential and commercial projects in Ghana.
OOA has brought one of the first sustainable residential developments to Ghana with Legon City Lofts– an award-winning complex with four loft-style residences crafted from local materials. Orthner’s recent projects stress the importance of building affordable and sustainable housing to address Ghana’s housing shortage amidst an ever increasing population.
Rosemary Orthner is also the "Honorary Consul of Austria" and the "Austrian Foreign Trade Representative" to Ghana.
Lesley Lokko, Ghana
Ghanaian-Scottish architect, academic, and writer Lesley Lokko has been teaching architecture around the world for more than two decades. After graduating from London’s Bartlett School of Architecture in 1992, Lokko went on to earn a PhD in Architecture from the University of London in 2007. She has since taught architecture at prestigious institutes like the University of Illinois at Chicago, Iowa State University, University of North London, and others.
In 2015, she founded the Graduate School of Architecture (GSA) at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa and in 2019 she was appointed dean of architecture at the Spitzer School of Architecture in New York, a role that she served until October 2020.
While Lokko is not a practicing architect, her dedication to teaching and expanding access to the profession have made her well respected and highly regarded within the field. In 2020, Lokko won the 2020 RIBA Annie Spink Award for her contribution to architectural education. She is currently working on building the African Futures Institute, an independent postgraduate school of architecture that will be located in Accra, Ghana. Lokko also frequently contributes to The Architectural Review.
Akosua Obeng, Ghana
In 2016, Akosua Obeng was named the “rising star in the world of architecture,” per CNN. The Ghanaian architecture is a partner at Orthner Orthner Architects and has worked on many of the same projects as Rosemary and Martin Orthner.
Obeng is passionate about employing materials and techniques often associated with traditional architecture and presenting new ways of building for Ghana’s tropical environment. She also stresses the importance in designing in a way that honors Ghana’s heritage, natural environment, and local needs.
Akosua studied Architecture at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana and has worked on projects in the United Kingdom. She has been a partner at OOA since 2016.
Emma Miloyo, Kenya
Emma Miloyo has accomplished so much in a relatively short amount of time. In 2017, it was reported that Miloyo was the first woman to qualify as an architect in Kenya and in that same year she began serving as the first female President of the Architectural Association of Kenya.
Since 2007, Miloyo has been keeping busy at Design Source, an architectural firm she co-founded with her husband straight out of university. The firm specializes in everything from residential and educational projects to hospitality and religious institutions.
In 2018, Miloyo was named one of Kenya's "Top 40 under 40" and she is currently a Director at the Kiota School in Nairobi.
Mariam Kamara, Niger
Niger-born architect Mariam Kamara is behind one of the most significant architectural projects set to be realized in modern day Niger. In 2019, Kamara– a protege of David Adjaye–unveiled designs for the Niamey Cultural Center, a group of five raw earth buildings located in Niger’s capital. The collection of buildings will become home to the city’s first municipal library built since Niger gained independence from France in 1960, a performance hall, a cafe, and a gallery. Construction on Niamey Cultural Center was set to kick off in summer 2020 but has been postponed due to the ongoing pandemic.
Kamara is the founder of sustainable design practice Atelier Masomi, which has been in business since 2014. In 2018, the firm completed design for a permanent market in Dandaji, Niger, providing the community with 52 market stalls complete with brightly colored recycled-metal canopies that provide shade for each of the lots.
Kamara has also designed the first four-story building made out of Compressed Earth Blocks (CEBs) in Niamey. The sustainable building employs local materials and will be headquarters to Niamey’s first technology and innovation incubator, CIPMEN. Young Nigeriens working in technology fields will have a place to launch their start-up companies at CIPMEN.
Tosin Oshinowo, Nigeria
Nigeria’s architecture industry is relatively small, and its number of women architects that are practicing, even smaller, but this hasn’t deterred Tosin Oshinowo from finding success in the industry. The Lagos-based designer is best known for the Maryland Mall in Lagos but has recently been dubbed the “beach house queen” for her series of lavish homes on Ilashe Beach– private waterfront community that caters to Nigeria’s upper class.
In 2012, Oshinowo founded her own architecture firm, CmDesign Atelier (CmD+A), and she also runs her lifestyle furniture line, Ilé-Ilà, which was launched in 2017. Within her predominantly women-employed practice, Oshinowo attempts to create designs that start to shift the narrative, making it more about personal and cultural identities, merged with clean lines to create what she calls “Afro-minimalism.” Oshinowo’s fondness of minimalism is coupled with African influences that prioritize social experiences and interaction.
In 2020, Oshinowo was given the chance to partner with Lexus and Ghanaian designer Chrissa Amuah for Design Miami. Together, the pair crafted a series named “Freedom to Move,” that consisted of various conceptual face covering designs that were inspired by various aspects of African cultures and Japanese design principles.
There are many more African women in architecture besides the seven mentioned here and we look forward to highlighting their projects in future coverage. Design 233’s very own founder and Editor-in-Chief, Korantemaa Larbi, is a practicing architect and a champion for boosting visibility of women’s work within the field. A new Instagram account that we love for keeping up with African women in the field is @african_female_architects, which is also working on debuting as a magazine in the near future.