Community building

From North America to Africa, a celebrated Japanese architect and educator is helping communities thrive with her empowering projects.

As building locations go, Sinthian in Senegal certainly presented challenges for New York-based architect Toshiko Mori. A seven-hour drive from Dakar, this remote spot was the venue for Thread, an artist’s residency and cultural centre that Mori designed for the Albers Foundation, which supports medical aid in the area. “We worked with local materials and skills and employ local people,” says Mori. “This gives them jobs and a feeling of ownership; they are able to clean and maintain it.” The community building is made with mud bricks, bamboo and a sloping, thatched roof that catches a third of the water needed by the village.

Mori was born in Japan, grew up in the US and has been teaching at the Harvard Graduate School of Design since 1995. She won the American Institute of Architects’ 2019 Topaz Medallion for excellence in architectural education and is passionate about the role of architecture in creating open and democratic educational facilities.

Mori has a long list of projects to her name but one of her most recent is the expansion of the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University. “My hope is to create a place for the free exchange of ideas” she says. “There are many different types of social spaces in the building because the manner of learning is changing now. It is more dynamic, interactive and collaborative than the passive learning you get from sitting in large classrooms listening to professors.”


Toshiko Mori is as impressive a teacher as she is an architect. “Imparting knowledge and wisdom to the next generation is probably one of the most important things we can do in a civil society,” she says. She encourages different points of view in her classroom. “I am committed to making places of education safe spaces for the exchange of ideas and opinions, in order to create a robust and resilient world going forward.”