The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation’s director, Nicholas Fox Weber, has long been dedicated to advancing the late duo’s design concepts to improve the living standard of rural Senegalese communities. When Le Korsa was founded in 2005, it launched a cultural centre entitled “THREAD” for residents of the rural village of Sinthian, which was designed pro bono by Toshiko Mori. Following that, the firm spearheaded the construction of an elementary school in Fass, a village nearby, as well as a new Maternity and Pediatric Unit for the overpopulated Tambacounda Hospital, designed by Swiss-based architect Manuel Herz. Each structure contains subtly evocative references to Josef and Anni’s practises and Bauhaus fundamentals, such as woven roofs reminiscent of Anni’s textiles and geometric wall patterns reminiscent of Josef’s prints.
The foundation’s most recent initiative is Bët-bi, a cutting-edge museum and community centre set to open in early 2025 near the old city of Kaolack. It consists of exhibition and event spaces, communal spaces, and a library, all of which are aimed to provide accessible common spaces and an open and inclusive environment for all guests. The structure reflects the cultural and historic intricacies of the location, paying attention to the Kaolack region’s particular legacy. The 10,700-square-foot structure will house repatriated African artefacts as well as modern and ancient African art.
Bët-bi has been one of the newest additions to Senegal’s rich cultural landscape, which is still expanding. Le Korsa enlisted Atelier Masōmī, a Nigerien firm created by architect Mariam Issoufou Kamara, to create a design that pays homage to the region’s history by using traditional building methods in conjunction with local artisans.
Kamara founded Atelier Masōmī in 2014 to engage in a variety of public, cultural, residential, commercial, and urban design projects. Her approach is guided by the conviction that architects have such a critical role to play in creating thinking places that can elevate, dignify, and improve people’s lives. Design, she feels, is just as important as economy and political progress. Vernacular architecture, to her, is about comprehending and rebooting existing methodologies so that designers and builders can construct new things.
Kamara explains that they looked deep into the Saloum Kingdom’s history and were intrigued by its genesis myth as a place founded jointly by Serer and the Mandinka people. She also states that historically, the latter is a Mali-empire people famed for their monumental construction.
Kamara believes that African architects should stop trying to copy what already exists in the West but look to their history and heritage to produce architecture that is reflective of the region in which the buildings exist. For Kamara, it is very important for her as an architect working with vernacular architecture to put real, tangible examples for the public to see so it makes it easier to make a case for why these types of buildings are important.
“For far too long, our region has been a place where cultural wealth is pillaged to profit museum collections,” Kamara, whose previous work has brought academic conceptions of place and memory into architecture, stated. This project provides an interesting opportunity to create a new form of the environment inspired by the region’s traditions and spiritual legacy. It’s an opportunity to push the limits of what constitutes a museum in the twenty-first century.
The studio approached this project through a look back at the site’s past. The award-winning architect said that as museums and galleries are a product of our more recent past, it is important that the project serves as a bold imperative to continue the recent dialogue around rethinking the typology to explore new spatial languages around museums.
The people who’ve lived and worked in this area of Senegal since the 11th century are known for their spiritual connections to the land and natural elements such as the sun, wind, and water, and Bët-bi’s design is influenced by them. The museum will feature modern and ancient African art as well as sub-Saharan African cultures. Art will be its focal point, with a specialised education programme and a range of activities aimed at bringing art from all over the world to local and national populations. The museum hopes to play a key role in international efforts to promote and guarantee the return of artefacts with West African roots. A temporary room will be set aside for returning African artefacts, reflecting the importance of the continent.
The Bët-bi museum will house exhibition and event spaces as well as a library and community rooms. It is slated to open in 2025. Bët-bi, which means “the eye” in Wolof, one of Senegal’s national languages, will be staffed by curators and staff recruited locally. In addition to exhibiting contemporary art, the museum plans to serve as a temporary home for repatriated African objects and to participate in global initiatives to secure the return of West African objects. “Bët-bi will be an institution where everyone, no matter what their background, can celebrate and experience the unparalleled wonders of visual art,” says Nicholas Fox Weber, Executive Director of the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, Founder and President of Le Korsa.
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- Archinect. 2022. The new Bët-bi Museum by atelier masōmī will continue a shift toward cultural justice in Senegal. [online] Available at: <https://archinect.com/news/article/150310204/the-new-b-t-bi-museum-by-atelier-maso-mi-will-continue-a-shift-toward-cultural-justice-in-senegal> [Accessed 20 May 2022].