Liberia: Women Architects to Design EJS Presidential Center and Library

Former President Ellen Johnson -Sirleaf.

The Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Presidential Center for Women and Development (EJS Center) announces that it is collaborating with atelier masōmī’s Mariam Issoufou Kamara, Counterspace’s Sumayya Vally, and Pan-African Engineering Group’s (PAEG) Karen Richards Barnes in the design of a state-of-the-art Presidential Center and Library in Monrovia, Liberia. 

“The project will be a landmark in every sense of the word,” says a statement from the EJS Center. “Never before has a woman president founded and commissioned the design and build of a presidential center and library.

Not only will the building provide digital access to former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s personal and professional archives, but it will also educate, inspire, and drive visitors forward on their own leadership journeys.

It will offer a space for training and networking, present exhibits that inspire women to pursue leadership in all spheres and be a national and international hub for programs that advance the socio-economic situation of women and girls and uphold their rights and democratic freedom.

“The Presidential Center and Library will feature a contemporary, future-facing sustainable design that uses local and sustainable materials wherever possible, such as Liberian rubberwood. It will also incorporate vibrant works from African artists, designers, and artisans. These environmental and artistic elements will lend the campus a strong sense of purpose and identity.”

According to the EJS Center, the use of local materials and traditional architectural styles reflects the Center’s respect for African artistry and will inspire the same in others, bringing a sense of history, culture, and social context to visitors. Open exhibit spaces will allow for special access to study and source materials, while quiet corners will offer spaces for reflection. International visitors will learn about the history and culture of African women, alongside more recent events—including the political career of President Sirleaf herself.  

The EJS Center has identified land in Liberia’s capital city of Monrovia, located beside the city’s busiest thoroughfare and overlooking the Atlantic coastline—a site adjacent to the president’s residence. The project will harness the expertise of celebrated women architects, with lead architect Mariam Issoufou Kamara directing the building design, Sumayya Vally as scenography, pavilions, and exhibition architect, and distinguished Liberian architect Karen Richards Barnes as the local architect. Once completed, the Presidential Center will represent excellence in African architecture and serve as a distinctive feature within the landscape of Africa’s national and cultural institutions. This partnership between the EJS Center, Ms. Kamara, Ms. Vally, and Mrs. Richards Barnes will create a truly unique destination with women and girls at the very heart of its design. 

Since its official launch on International Women’s Day 2020, the EJS Center has successfully situated itself as the continent’s driving advocate for gender equality in public leadership by building on the inspirational legacy of former President Sirleaf. Through training, mentoring, and networking, the EJS Center aims to ensure more qualified African women are able to vie for and assume political and executive leadership throughout the continent. Today, it embarks on the next phase of its journey as it plants its feet firmly on Liberian soil to inspire and nurture new women leaders for generations to come.

Mariam Issoufou Kamara is an architect from Niger who studied architecture at the University of Washington. In 2014, she founded atelier masōmī, an architecture and research practice that tackles public, cultural, residential, commercial and urban design projects. The firm’s headquarters are in Niamey, with a smaller office handling design projects in New York.  

Between 2017 and 2018, Mariam served as an adjunct associate professor at Brown University. In 2021, Mariam was the Aga Khan Visiting Critic at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Kamara is a Laureate of the Prince Claus Award. The New York Times named her as one of 15 Creative Women of Our Time. The firm has been on the AD100 list since 2021. 

Sumayya Vally’s design, research and pedagogical practice is searching for expression for hybrid identities and contested territories. Her work is often forensic, and draws on the aural, performance, the supernatural, the wayward and the overlooked as generative places of history and work.

Vally is the founder and principal of Counterspace, an award-winning design research practice based between Johannesburg and London, with current projects focused on expressions for African and Islamic hybrid identities – both rooted and diasporic.

Karen Richards Barnes is founding Partner and Principal in Charge of architectural design and business development for PAEG. She has 29 years of professional experience as an architect, both in design and construction management of projects in the USA and Liberia.  Karen is self-motivated, goal oriented, possesses strong engineering and technical skills and is known for her ability to offer unique perspectives, the blending of knowledge of business development, design, construction and project management, and marketing to develop creative and time effective solutions and approaches to a project.  Mrs. Richards Barnes is a graduate of the New York Institute of Technology (Bachelor of Architecture) and the Franklin Institute of Boston (Associate Degree in Architectural Design Technology). She is an active member of the Liberian Institute of Architects.