"It was sold immediately on what they tried to do and teach, and I felt that they were taking an approach to education and architecture that was not easily accessible anywhere in the continent, perhaps anywhere in the world," Mokholo said.
Last summer, the first cohort of ADC graduates completed their 20-month inaugural exchange in Kigali, Rwanda, including Mokholo.
The ten partners, from eight African nations, are now on the rise in architecture, design and construction across a continent where rapid urbanization and population growth pose serious challenges for governments, with the needs of the poorest and most unsatisfied.
Fellow at the African Design Center. Credit: MASS Design Group
Local methods and talent
A serious shortage of skilled architects and designers has left most African sub-Saharan African countries not having the necessary expertise to build low-cost infrastructure and that suburb towns are already growing as cities like Nairobi and Johannesburg.
Ruhehe Elementary School while still under construction. Credit: MASS Design Group
By providing building materials at the local level, playing ancient craft techniques that globalization has left out of favor and training many more architects, the leaders of the African Design Center believe that there is a sustainable solution to this growing crisis.
When he was growing up, Rwanda did not have a unique architecture school and, although now there is a teaching center, it is less than a decade old.
Victor Iyakaremye at the construction site of the Ruhehe Elementary School. Credit: MASS Design Group
Benimana was obsessed with design and design and, with the support of her parents, she finally won a scholarship to study architecture in Shanghai in 2001.
"It was a cultural shock and a very humble experience at the beginning. It destroyed all the foundations of the ideals that built a whole life and expanded the definition of possibility in every way," he reflected.
China was building new cities at a dizzying pace in the 2000s, and removed millions of poor people with new manufacturing sites in urban areas. Benimana wonders what he could bring to his country, knowing that many would be counting on him.
Butaro Cancer Center of Excellence photographed by Iwan Baan. Credit: Iwan Baan
The second MASS project in Rwanda would be the only cancer hospital in the country, now known as the Butaro Cancer Excellence Center. Benimana remembers his introduction to the philosophy of a "performative building".
The MASS project is known to consider how a hospital's structure can help patients recover faster or how a school's design can help children learn better. "It was less focused on architecture and more on health benefits and health outcomes," explained Benimana.
The future of African design
After considering several different iterations of the ADC program, Benimana and MASS paid attention to targeted graduates and those who were already equipped with some professional training. Hope was their impact that could travel more and spread in the countries of origin of the students.
The ten companions arrived in September of 2016 with varied knowledge and levels of experience. A called Rwandan Victor Iyakaremye just completed a diploma in architecture, while Mokholo had several postgraduate qualifications and years of work under his belt.
"I knew I would find a really exciting group of people from all over Africa," recalled Iyakaremye. He is now working full time at MASS in Rwanda and is a designer at the Rumanian campus of the Gorilla Fund of Dian Fossey, forming a 50,000-square-foot facility for the American conservation group that protects one hundred mountain gorillas.
Ellen Campus Degenerate Campus by Dian Fossey Gorilla. Credit: MASS Design Group
Iyakaremye learned more than he expected from his own country during the program. Working with a ceramic group that makes water filters out of clay and women, whose woven baskets are part of the rich heritage of functional design in Rwanda, the 30-year-old boy was proud of seeing the abilities of his countrymen and women impressing the fellow Kenya and South Africa.
"Kigali is like a laboratory. Go and test the ideas. There is a great opportunity to open in all areas, not just in architecture," he added enthusiastically.
Zani Gichuki, a Kenyan structural engineer and ADC partner, wants to find its own technology-driven design lab in Nairobi, where traffic and the population have become "very dense" in recent years. "I am an educated African woman and I needed to find a way to return. I think engineering is not just about designing large buildings and earning money," he said.
She rewrites her own ethical code after participating in community consultations on the Ruhehe Elementary School and has even held sessions with children to get their vision about the plans for the new building.
"We need to be more sensitive to the incorporation of marginalized communities and, instead of just designing for the strongest person, the design for women, children and people with disabilities," he stressed.
She is studying the use of land as construction material, an ancient technique in East Africa.
Meanwhile, Mokholo is looking to find suitable projects across South Africa for MASS, hoping to found his own African Design Center someday.
"Architecture has become a commercial merchant in South Africa, limited to people who can afford it," he said. "I try to do what I have learned and share it with as many people as I can."