When architect Christian Benimana, currently working in Kigali, Rwanda, visits New York City later this week, he'll clearly be far from the most popular foreign visitor arriving in town. But when the Program Director for MASS Design Group present his radical new proposal for a new initiative to train African architects to the United Nations Solutions Summit, he'll likely be speaking the language of community engagement being championed by the city's most famous guest.
"Everybody, regardless of where they are or who they are, deserves good architecture," he says. "And it's not just about architecture, it's about building communities and improving lives. What's we're trying to do is not just look at quick solutions, but long-term planning."
Benimana's concept for an African Design Center would train a new generation of architects in the field, promoting the kind of community-based approach that MASS has become famous for while also trying to bridge a widening gap between Africa's massive surge in growth (the population is expected to grow by one billion over the course of the next 20 years) and current lack of practicing architects and solid infrastructure. It's estimated the continent as a whole has a quarter of the number of architects and design professionals found in just the country of Italy. Benimana wants to make sure Africa has enough architects to meet this need, so that "growth doesn't become a challenge, but rather an opportunity."
The field-based learning concept that Benimana plans to present, one of 20 selected from the hundreds submitted worldwide, will promote real-world learning as well as soft skills, such as networking and business development. He's witnessed the difficulty of becoming an architect in Africa first hand; he had to pursue his education in China, and quickly learn the language once he secured a scholarship.
The goal during his brief visit to New York is to impress the panel of policy makers, investors and potential university and academic partners enough to to start forming partnerships and securing additional funding to begin building out the program.
"How many great African architects do you know?" he says. "We want to create a program that combines and integrates disciplines, and helps train the next generation of architects in the field."
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∙ Bauhaus and Ethiopian Students Build Experimental Urban Homes for Africa [Curbed]
∙ AFRICA Provides Creative Vision of Contemporary and Traditional Architecture [Curbed]