7 Female Architects Leading Contemporary Practice in the Arab World

Zaha Hadid is the best-known female architect worldwide, but there are many more women designing in the Middle East and North Africa.

Nama'a Qudah Nama'a Qudah

The judging process for Architizer's 12th Annual A+Awards is now away. Subscribe to our Awards Newsletter to receive program updates, and stay tuned for winners announcements later this spring.  

For years, women in architecture have endeavored to carve out a niche for themselves and their ideas in a predominantly male-dominated realm. They persistently confront challenges and surmount obstacles to see their visions materialize into groundbreaking structures that sensitively answer to the needs of their users and converse with their settings and environments, all while defying gender inequalities. The Arab world mirrors this struggle, as female architects in the Middle East and North Africa are determined to leave their mark on the architectural landscape.

“Being an Arab woman and a modern architect certainly don’t exclude each other — when I was growing up in Iraq, there were many women architects,” declared the late Dame Zaha Hadid in an interview with The Guardian. “You cannot believe the enormous resistance I’ve faced just for being an Arab and a woman on top of that. It is like a double-edged sword.”

Even today, Hadid likely remains the best-known female architect worldwide; yet, as she loudly claimed, there are many female architects whose work shapes cities throughout North Africa, the Middle East and around the world. Armed with exceptional skills and creativity, they channel their passion into designing projects of significance that can bring about positive change. This collection celebrates seven accomplished female architects from Egypt, Jordan, Palestine, Kuwait, Algeria and Morocco, shedding light on their philosophies and projects. In so doing, it seeks to acknowledge their remarkable work and achievements while drawing attention to the diverse and rich tapestry of the Arab world — its architecture and people.

Alia Bengana

Founder of Alia Bengana Architect, Algeria

Left: Portrait of Architect Alia Bengana founder of Alia Bengana architect. Right: B house in Algiers.

Influenced by her extensive educational and professional experiences across Europe, Algeria, and Asia, Alia Bengana is an Algerian architect specializing in regenerative materials, bioclimatic designs, earthen architecture and sustainable materials. Establishing her architectural practice in Paris in 2009 following her degrees from the École nationale supérieure d’architecture de Paris-Belleville and ETH Zürich, Bengana has also become a dedicated educator.

She teaches at various design schools, delving into topics like bio-based materials and raw earth. Additionally, she is part of ALICE laboratory of the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and serves as a lecturer at the Haute Ecole d’Architecture et d’Ingénierie de Fribourg as well as in Ecole de la ville et des territoires de Paris-est. Bengana’s office is renowned for its multi-scalar projects, characterized by meticulous attention to detail both on their exterior and interior. Notable examples include the B house and Cedar Street house in Algiers, demonstrating a keen focus on context and ecology.

May al-Ibrashy

Founder of Megawra-Built Environment Collective, Egypt

Left: A Portrait of Architect May al-Ibrashy. Right: Al Khalifa Historical District in Cairo.

May al-Ibrashy is an architect, an academic and a heritage conservationist, who has founded Al-Athar Lina (The Monument is Ours) participatory conservation initiative in 2012, building a team that primarily consists of women that together work on revitalizing the historical Al-Khalifa District in Cairo, Egypt. Al-Ibrashy works on building connections between local communities in Cairo and their neighborhoods, by fostering a sense of ownership over their area’s history and heritage, which together fuel a series of projects that protect the historical areas and work on their revitalization.

With over thirty years of field experience, Al-Ibrashy is also the founder of the Megawra-Built Environment Collective, consisting of an architectural consultancy and an NGO that together engage with heritage and social responsibility in the built environment. In 2012, Al-Ibrashy was awarded the Prince Claus Impacts awards for the positive impact her work has left on the communities she has been working with.

Suad Amiry

Founder of RIWAQ: Centre for Architectural Conservation , Palestine

Left: Portrait of Architect Suad Amiry, founder of Riwaq. Right: The historic center of Rantis village, northwest of Ramallah.

With her career divided between heritage conservation, academia and architectural and literary writing, Suad Amiry is an esteemed Palestinian architect whose legacy and impact ripple on national and international scales, across the fields of architectural revitalization and literature. Amiry is the founder of RIWAQ: Centre for Architectural Conservation in Ramallah, Palestine, established in 1991 with the goal of preserving Palestinian collective memory by documenting and restoring architectural heritage sites throughout the West Bank and Gaza, with a distinct focus on rural areas in Palestine.

