Davis on why she has a big heart for the rural woman


Sharon Davis has won numerous awards for her projects. (Courtesy)

Sharon Davis, the founder of Sharon Davis Design, is a New York City based architectural designer

In Rwanda, together with Partners in Health, she constructed a housing complex for medical staff in Rwinkwavu in the Eastern Province built by local residents using local materials.

She is also behind the Women’s Opportunity Centre in Kayonza, in Eastern Rwanda. The centre, which opened in 2013, offers vocational training and community development courses.

Davis spoke to Women Today’s Donah Mbabazi about her projects in Rwanda and the inspiration behind them.


Tell us about the Sharon Davis Design

Sharon Davis Design was founded in 2007; I have since devoted myself to “mission-based architecture” – that is to say architecture and design that can have a meaningful impact on the world. After having built a successful career in finance, I found myself dreaming of my early interests in design and art. Several Myers-Briggs tests and much soul-searching later, I left banking and went back to Columbia University to study architecture.

Your housing facility for medical staff in Rwinkwavu, how did it come about?

My firm was working with Rwanda Village Enterprise (RVE) in Rwinkwavu, on an affordable housing project that is currently in construction. Partners in Health was interested in the design and contacted us to design and build a housing facility for its hospital. This housing, immediately adjacent to the local 110-bed Rwinkwavu Hospital, represents a major step forward for the local healthcare system in this remote area. Each of the two buildings houses eight doctors or nurses making it infinitely easier for these healthcare professionals to stay in proximity to their jobs and serve their communities better.

In order to help support the local economy, approximately 90 per cent of the labour was local, and women represented a minimum of one third of the staff throughout construction. In addition, the bricks were made by the local women’s co-operative in Kayonza, which my firm helped to establish.

The housing complex for doctors and nurses in Rwinkwavu.

Tell us about the Women’s Opportunity Center in Kayonza.

The Women’s Opportunity Centre in Kayonza is a sustainably designed and constructed village for vocational training and community development. Designed for the humanitarian organisation, Women for Women International, this mini-village in Rwanda transforms community and subsistence farming through thoughtful design to create economic opportunity, rebuild social infrastructure, and restore cultural heritage. The goal of the Women’s Opportunity Centre is to empower 300 women annually to transcend a legacy of conflict by helping them rebuild their lives and achieve economic independence.

Apart from your projects in Rwanda, what else have you worked on out there?

We are currently working on a hospital in Nepal, which is under construction and which will provide healthcare to an area that was devastated by the recent earthquake, as well as a K-12 school in Ethiopia, among other projects.

Besides your missionary projects in Africa, what is it that you focus on in America?

I have worked on architectural projects ranging in scope from residential interiors to commercial ground-up construction and international institutional development. My dedication to the architectural community of New York and the architectural profession more broadly is made evident by the time I dedicate to numerous organisations devoted to architecture and urbanism.

 Inside the complex. 

What are some of the awards that you have won and for which projects were they?

I have won, Architizer A+ Award “Architecture +Community” Winner in 2015, World Architecture Festival “Civic and Community Center” Winner in 2013, World Architecture Festival Award “Best Future Educational Project” Winner in 2011, these were won for the Women’s Opportunity Centre.

The Partners in Health project earned 2015 BUILD Architecture Award “Best International Community Project”.

Our works have been recognised by a range of publications and websites, including Architectural Record, GOOD, Earthworks Magazine, Metropolis and Architectural Digest to name a few.

What inspired your start of projects in Rwanda?

I have always been interested in working in Africa, but Rwanda really chose me when Women for Women International selected me to design the Women’s Opportunity Centre.

Staying and working in America, yet co-coordinating projects here in Rwanda, how do you manage to juggle?

I travel to Africa at least several times a year and maintain an office in Rwanda.

The Women’s Opportunity Centre. (Net photos)

What motivated the start of your missionary projects in Africa?

My projects exemplify my sense of social responsibility and my mission-driven practice. I have combined my love of the built environment with my passion for global advocacy and women’s issues. Sharon Davis Design is committed to the pursuit of sustainable design solutions that improve both the way people live and work and the health of the natural environment.

Future plans?

I am hoping to partner with other non-government organisations, foundations and governments to provide buildings that improve the quality of life for communities around the world.