Nairobi, Kenya

A global design competition was held by the Bohra community, a sect of Islam, to design their Al Jamea Tus Saifiyah, or religious university, in Nairobi, Kenya. Four studios, from the invited twenty-seven were short-listed to design the campus. After being shortlisted a Nairobi based studio, Mruttu Salman Architects, was made an associate, bringing in expertise on local construction technology and the Bohra community. The design concept was contemporary, with references to the Quran incorporated into the spatial layout, employing motifs and concepts from traditional Fatemi architecture.

The Jamea was envisioned by the clients as, “ a vessel carrying the truths of the Quran; a mirror reflecting the teachings of the Prophet; and a custodian of the eternal Fatemi civilization and culture.“ The design called for integrating symbolic numbers, orientation toward Mecca, separation of genders, isolating the residential quarters and movement of His Holiness the Syedna, and traditional relationships between the prayer hall and various community facilities, where gender separation was mandatory. This was to be achieved in a highly technical learning environment.

The design strategy separates the 61,526 square meters building program vertically into three dedicated zones for men, women and His Holiness. Next functional areas and entries are organized horizontally onto the small site of six and a half hectares. Then a structural grid of parallel columns, six meters on center, supporting Cycloid shells (see sketch) oriented toward Mecca, gifts order to the complex fabric. Finally, a central spine, or pedestrian street, is employed with the ground level for males, the first level for women and the upper level for His Holiness and senior clerics. This traditional street, or Shaara, provides secluded access to mezzanines for women in the Masjid, common areas and classrooms. The main entry to the campus is through a large plaza, into an expansive portal, leading to the Masjid, community areas and stairs to the first level. This central entry axis connects with the central spine. The Syedna’s residence and offices is over this entrance, allowing audiences with the public in the plaza. The students’ residences are arranged with the men and women’s communities at either end of the campus spine. These communities are organized around generous, secluded courtyards, with thirty houses each providing congenial social spaces.  The design integrates the Masjid (place of worship), Madrasa (learning areas), Mawaid (traditional dining), Ewan Ul Barakaat (multi-purpose hall) and the Mahad Uz Zahra (Quran Learning Center) into a unified spiritual “city of learning,” drawing from classical Fatemi urban planning where learning centers were tightly integrated into urban fabrics.

LocationNairobi, Kenya

Built Up Area61,526 Square Meters

Site Area14 acres



Al Jamea Tus Saifiyah, Mumbai, India




Prime Contractor



Visualization : Sundar Bommaji

Design Team

Prof. Christopher Benninger, Daraius Choksi, Rahul Sathe, Shashi Mohandas, Sudhaman Arputhavel, Rashida Lokhandwala, Madhu Ambidi, Abizar Teawala, Bhargav Khujekar, Arnav Mathur, Pankaj Bhagwatkar, Sundar Bommaji