Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
Image: Supplied

Former Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has commissioned an all-African all-women team to design a state-of-the-art, large-scale project, a rarity on the continent, and the world.

This landmark, in every sense of the word, will be in Monrovia, Liberia, and signals the first presidential centre and library commissioned by a female president. The Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Presidential Center for Women and Development is collaborating with atelier masōmī’s Mariam Issoufou Kamara and Counterspace’s Sumayya Vally and pan-African Engineering Group’s Karen Richards Barnes.

“As an African woman, I am hard pressed to think of a more inspiring figure than Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, the first woman president the continent had the privilege of experiencing. The Center for Women and Development crystallises the legacy of Madame Sirleaf by providing a place for empowerment, arming the next generation of women leaders for the world to come. A world they will undoubtedly have a greater and transformative affect on. The new home for this centre will serve to energise and inspire the future generation of women leaders, while drawing from local Liberian narratives, heritage and material ecologies. I am humbled by the opportunity to help bring such a vision to life in built form, and to do so with a pan-African team of incredible women,” says Kamara.

The expertise of these acclaimed African architects cements a truly unique destination with women and girls as the foundation of the design. Kamara is directing the building design, Vally, designer of last year’s Serpentine Pavilion, the scenography, pavilions and exhibition architect, and Liberian architect Barnes as the local architect.

Representing excellence in architecture and serving as a distinctive feature in the national and cultural institution, the building will feature future-facing sustainable design, using local and renewable materials. The building will provide digital access to Johnson Sirleaf’s personal and professional archives and provides a platform for networking and education. As a communal and collaborative space, exhibitions and programmes focused on leadership will empower and inspire women to pursue leadership, serving as a national and international hub of the advancement of women.

Mariam Kamara.
Mariam Kamara.
Image: Stephane Rodrigez Delavega

“I am proud and excited to be embarking on this landmark project in partnership with three outstanding women architects. I cannot wait to see this vision come to life and hope this partnership encourages other aspiring women leaders in Africa and around the world,” said Johnson Sirleaf.

Karen Richards Barnes.
Karen Richards Barnes.
Image: Supplied

The centre’s ideals are reflected through the incorporation of various works from African designers, artisans and artists. The use of art, architecture and construction endorses its centring of African history, culture and social context. Open exhibit spaces will allow access to study and source materials, while quiet corners will offer spaces for reflection.

Sumayya Vally.
Sumayya Vally.
Image: Mikhael Subotzky

Vally said: “The ongoing project of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf embodies a spirit of true transformation. This spirit recognises the importance of seeding and growing spaces for different bodies of knowledges and other imaginations for our continent and beyond. It is an honour to be a part of an incredible tribe of women orbiting this project — ancestors, friends, collaborators and luminaries — who believe in the power of the place of this narrative in the world. I am deeply interested in the potential for an entirely different museology, born of and for our context. Here is a true opportunity to honour forms of storytelling from the region; that can be truly transformative both for our own context and for the world.”

Launched on Women’s Day last year, the ESJ builds on the legacy of the former president as a driving advocate for gender equality; this signals the next phase of the journey. The Presidential Center and Library firmly plants the ESJ Center on Liberian soil and gives it a platform to inspire and nurture women leaders for generations to come.

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