HIKMA – A Mind’s Garden – Description of Atelier Masōmī + Studio Chahar.
In the 9th century AD, Muslim scholars made remarkable contributions to the sciences and humanities in Bagdad’s Bayt al-Hikma, or House of Wisdom, a library and research center housing the worlds largest collection of books for scholars to engage both theological and scientific matters. Today’s religious climate could use such freedom to pursue knowledge alongside religious practice. With the support of local leaders, women and youth, the Hikma project re- introduces these values embedded in Islam itself, by transforming a derelict mosque into a library that shares its site with a new mosque for the village of Dandaji in Niger. The project will be a culture and education hub where the secular and the religious peacefully co-exist to cultivate minds and strengthen the community.
Knowledge as a means to social inclusion and economic advancement
Dandaji is a Hausa village in arid western Niger with a very young population of 3000, low literacy rates, and high economic vulnerability. The local middle school serves children from 5 surrounding villages with plans for a high school underway. The new library will be impactful by providing books, a computer lab and quiet study spaces to improve reading and vocabulary skills for the community and to increase graduation rates. By involving women groups in the project, additional spaces for literacy, accounting courses, and workshops were added. As a mosque, women never used the current building, preferring to pray at home. The library and its proximity to the new mosque will positively engage them and the youth with these religious spaces as productive members of the community.
A contemporary use of traditional forms, methods and new material
To renovate the old building to its previous glory, the original masons are invited to join the project’s team. In the process, they learn about adobe-enhancing additives and erosion protection techniques. Instead of the regions traditional but scarce wood, the interior renovation uses metal for study spaces, partitions, stairs and a mezzanine level, as a contemporary touch to a traditional space. The new building in turn re-interprets traditional Hausa mosque organization with contemporary structural support and detailing. Its two blocs and outdoor prayer space are suited to daily prayers, Friday assemblies, or large Eid celebrations. The dialog between the formal structures of the old and the new leads to further collaboration between the traditional masons and the construction crew.
Thermal comfort, environmental integration and low energy consumption
The project introduces Compressed Earth Bricks (CEB) made with laterite soil found on site; a new material in the area with the advantage of being lower maintenance than adobe, with similar thermal benefits. Most of the project materials are sourced from less than a 5km radius distance to the site, while the use of concrete is limited to structural elements such as columns and lintels.
The thermal mass of the CEBs and natural ventilation keep indoor temperatures comfortable and remove the need for mechanical cooling. The effect is amplified with extensive planting throughout the site, using a drip irrigation system to help the vegetation thrive. The system dramatically lowers water consumption and will use an underground water reservoir that captures the rainy season downpours.
MORE CREDITS – Building Contractor: Entreprise Salou Alpha et Fils. Engineering: URBATEC. Metal Fabrication: Atelier de Technologie Metallique.