Jeannette Studio brings poetry to architecture

Jeannette Studio from Ivory Coast is part of our series of profiles of architects, spatial designers and builders shaping West Africa's architectural future

jeannette studio collection of photos in a collage
(Image credit: Tino Chiwariro)

Mélissa Kacoutié, founder of Jeannette Studio Architecture, hopes to bring poetry into the Ivorian architectural milieu – at the moment, she feels it is too focused on the technical. To her, architecture is a multifaceted vessel for artistic expression. When Kacoutié founded Jeannette Studio in 2016, she worked mostly on residential and commercial projects, but more recently she has delved into installations and the public realm, relishing the challenge that comes with making something small yet intricate. 

maison prevert exterior, a house in ivory coast by jeannette studio

(Image credit: Joe Penney)

West African studios: Jeannette Studio

One of the studio’s early and defining projects, Le Bazar, was designed for Bain de Foule Studio, a collective of young artists and entrepreneurs in Abidjan. The lightweight structure, composed of wooden pallets, was built in 2019 as the venue for the festival organised by the collective, called ‘Sunday’. It ingeniously transforms from a restaurant to a kind of catwalk, allowing people to meet, eat and create in a space that feels fluid but also fit for purpose. Each of Kacoutié’s builds has a strong distinguishable element – an ‘identity card,’ as she calls it. In the case of Le Bazar, it’s an eye-catching bright pink façade. ‘We do things with subtlety and softness but we are still here!’ she explains. Each of her projects is a ‘liveable artistic installation’, while still slotting seamlessly into the landscape. 

maison prevert, a house in ivory coast

(Image credit: Joe Penney)

‘Jeannette studio is a product of its time,’ Kacoutié adds. Like many Ivorian architects, she was educated overseas in Paris, and had to negotiate a variety of influences upon returning to her home country. This shared experience impacts on the look and structure of the entire country, she says: ‘everyone has something to give.’ She hopes Jeannette Studio will add to this evolution, while awakening something unexpected in people.

‘Architecture should be experienced like an animation,’ she says, emphasising the merit in embracing one’s environment and everything it has to offer, in order to reach that hard-to-pinpoint poetic potential. It can mean using unpredictable local materials, such as woven palms – a technique which she employed to create a façade for her project Pavilion Bassam, though she wove metal sheets together instead of palm for added durability. 

pavilion project by jeannette studio in the ivory coast

(Image credit: Torasan)

According to Kacoutié’s ethos, beauty is not defined by straight lines but rather through unexpected irreverent curves. Experience taught her ‘to champion the uncertainty that comes with translating drawing into building’ in her cultural context.

The architect’s latest project is the Caïa beach club in Assinie, a coastal resort town an hour and a half from the Ivorian capital. ‘The challenge here was to create a structure that can endure time. For that reason we had to resort to concrete,’ she explains. She made the material relevant to the specific context by moulding it into an airy building that bends and curves, to allow hypothetical trees latch on to it. Bringing local craftsmanship into the project, she commissioned floor tiles that mimic the traditional Kente cloth and serve as the design’s unique ‘identity card’. 

The project represents Kacoutié’s vision for the future of Jeannette Studio: an Ivorian architecture practice located between the rural and the urban, continuously bending and adapting and perfecting the delicate balances of its country, which it hopes to translate into architectural space, through innovations in craft, drawing and making.

pavilion caia in icory coast

(Image credit: Torasan)

West African studios: the series

From Senegal to Nigeria, and from Niger to the Ivory Coast, West Africa is vast and brimming with potential. A powerful mix of peoples and cultures, and in some nations, exponential demographic and economic growth, makes this part of the world a locus of change. The result? A dynamic new generation of studios that operate in the architecture realm and push the boundaries of their field to a promising future. Architects, spatial designers and builders converge here to create a unique, rich melting pot of fresh thinking and innovation that will no doubt reshape the way we think about architecture globally.

Jeannette Studio (opens in new tab)

A version of this story appears in January 2023 Wallpaper*, The Future Issue, available now in print, on the Wallpaper* app on Apple iOS, and to subscribers of Apple News +. Subscribe to Wallpaper* today (opens in new tab)