Last week at the 16th International Architecture Exhibition of the Venice Biennale, Rolex continued its support as its major partner for the third time. For the occasion, the house has debuted its own pavilion in the Giardini—a faceted, transparent structure that nods to design of the brand’s Oyster Perpetual Day-Date watch. Inside is an exhibition of work that highlights the 2016-2017 Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative between British architect Sir David Chipperfield and his protégé, Simon Kretz.
Since 2002, Rolex has exceeded its reputation as a leading watch brand with this long-standing mentorship program, spanning a variety of fields like architecture, film, dance, art, and literature. Fostering relationships between established and on-the-rise professionals, the program allows on-the-rise talent to work one-on-one with prominent figures to ensure artistic heritage remains strong in the future.
This year in the architecture category, Rolex has announced Sir David Adjaye and his protégé, Mariam Kamara, a 38-year-old Niger-based architect who leads the firm atelier masōmī in Niamey. For 2018-2019, the program offers professional support (for two years instead of one, for the first time), as well as a substantial stipend for new work during and after the program. Kamara’s design approach, aimed at sustaining people through innovative solutions for 21st century needs, is currently being furthered through this program with a real estate development concept for Niamey.
“The purpose of the program is for a young professional to be given the chance to develop their potential as an artist and practitioner under the guidance of a master in their field. As such, my objective is to learn as much as possible from my mentor in order to improve my mastery of the craft of architecture.” said Kamara when we spoke with her recently. “This is really a once in a lifetime opportunity to grow and be guided by someone that is a true inspiration.”
For the occasion, Whitewall spoke with Kamara about her continued work with Adjaye, the symbiotic relationship her and Rolex have with craft, and what she enjoys most about architecture.
WHITEWALL: Tell us a bit about your working relationship with David Adjaye and what you’ve learned most.
MARIAM KAMARA: This cycle started very recently, but we have already met often and have started working on ideas for what we want to do together. Sir David has been full of wonderful advice already, and I have had the opportunity to share my thoughts and knowledge of Niamey (Niger’s capital) which we will be developing a project for. At the same time, we are taking the time to get to know each other better, which is a rare opportunity.
WW: Can you give us your take on this year’s Rolex architecture exhibition?
MK: Experiencing the biennale was very inspirational and provided me with much food for thought. There was a wide range of project approaches, from the down to earth to the most conceptual, spanning variety of contexts and preoccupations. It was great to ponder over.
WW: What about Rolex do you enjoy?
MK: As a company, I really appreciate their focus on excellence in craft, which has made their reputation. I find it amazing that a company has put together such a program that has been able to attract world-renowned artists and put them in close contact with younger artists starting out in their careers. For all of us, this is a life-altering experience.
WW: You’re experienced in housing, public works, education, and urban design. What is the most compelling type of architecture to you?
MK: I actually enjoy all types of architecture because I love the process of making architecture, regardless on the type of project I am dealing with. I also enjoy the variety of challenges that comes with each. At the end of the day however, the goal is always the same: to produce an architecture that is able to go beyond the brief and address deeper questions.
WW: You lead the architecture firm atelier masōmī. Can you tell us a bit about what that’s like?
MK: Atelier masōmī is a small firm with an energetic young staff. I pilot the firm by traveling between the US and Niger, which can be challenging at times. However, thanks to technology, we are able to collaborate surprisingly well. A particularity of the firm, is that we have put a lot of effort in developing strong ties with local fabricators, artisans, and builders. They are as passionate as we are about the work we produce together. We also collaborate with them in research and development involving materials and structural techniques, which makes for a very stimulating environment.