This Women-Led Startup is Changing What People Think About Sustainable Houses in Senegal

Mariama Djambony Badji, Co-founder of Design Engineering Architecture (DNA) posing for a picture. Photo Credit: Maria Knodt, Bird Story Agency

Growing up in Senegal’s third-largest city, Thiés, situated some 70 kilometres east of Dakar, friends Mariama Djambony Badji and Papa Mafall Diop dreamed of becoming architects and of building houses.

“From an early age, we were both fascinated by buildings and how they are constructed, and we dreamed of starting a company together,” recounted Badjj recently.

Senegal’s post-colonial period has a strong architectural history. The country’s first president, Léopold Sédar Senghor, was a proponent of an angular architecture he called “asymmetrical parallelism,”  examples of which are still evident at the site of the country’s 1974 International Fair in Dakar. Since 1966, Thiés has also been home to the Manufactures Sénégalaises des Arts Décoratifs, a tapestry factory where African design is a key element of the work.

However, after neither of the friends took architecture for their studies, their dreams seemed to go adrift.

“I initially wanted to study architecture, but then I studied civil engineering, like Mafall,” Badjj explained.

Papa Mafall Diop (right) and Mariama Djambony Badji (left) posing for a picture. Photo: Maria Knodt, bird story agency

During her second year of university, Badjj and Christelle Auxencia Lebrun, a friend from her civil engineering course, began supporting Badjj’s mother, who was setting up an IT learning centre. They offered to help with the accommodations.

“Once we arrived, we realised there were not enough rooms for all the students. So we thought about what we could do, and Christelle proposed that we could devise a plan to construct more rooms ourselves,” Mariama remembers.

Luckily, Badjj was able to call on her childhood friend, Diop, for help.

“Despite going to different universities, we always stayed in touch,” Badjj explained.

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