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Firdaous Oussidhoum is the Director of International and External Relations at Africa Union Of Architects.

Firdaous Oussidhoum began her studies in architecture in France and finished in the Barcelona School of Architecture. She has a master in Philosophy of Architecture, and then preparing a doctorate on the Topic: “Specificity and Contemporaneity”.

After an enriching experience in the office of Cesar Portela in Spain, Firdaous Oussidhoum opened her Architecture and Urban Forms office in Tangier in 2001. In parallel, she continued studying a doctorate in Philosophy of Architecture in Lyon University.

She was the Secretary general on Regional Council of Architects of Tangier (Morocco) from 2005-2008, Council member of National Council of Architects of Morocco from 2008-2011 in charge of International Relations, Council member of International Union of Architects from 2008-2014 and Assistant Secretary General of Africa Union of Architects 2008-2011.

Firdaous Oussidhoum became Director of International & External Relations in Africa Union of Architects in November 2011, a position she will be holding until 2014.

Her mission as an architect and consultant at a national and international level has the same constant coherence: opening and revealing the essence of culture and identity thought a process of Theming. Thus through a work on the field, combined with the projection of a future into the present, of a Mankind vision : architecture, urban restructuring, territorial diagnostic, stimulation of communities in South Africa, rehabilitation in China,… all these are occasions to a constant objective: improving Man’s conditions of life. In this perspective, the dynamics are being developed in the INICIA Foundation for the resources and competencies development, of which she is a founding member, and through the institutional activity, both national and international, as representative member of Africa in the UIA, and as Director of International & External Relations in AUA (Africa Union of Architects).

Architecture for her is a transmission tool, an occasion of dialogue and communication to give a sense to the environmental space. Today, lecturer at an international level, she practises since 2010 as associated to the FEELL ARCHITECTURE Group, with the priority to take back Man to the centre of the architectural question, creating spaces full of senses and meaning, to improve the people feeling in their environment, creating spaces that have a dialogue with and openly designed for the user.

Construction Review had an interview with her and below are the excerpts.

When was the Africa Union Of Architects formed the reasons for forming it and its vision?

Africa Union of Architects was created in 1981 with a goal of uniting the architectural bodies of the 39 member countries, to work in concert regardless of nationality, race, religion or doctrine for the overall development of Architecture in the continent.

The main objective of the AUA is to preserve and document our Heritage while developing the Cultural and Architectural attributes essential for the fulfillment of our role in the well being of the environment, our immediate societies and humanity in general, while optimally utilize our acquired professional expertise in creativity, technology and social responsibility for ethical services to the public, through the continued development of man, methods, materials and solutions that recognize the peculiarities of our different communities and circumstances.

The African Union of Architects (AUA) is a Regional/Continental body of architects for Africa, having its Headquarters and registration in Lagos 1981, and revalidated as non-governmental organization in Abuja, Nigeria in 15 December 2011.

What have been the noteworthy milestones in the development of the Union?

The first goal of the Union was to help Africa to build peace and unite all its components. Peace, unification was still a major challenge, and AUA was aware that through the professionals, a different approach was possible to help the different countries to find solutions and paths of dialogue.

These first stages of the Union were the most challenging, and thanks to the Trustees and Past-Presidents of the Union, this has been possible. We went from a peace dynamic to a constructive dynamic. Thanks to them, today, we can pass from building peace, to building societies, edifices bound to strengthen this peace, and go forward with other kind of challenges: poverty, contamination, lack of communication, etc…

I seize this opportunity to pay tribute to them for their work, wisdom and belief. Without them the Africa Union of Architects would not be able to play the role it is doing today. We are proud of them.

Today, the Trustees are the wisdom of our Union, a reference we always seek for, whatever the question is. This is very particular to our continent: the respect and belief given to our elders and trustees. It is a precious thing we have in Africa. It is also a specificity that inspires other international architects’ bodies.

How has AUA benefited members and the building and construction industry as a whole?

Architects are key actors in the construction chain and industry, they are bringing quality, they are enhancing the know-how of the construction team, they are also the guarantee of a responsible work, a responsible architecture towards the citizens, towards the governments, as well as towards the client or developer. Architecture is the only profession that integrates and brings the added value of Culture to the building industry, to empower the identity of the environment and make of it a place to live in, and evolve in.

