Studio NYALI: “Architects Need to Reckon with Our Roles as Translators”
Reframing culture and identity begins with context and perspective. For London-based architecture practice Studio NYALI, this act of reframing is at the heart of contemporary design. Founded by Nana Biamah-Ofosu and Bushra Mohamed, their work aims to center peripheral identities, cultures and people by examining, challenging and shifting architectural critiques and narratives. This critical perspective moves education and practice towards a more inclusive, holistic understanding of the built environment.
As they’ve described, Studio NYALI is focused on identity, shared histories and spaces with a strong belief that architecture must be understood as the embodiment and artifact of human experience. Building off their recognition as one of ArchDaily’s Best New Practices of 2021, the following interview explores the studio’s interest and work, as well as their latest projects and inspirations. It also highlights how this innovative practice is reimagining more inclusive and equitable futures.
Why did you both choose to study architecture?
Bushra Mohamed: As a child, I had interests in a wide range of subjects – painting, drawing, woodwork, geography, music and literature. Architecture allowed these interests to be synthesized within a creative profession.
Nana Biamah-Ofosu: Studying architecture allows me to engage with my wide-ranging interests from science and mathematics to literature, language and art. It also felt like an interesting profession to pursue.
Can you tell us about Studio NYALI and your roles, and how your work has evolved over time?
Studio NYALI is a London-based architecture, design and research practice founded by Nana Biamah-Ofosu and Bushra Mohamed. We met at Kingston School of Art and shared a frustration in the profession’s dismissal of our lived experiences growing up outside the UK.
Our work aims to center peripheral identities, cultures and people by examining, challenging and shifting architectural critiques and narratives towards a more inclusive, holistic understanding of the built environment. The practice, set up in the summer of 2021, is focused on identity, shared histories and spaces with a strong belief that architecture must be understood as the embodiment and artifact of the human experience. Our first project, the ArchiAfrika Pavilion was completed for the 2021 Venice Biennale. We continue to work on the publication of our research on the African Compound House, as well as on a number of house extension projects in London. Earlier this year, we completed the exhibition design for Althea McNish: Color is Mine at William Morris Gallery in London.
Through teaching and research, we are constantly testing our ideas, and finding ways of collaborating.
Can you tell us more about your commitment to centering peripheral identities, cultures and people, and how these ideas translate into your work?
As previously mentioned, our shared interests and frustrations within the discourse, led us to this pursuit of centering peripheral identities, cultures and people. A gap exists within the profession that ignores the plurality of identities that the built environment represents and caters to. At the Architectural Association and Kingston School of Art in London, we lead units that explored the spatial manifestation of diasporic cultural identities, within postcolonial contexts and in relation to the future of the cosmopolitan settlement. The only way to establish equity in our built environment is to ensure historically marginalized identities and architectures are acknowledged and repositioned within the canon.
What are some recent projects you’ve been working on?
The Course of Empire: A Compound House Typology Publication – Ongoing
This publication documents the African compound house as typology, investigating its historical and contemporary condition. Part of an ongoing research project, the book focuses on this typology in Ghana, exploring it through precedent and contemporary design projects. The Course of Empire investigates how this historic typology can be used to generate more thoughtful responses to urban growth and continuity in African and Western cities.
EFIE: The Museum as Home Exhibition – Complete Dec 2021
“EFIE: The Museum as Home” shows historical and contemporary art, video works and multimedia installations by various artists including Studio NYALI. Studio NYALI’s work, titled House for a God, explored architecture’s connection to spirituality and our own connection to the divine through a series of reflections on the Ejisu-Besease Shrine house located in Ejisu, Kumasi. A building created to house a deity, the shrine house reflects traditional Asante architecture, culture, and values. It is a house for a god, built by us, seeking our own godliness through a physical form. The exhibition was conceived by the art historian, author, and filmmaker Nana Oforiatta Ayim.
Althea McNish: Color is Mine Exhibition Design – Complete April 2022
Althea is one of the UK’s most innovative textile artists and the first designer of Caribbean descent to achieve international recognition. She had a transformative impact on mid-century design and her influence endures today. Drawing on extensive new research and her personal archive, Color Is Mine is a retrospective exhibition of McNish’s extraordinary career, designed by Studio NYALI, it is open from 2nd April until 11th September 2022.
House Extensions in London – Ongoing
We are developing designs for the reconfiguration and extension of two terraced houses in London.
With changes to climate, technology, and construction, how do you think architects and designers will adapt ways of practicing to change the profession?
It is important that we recognize that these issues are interlinked and can’t be meaningfully addressed separately. Climate justice is racial and social justice. For the profession, we need to recognize that material specification and calculations are one solution to the climate emergency. More importantly, we need to speak with confidence and articulate a clearer position on how we live and build – this requires a collective shift in culture and habits. We also need to value other ways of thinking such as indigenous building cultures – many of the solutions we seek for today’s challenges can be found in historical precedents and tradition. We must also recognize the duality within the climate crisis – it is a global issue with repercussions for the whole world but the solutions we propose should be place-specific; for example – what works for the global north is not necessarily suitable nor meaningful for the global south.
You both teach as well as practice. In your view, how does academia inform practice?
There is an intrinsic link between architectural education and practice. Teaching is a form of architectural practice and in many ways, the practitioner never stops learning. An architect’s education is continual and responds to the changing world in which we live: new technologies, the lack or abundance of materials and the places in which we build. Teaching provides the opportunity to be immersed in these conversations through design-led studios and research projects. Without continual research and experimentation, we will not unlock the full breadth of solutions Our imaginations hold for us. Therefore, the dialogue between education and practice is critical in contemporary architecture accountable; it challenges and pushes the profession forward.
As you look to the future, are there any ideas you think should be front and center in the minds of architects and designers?
Architects need to reckon with our roles as translators. The joy of our profession is in its plurality – we are able to work and communicate across the different disciplines in the construction industry. This is a skill that we need to harness and embrace. Beyond the construction industry, we can also be influential in creating a more equitable society by engaging with policy, sustainability and social justice.
We invite you to check out ArchDaily’s comprehensive coverage of the curated selection of 2021 New Practices. As always, at ArchDaily, we highly appreciate the input of our readers. If you want to nominate a certain studio, firm, or architect, for the 2022 New Practices, please submit your suggestions.