Reframing culture and identity begins with context and perspective. For London architecture practice Studio NYALI, this reworking is at the heart of contemporary design. Founded by Nana Byama-Ofoso and Bushra Mohamed, their work aims to focus oceanic identities, cultures, and people by examining, challenging, and transforming architectural criticism and narrative. This critical perspective moves education and practice toward a more comprehensive and holistic understanding of the built environment.
As they describe, Studio NYALI focuses on identity, shared history, and spaces with a strong belief that architecture should be understood as the embodiment and monumentality of the human experience. Building on their recognition as one of ArchDaily’s new best practices for 2021, the following interview explores the studio’s interest and work, as well as their latest projects and inspiration. It also highlights how this innovative practice is re-imagining a more inclusive and equitable future.
Why did you both choose to study architecture?
Bushra Mohamed: As a child, I had interests in a wide range of subjects – drawing, painting, woodwork, geography, music and literature. Architecture allowed these interests to be synthesized into a creative career.
Nana Biamah-Ofosu: Studying architecture has allowed me to engage with my broad interests from science and mathematics to literature, language, and art. It also felt like an interesting career 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 firm founded by Nana Byama-Ofuso and Bushra Mohamed. We met at Kingston College of Art and shared the frustration of being rejected by the profession for our lived experiences growing up outside the UK.
Our work aims to focus oceanic identities, cultures, and people by examining, challenging, and transforming architectural criticisms and narratives toward a more comprehensive and holistic understanding of the built environment. Created in the summer of 2021, the practice focuses on identity, shared history and spaces with a strong belief that architecture should be understood as the embodiment and artifact of the human experience. Our first project, the ArchiAfrika Pavilion at the 2021 Venice Biennale, has been completed. We continue to work on publishing our research on the African House Complex, as well as on a number of home extension projects in London. Earlier this year, we completed the design of the exhibition Althea McNish: Color is Mine at William Morris Gallery in London.
Through teaching and research, we are constantly testing our ideas and finding ways to collaborate.
Can you tell us more about your commitment to focusing peripheral identities, cultures, and people, and how you translate these ideas into your work?
As mentioned earlier, our shared interests and frustrations within the discourse have led to this quest to focus peripheral identities, cultures, and people. There is a divide within the profession that ignores the multiplicity of identities that the built environment represents and serves. At the Architectural Association and Kingston School of Art in London, we lead modules that explore spatial manifestations of diaspora cultural identities, in postcolonial contexts and in relation to the future of global settlements. The only way to establish justice in our built environment is to ensure that historically marginalized identities and structures are recognized and re-placed within the law.
What are some recent projects you have been working on?
Empire Path: Composite House Ranking Prism – Ongoing
This publication documents the African composite house as a typology, investigating its historical and contemporary condition. Part of an ongoing research project, the book focuses on this typology in Ghana, and explores it through past and contemporary design projects. The Course of Empire investigates how this historical typology can be used to generate more profound responses to urban growth and continuity in African and Western cities.
EFIE: The Museum as Home Gallery – December 2021 completed
EFIE: The Museum as Home displays historical and contemporary art, video works and multimedia installations by various artists including Studio NYALI. Studio NYALI’s work, House for a God, explored architecture’s relationship to spirituality and our connection to the divine spirit through a series of meditations at the Ejisu-Besease Shrine house located in Ejisu, Kumasi. A building created to house a deity, the shrine house reflects the architecture, culture and traditional values of Asante. It is a house of a deity, who built it for us, asking for our piety through a physical form. The exhibition is designed by art historian, author and director, Nana Oforiata Ayim.
Althea McNish: Color is Mine Design Design – Complete April 2022
Althea is one of the UK’s most innovative textile artists and the first designer of Caribbean origin to gain international recognition. She had a transformative effect on mid-century design and her influence continues today. Drawing on extensive new research and its personal archive, Color Is Mine is a retrospective exhibition of McNish’s extraordinary career, designed by Studio NYALI, open from April 2 through September 11, 2022.
House expansions in London – ongoing
We are developing designs to remodel and extend two connected homes in London.
With changes in climate, technology and construction, how do you think architects and designers will adapt the ways of practice to change the profession?
It is important to realize that these issues are interrelated and cannot be addressed separately. Climate justice is racial and social justice. For the profession, we need to acknowledge that material specifications and calculations are one of the solutions to the climate emergency. Most importantly, we need to speak with confidence and express a clearer position on how we live and build – and this requires a collective shift in culture and habits. We also need to appreciate other ways of thinking such as indigenous building cultures – many of the solutions we seek to today’s challenges can be found in historical precedents and traditions. We must also recognize the duality within the climate crisis – it is a global issue with implications for the entire world, but the solutions we propose must be place-specific; For example – what works for the northern hemisphere is not necessarily appropriate nor meaningful for the southern hemisphere.
You both learn 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 continuous and responsive to the changing world in which we live: new technologies, the shortage or abundance of materials and the places in which we build. Teaching provides the opportunity to immerse yourself in these conversations through studios and design-led research projects. Without constant research and experimentation, we would not unleash the breadth of solutions that our imaginations bring to us. Therefore, the dialogue between education and practice is critical in questioning contemporary architecture; It challenges and pushes the profession forward.
As you look to the future, are there any ideas that you think should be front and center in the minds of architects and designers?
Architects need to account for our roles as translators. The joy of our profession lies in its versatility – we are able to work and communicate across various disciplines in the construction industry. This is a skill we need to harness and embrace. Besides the construction industry, we can also be influential in creating a more equitable society by engaging in politics, sustainability and social justice.
We invite you to check out ArchDaily’s comprehensive coverage of the curated selection of new 2021 practices. As always, at ArchDaily we highly value the input of our readers. If you would like to nominate a specific studio, company or architect for the New 2022 Practices, please submit your suggestions.