Through the institution of the Union, the architects get a kind of scanner of the building situation: sharing best practices, highlight issues and challenges and developing innovative solution. This enables constant connection among them in Africa and continuous up to date approach to the challenges.

Through this scanner, the Union develops programs and policies on important specific topics or themes and appropriate solutions as well. This dynamic allows the Union to act as a platform of distribution of know-how and Continuous Development (updating the education) of its members.

The Union members are national councils or institutes of architects: it has also the role to empower them to have a better participation in the construction industry chain. When each of the key players will be playing completely its role, the whole industry will be much healthier.

Moreover, through its advice and expertise on best products, materials, goods, in the process of architectural design or urban design, the architect helps the dynamic of the industry to improve and seek for better solutions.

The architect is the link between the user and the developer in this field, between the citizen and the institutions and governments. He must have the tools to be well localized in the market, for a better participation in the construction and urban dynamic.

What are the challenges that you have encountered?

The crisis: the global economical and financial situation is driving a process of change in the world and its geo-political and social stands, especially regarding market values, human and natural potential and commercial dynamics. This brings an opportunity to Africa to position itself differently in the global market, and present its own potential and sustainable view. Although the world is looking at Africa as the big future potential, for Africa crisis is business as usual, but it has a fabulous potential of survival, of creativity that makes it overcome and continue its road, because of its inner sun, and its inner belief.

A new branding: Africa knows an awakening in its culture, in its ambition, in its potential, and in the way we want to manage and be managed. This is materialized through a research of our authentic cultural and economical identity and desire of being something different from the present perception.

Communication: how best to reveal to the world the new dynamism of Africa?

The object is to identify the most important trade-offs of our continent regarding our field of intervention, to make sure that any partnership concluded will bring an added-value to our research and be participative of the development Africa knows today.

Focusing communication is very important to transmit the intended message and receive the expected feedback in as a continental institution. Africa is inspiring and motivating. Africa is creative and alive. We just need to make the good message go through the right channel, to structure this potential.

What are the achievements accomplished during your tenure?

Thanks to the good team we have for this term (2011-2014), an incredible quantity and quality of work has been done, following the motivation and vision of our President Chief Tokunbo Omisore, from Nigeria. His confidence and support to all help to have the right belief in the work we are doing.

Actually, the most important achievements we had for our first year are: Signature of an MoU with UN-Habitat, our most important institutional partner. This came as a natural conclusion after a positive working collaborative experience, and sharing common objectives. AUA is now a lead partner in the World Urban Campaign launched by UN-Habitat for seeking a better life through the urban development.

We also signed a very important agreement: the “Tangier declaration” with ARCASIA (The Architects Council of Asia), ACE (Architects Council of Europe) and supported by FPAA (Federation of Pan-American Architects of America). The ambition of this agreement is to create, enhance and empower the South-South collaboration, especially with Asia and America, as well as strengthen the world architects dynamic having in mind that the collaboration is about exchange of know-how, sharing issues and finding out the solutions together, in a sustainable manner. This opens the possibility of sharing, exchanging and profiting of the goods, materials that go along with these sustainable solutions.

Signing an MoU with IHS: The Institute for Housing and Urban Studies IHS is a settled in Netherland, and works worldwide for bringing solutions and urban studies.

The challenge in this matter was to bring the studies to Africa, facilitating the accessibility to these studies, instead of having to travel to Netherlands to follow the classes. AUA signed an MoU with IHS for the creation of a school in Africa, with an adapted program to the Africa conditions, ambition, culture and way of living. This will help the local authorities, professionals to face directly the challenges of their daily work. The first school project will be in Kinshasa (Congo RDC), while Gabon and Cameroon are also interested in having theirs.

We also improved our visibility in partnering with important Conferences organizers, and research seminars, to be pro-active in the field of construction and urban research in Africa.

I believe we are on the right track. AUA has been approached by the Economist, and other important communication channels to be present and express the Africa architects voice, as well as share its strategy and expertise.

What are the problems plaguing the Building industry/profession and what role has the Union played in alleviating these problems?

Poverty is a big problem: Due to the conditions of work, young people don’t study architecture because they know they will have no job, once they complete school. This is an important problem, because the architect is the one that guarantee the cultural aspects of our environment and daily landscapes and spaces. Identifying ourselves in our environment is crucial of our behavior and moral health; it is a society health issue.

