Celebrating the Achievements of Local Women in Design
Women Lead: Celebrate! is an ongoing series of mini-features and highlights to celebrate the many achievements of local Women/Woman-identifying Designers and Creatives in our Cleveland community. Are you a woman/woman-identifying designer or creative that would you like to nominate yourself or someone else to be featured? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
Current: Founding Principal and Executive Director of ELMALAZ, an architecture and design studio, Adjunct Associate Professor at The John Elliot Center for Architecture and Environmental Design, Kent State University
Past: Malaz Elgemiabby is from Khartoum, Sudan, and holds a Master of Design from Virginia Commonwealth University, and a Bachelor of Interior Architecture and Design from London Metropolitan University, United Kingdom.
Cleveland Connection: After leaving Sudan, she made her way to Cleveland in 2016.
Malaz Elgemiabby, a Sudanese designer is the founding principal and executive director of ELMALAZ, an architecture and design studio in Cleveland, Ohio. As an interdisciplinary designer with a focus on community needs, she ensures her work caters to the greater good.
Malaz’s current project, “Habboba Van,” is a mobile storytelling studio that aims to create content based on community issues. This relevant and relatable content brings awareness to problems and issues within urban communities. Her mission has always been to listen and use her creative platform and skills to solve community problems, specifically for those who are marginalized. When it comes to Urban Planning and Architecture, Malaz pulls inspiration from her multi-cultural background and experience in her decision-making because she believes in the importance of the individual stories within communities. In order to create better, and more effective, environments, these voices need to be included in all planning projects. At its core, her work highlights how vital it is to help build the community in order to build for the community. The van is a literal vehicle to amplify, elevate, and include the voices of the community.
Pursue a Creative Path
Born and raised in Sudan, Malaz started out as a medical student with the passion to help people and her community. However, her experience felt very restricted and she felt the need to do more. With a life-long interest in the arts, she transitioned into the study of Architecture, driven by a desire to build structures that served the community with dignity and respect. Malaz sees design as a backbone that can lead to many other professions. It connects many disciplines and helps solve a multitude of challenges through creative problem-solving. She believes that design should not be restricted to a single discipline, which is demonstrated through her work that extends to urban design, photography, graphic design, and public art, to name a few. “I consider myself an accidental artist. But I’m also very versed in community service, and I can’t separate the art from the community.”
How Being a Woman Inspires Her Work
Malaz believes in the universal struggle of women. Being from Sudan and experiences living in different continents, and cultures around the world, she knows firsthand that she, and other minority women, are always expected to just work harder to get ahead. But she hasn’t let that hold her back. She has learned to passionately serve her purpose through her work. Also, being a mother has shaped almost everything in her life. To Malaz, motherhood always comes first, and with motherhood comes great responsibility, as well as the courage to solve bigger and more complicated problems. As a single mother to a 7-year old boy, she is motivated to help make this world a better place for him and for other kids. With motherhood came the courage to use her skills as a designer and passion as a woman and mother to tackle issues like child abandonment, social stigma, gentrification, and racism. “I want to normalize motherhood in the workplace. My son joins me in all my meetings, site visits, and award ceremonies. It is is important to me that people see motherhood as a normal, empowering responsibility for women in all forms of industry.”
As a mother, she feels it is her responsibility to have a positive impact on the world.
Racial Justice and the Black Lives Matter Movement
Most of Malaz’s design work is political because she often deals with socially complex issues. To Malaz, a socially complex design practice cannot focus on “nice things” only, but also has to face the ugly truths in society too. The underlying problem of racism and injustice has always been the core issue she aims to address. This is why community engagement is so important in her work. Marginalized voices have always been disproportionately silenced, especially when it comes to the development of the environments they live in. Their voices are rarely included in the decision-making process.
Elgemiabby’s project transforms a former Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Authority building into an Ohio City community center with LAND studio at West 25th St. and Franklin Boulevard.
Design lives at the intersection of communication and human interaction and can be reimagined and redesigned. For example, Malaz believes that policing in low-income areas can be improved by using community engagement as a tool to listen and help build empathy and consensus between all involved.
Support Malaz’s Work: A Note from Malaz
I am thrilled to announce that we at ELMALAZ have resumed the work on our new project “Habboba Van” – a mobile video storytelling studio. The name Habboba is inspired by my late grandmother’s legacy of radical hospitality and community building through storytelling.
After years of doing community engagement and architecture work around the world, I understood the power of telling our community story and how these stories impact our design narrative. Habboba van is an innovative method to connect the community with its urban environment.
This project is not only important to me personally, but also during this particular moment in our history, it is more important now than ever we take time to LISTEN. It is only through knowing each other’s stories that we can build true empathy. And if there is one thing I hold as a mission, it is we need to build the community before building for them!
– Malaz Elgemiabby
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