In 2013, RIWAQ received the prestigious 2013 Aga Khan Award for its five-year pilot project aimed at revitalizing Birzeit’s historic center. In her book titled “Peasant Architecture in Palestine: Space, Kinship and Gender” published in 2018, Amiry reflects on her lifelong mission to document, restore and protect 420 Palestinian villages in 16 districts across the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza. Her memoirs, “Sharon and My Mother-in-Law,” received Italy’s renowned literary award, Via Reggio, in 2004.

Hend Almatrouk

Co-Founder of Studio Toggle, Kuwait

Left: Portrait of Hend Almatrouk, co-founder of Studio Toggle. Right: Khat in Saudi Arabia, Popular Choice Winner, 2020 A+Awards, Unbuilt Hospitality 

Hend Almatrouk is the CEO and a partner of Studio Toggle, an architecture firm based in Kuwait ,with an office in Portugal, which she co-founded with Gijo Paul George in 2011. Since the firm’s inception, Hend has been a central force behind the design, site supervision and planning of Studio Toggle’s numerous award-winning projects. Her work has been exhibited in multiple prestigious venues, including the Venice Biennale 2010, Essence 2011 at MAK, Vienna, and The Experimental Architecture Biennale Vol 01 in Prague.

In recognition of her achievements, she was named the Young Architect of the Year in 2017 by the prestigious Middle East Architecture magazine for the “undeniable strides she made in a short period of time, with projects that continue to positively contribute to the growing urban fabric of the Gulf Cooperation Council”. Before her firm’s founding, Hend graduated from the American University of Sharjah in Kuwait with a Bachelor of Architecture in 2008. She then received a Master’s in Urban Strategies from the Universität Für Angewandte Kunst in Vienna, graduating with distinction in 2011.

Meisa Batayneh Maani

Founder of maisam architects & engineers, Jordan

Left: Portrait of Architect Meisa Batayneh, founder of maisam architects and engineers. Right: A Gateway to Petra in Jordan, which won the Architizer A+ Popular Choice Award in 2015.

Having established her office in 2005 in Amman, Architect Meisa Batayneh Maani has worked with her team to grow their office over the years, balancing the vernacular with the modern, undertaking projects that ranged in scale between urban planning and design, architecture, interior, landscape and structural design. The wide variety of projects her office has worked on can be seen today across Jordan, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, gaining national and international recognition for their innovation and excellence.

Among her most notable projects is the Reem Tower in Abu Dhabi and a Gateway to Petra in Jordan, which won the Architizer A+ Popular Choice Award in 2015. Architect Meisa is also an active member in the architectural and social community both locally and internationally, having founded and chaired a number of councils and participated in a number of awards as a jury member.

Yasmine and Yacout Benmoussa

Co-Founders of Studio CAYS, Morocco

Right: A portrait of Studio CAYS founding sisters Yasmine and Yacout Benmoussa . Left: the BasilicÔ hotel in Casablanca.

Yasmine and Yacout Benmoussa are twin sisters from Morocco who have founded Studio CAYS in 2019 in Casablanca, choosing its name as an anagram of the abbreviations of their names. The duality that their business has been built upon is not only reflected in the studio’s name, but is rather the driving force behind many of their interior design projects, balancing beauty with ergonomics and aesthetics with functionalism, designing interiors that are visually pleasing, playful and provocative with their shapes and colors. Their portfolio includes a number of vibrant and modern residential projects such as MAYZ House in the city of Rabat, and ZAI House in Casablanca, the BasilicÔ hotel in Casablanca and a number of retail projects such as Travel Store also in Casablanca whose interiors look like those of an elegant dollhouse.

The judging process for Architizer's 12th Annual A+Awards is now away. Subscribe to our Awards Newsletter to receive program updates, and stay tuned for winners announcements later this spring.  

Nama'a Qudah Author: Nama'a Qudah
Nama’a Qudah is an interdisciplinary researcher, currently completing her doctoral studies at Delft University of Technology, at the architecture department. Her research focuses on the architecture of displacement, particularly Palestinian Refugee Camps. Nama’a is driven by de-colonizing the knowledge produced about Jordan and Palestine in general and camps in specific to produce action-based research that is more empirical and reflective of its environment.
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