The Artisans Valley is a new public space project for Niamey set within the Gounti Yenna valley that currently divides the city in two. It is a whimsical promenade that incorporates spaces for local artisans to show off their traditional fabrication processes, while increasing their economic prospects. Rather than being in tucked-away areas where only tourists go in the city, they get the opportunity to be part of the urban landscape as a cultural experience for its inhabitants.
The project is conceptualized as a large-scale permanent installation, akin to a “Happening”, in the middle of the city. It consists of a series of seemingly fragile shells inspired by Niger’s rural cylindric clay granary clusters. The promenade is peppered with semi-circular perforated shells made of local compressed earth bricks that house artisan boutiques in some instances, shelter play-spaces for children in others, or envelop an outdoor amphitheater that brings additional life to the site at night.
The site is thus activated by day through the artisans, play and rest spaces and illuminated at night to welcome food vendors and city dwellers looking for some casual entertainment and socializing. The area, which is currently abandoned, unlit and considered dangerous, will become one of the safest public spaces in the city, allowing one to casually drop in on a movie screening or hang out with friends for nocturnal picnics - which are a staple of the local culture due to the desert heat during the day.
By appropriating and manipulating the circular granary shape, the project confronts many divides in the architectural landscape of Niger, such as “rural” vs. “urban”, “African” vs “contemporary”, “local” vs. “western. “ It unapologetically injects a traditional form into an urban landscape that wants to distance itself from those forms in the name of modernity, contemporizes and normalizes it. The shells and contained spaces will be built by local craft masons, weavers and metal-workers, also artisans in their own right, to produce an immersive experience as one strolls through the light-filtered structures.
Location: Niamey, Niger.
Site: 5200 m²
Lead Architect: Mariam Kamara
Design Team: Mariam Kamara, Fatima Adam, Oumou Soumaré