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Orlane Mwanayera is an architect and environmental activist based in Kigali, Rwanda. Mwanayera is an Artist Fellow for the Soul of Nations Foundation’s Indigenous International: Green Architecture Project. 

As a child, I was always interested in bringing things to life. I enjoy creating an idea from scratch and seeing it come to fruition, but I’m also a person who is very connected to nature. I consider myself an environmentalist and try to join sustainable-based projects that help me reconnect to nature. I have always been fascinated by creating work that is a mixture of architecture and art. I take time to experiment with different forms of architectural-based design such as vernacular housing, landscape, interiors, installations, sculptures, and even recycling. 

Environmentalism is popular in Kigali. The Rwandan Government does a great job planting trees and making sure to keep the streets clean. Compared to other African countries, I think Rwanda has done so much to protect the environment. The Rwandan landscape is very beautiful, but it’s also very complex, so preserving our lands requires a lot of hard work. The Government has banned plastic bags and littering in our country, so our community is taking the necessary steps to become more environmentally friendly. However, I feel like there is more work to be done in terms of recycling. We still have problems with recycle collection, but many people choose to upcycle certain products if possible. Rwandans tend to learn safe environmental practices from other developing countries, so slowly but surely, we are achieving a more sustainable community. 

Environmentalism is protecting Mother Nature. It’s living life in consideration of Her and our habitat for the next generation. It saddens me that when people talk about environmental protection and sustainability there is no real sense of urgency. Sometimes it can feel like I am trying to protect our environment alone, but then I remind myself that the change can start with me. I can inspire others to do the same. Collectively, we can make a big difference, but we need to be more proactive. If we simply wait for environmental change to happen itself, then it will never happen. It’s important for us to be the change that we want to see.

I would define Green Architecture as designing or building with consideration of the environment. Material sourcing, energy conservation, and landscape consciousness can all contribute to green architecture.

Oh, it’s been challenging! It’s been interesting! It’s been inspiring! My working groups’ creative output, entitled Fragma 2, was basically five projects in one, so it was an exciting experience to bring everything together with my team. We had a very supportive network, and I learned a lot from the project. Overall, it’s been a very fulfilling experience. My role in the project has been more architectural and installation-based. 

The field of architecture is male-dominated. In Rwanda, even accepting architecture as a profession is a fairly new concept, but it’s especially difficult for women to be taken seriously in this industry. Oftentimes, clients feel safer choosing male architects over women because there is a stigma that women cannot build. Unfortunately, in Rwanda, there is a perception that any work dealing with construction or mechanics is a man’s job. However, the field of architecture is far more expansive than simply just building. An architect can design, and this design doesn’t require muscles to be created. This androcentric train of thought is outdated and can prevent the successes of many women architects or young girls who aspire to become architects in the future. 

I hope that we can reach a point where exploration can be accepted to the fullest extent. I would like to see a world where clients are more open to abstract concepts. I also hope that we can reach a point where one’s portfolio is more valuable than one’s gender identity. Women and men should be measured equally. It would be nice to see women working on more sustainable projects, like the Green Architecture Project. The future is now, and the future is bright. We should all be the change that we want to see!

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