Architect Adheema off to US for Fellowship

By Al Qalam Reporter

Adheema Davis spent much of her childhood around her late father’s construction sites, so when she grew up she knew she wanted to be an architect and design meaningful and beautiful buildings.

Adheema’s dream was realised. Now the top Durban architect and researcher has been selected – along with other promising young leaders from across Sub-Saharan Africa – to travel to the United States for the Mandela Washington Fellowship later this year. The Mandela Washington Fellowship is a six week residency that gives young people from Sub-Saharan Africa an opportunity to hone their skills at a US university through academic coursework, leadership training and networking, and provide professional development once they return home. She will be based in Philadelphia.

Adheema graduated from the University of KwaZulu-Natal with a Bachelor of Architectural Studies, and later a Master of Architecture degree, in which her dissertation entitled The Specificity of Dignity. Reconceptualising gendered spatial boundaries through a Water Reclamation Plant for Cornubia, Durban – focus on gender, space, and accessibility in a low-cost housing settlement.

Adheema said when she was informed that she was selected for the fellowship, she felt a bit nervous.

“Admittedly, I was a bit nervous about it, having just come out of my masters degree feeling rather overwhelmed – there was so much out there and I was not too sure where exactly to go – I felt as though something like this was an opportunity for someone who had a sure idea of how to use it. But, I gave it a shot anyway, thinking that perhaps the exercise would help me refine what it was that I wanted to do.

“ I focused the application not only on my research interests – of architecture’s social responsibility – but also on what drove me to see this, my upbringing, my parent’s commitment to showing me a world of equality, respect, and possibility both personally, and through the exposure to Islamic Guidance and the richness of the relationship of giving and receiving within an Islamic perspective; and how my study of architecture and the people that I was exposed to only helped to enrich this thinking, that there was both beauty and responsibility in architecture as a social tool.

“And, Alhamdulillah completing the application paid off quite well! So, early this year I was shortlisted and went for an interview at the US Consulate here in Durban where we unpacked all of this, and then in March I was notified that I’d been selected as a Fellow. It was quite a nerve-wracking wait!

Asked what got her started in architecture, Adheema said: “My late father was a builder, so I grew up on building sites, and with the firm idea that I would one day become an architect. I must admit that what I had in mind was incredibly naive and that I look at architecture as so much more than just the physical form.

“I am incredibly passionate about architecture, it’s manifest of the potential that we have as society to express ourselves, it is constantly evolving to depict and accommodating us, and rightfully too, we should look at how it needs to evolve to accommodate us equally – particularly in our city-spaces of prior and perpetuated oppression. If Allah loves beautiful things, then architecture, as expressed by globally, is indicative of that!

Does Islamic architecture interest you, and if so, are there influences of it in your contemporary work?

“Absolutely! And while the practice I work for engages mostly in industrial work with the city, it does extend into my personal research and practice. Islamic architecture – particularly mosque architecture is so rich. It speaks of the things that I am interested in, the relationship between people and place. I have recently engaged with mosque research, and worked with Yusuf Patel on the Ramadaan Catalogue, and been intrigued by the way in which the mosques in our own city have taken shape and developed, and how these need to evolve to accommodate our diverse Muslim community and reflect a global commitment to diversity.

“ A recent talk by Shahed Saleem, a British architect and researcher, and Aneesa Moosa-Vawda of TiP, exposed this narrative to me, and as the components of it are inherent to me – I am a woman, practicing architecture, who is Muslim but struggling to find a community space for the way I look and want to exercise my deen – it’s an urgent conversation that we should be having as individuals and a community – how do we want to be reflected both within and to others. I’m currently toying with the idea of extending this research into further postgraduate or PhD research, insha’Allah.

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