Poverty alleviation is a key point in our president’s strategy.

Waking up and promoting the building economical industry in Africa, between Africans, in all regions, is a specific African solution. This is where promoting intra-Africa trade is important. A whole local African economy can be mobilized, not only the biggest companies, but also the medium size companies or the small size, that have no idea of how to move on from its usual situation. Empowering these structures will work in favor of the local economy and in favor of the poverty alleviation.

Another issue is the fact that Africa expertise is not valued in the African market. Most of us do our studies abroad, and when we come back it is hard to make our place in a world that has always been recognizing the other’s know-how. The African expertise is there, it just needs to be identified, and valorized. We usually don’t know where the experts are, they have a better recognition outside their country than inside.

This attitude must be changed. Africa needs all its own resources, natural or human, and we need its people, because they do believe in Africa, and its potential. Because they know that it is Africa time, they know the real climate of their country, they know the needs of their people, they know the building work culture. They are the only ones that can really know what are the materials needed, the products to be asking for, etc…

In this sense, AUA had launched the CPD (Continual Professional Development) that allows the architects to stay updated in their know-how and the specificities of their field. This CPD is also seen as a networking platform that invites the institutions, architects, engineers, constructors, administrative, and decision makers to participate in a 3 day-workshop around a common specific topic.

The ambition of this CPD is to create a kind of caravan till the AUA Congress in Durban 2014: a caravan of know-how and partners, creating bounds and links between the experts in Africa, in all regions. This caravan begun in June 2012 in Gabon – Region Centre-, the next step will be December 2012 in Ivory Coast – Region West-, and after that the North region will receive the CPD in Tangier (Morocco) at the Tangier Afribat Forum. We will have the East region and the South before the end of the term, finishing in Durban.

This CPD’s aim is also to identify the Africa expertise, and mobilize it on specific topics. Each 3 days meeting allows the 39 countries to talk on the same table, explaining how to face some problems and find the solutions.

The first topic was “Beyond Housing”. The second topic underlining with the first one is: “Transformation of Human Settlements: from theory to practice”, following the conclusions of the first workshop.

Also, in the sense of valorizing the Africa architecture, another key point of our President program is the “Rebranding of Africa architecture”. The objective is to help the architects and citizens to believe in its architecture, and show the world that Africa has a new architecture, that is authentic, creative and recyclable. This can only be laid upon the African expertise and revival.

Another problem is lack of continental communication between the professionals of this industry. Africa needs to improve in all its regions, the exchange and sharing of Africa goods and materials. This is one of the most important challenges in our President vision. This is why tools as your review are also important. In AUA, we also thought about a solution: we are launching the “Tangier Afribat Forum”: a big exhibition of Africa Building Materials and goods, with research seminars and key speakers. This Forum will also be an opportunity to open the exchange and sharing with Asia and America, in a South-South Dialogue, as well as attracting adaptive solutions from worldwide.

Part of our mission is also to have a lobbying work with the governments of Africa. They have to know that the architects are there. That they have a mission that is societal and that they can help in the development of the country, they are there for that. And they are motivated.

What needs to be done in the future to further improve the industry/profession?

The priority solution is the intra-Africa trade of building materials and goods. Many of the African countries are not aware about what is going on in the others, regarding our field, because transport does not help moving around Africa, because of the difference of the language, and work culture…

We need a larger networking platform, and we need a better air communication between the countries. The economical power can improve this if the commercial dynamic justifies that. This is the aim of the Tangier Afribat Forum. You are all welcome.

What role must government play to alleviate the problems/challenges faced in the profession/building industry?

The national government have to empower their own medium and small size companies, because of increased number of population, all has to find a place for working, living, etc.. The labour force is there, it needs to be structured. The government should believe in the local expertise. There are database everywhere of experts. AUA is also building its own. There are many ways of identifying local experts, Africa experts.

The most important questions are to identify the needs and prioritize them. This is the key point.

Any other comments you desire to share with the readers?

All are most welcome by the end of May, to celebrate the Africa Day in Tangier (Morocco), in the Afribat Forum, to participate to the exhibition and seminars, network with all of us, and join the dynamic. Help us to Rebrand Africa Architecture and economy.