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Competition: Sedihou cultural centre, Senegal

An open international contest judged by Kengo Kuma has been announced for a new 550m² cultural centre in Sedihou, Senegal (Deadline: 4 April)

The competition seeks proposals for an iconic structure constructed from local materials where inhabitants of the riverside settlement can meet and discuss shared oral traditions.

The project, backed by Italian non-profit organisation Balouo Salo, aims to deliver a new hub for promoting and preserving local cultures and the surrounding natural environment.

Sedhiou in Senegal

Sedhiou in Senegal

Sedhiou in Senegal

According to the brief: ‘The purpose of the contest is to create an iconic architectural structure in order to preserve local cultures coming from the region of Sedhiou, to respect the area’s environment and local cultural balance, improving uncertain conditions of communities while preserving customs.

‘The winning project must be intended as a donation to the international non-profit organisation Balouo Salo, in order to be shared with communities and institutions of Sedhiou, who will have the chance to realise it cooperating with other organiszations or to proceeding on their own.’

Senegal is a West African country home to around 15 million people. It was formerly a Portuguese and then French colony, before winning independence in 1960. From 1980 to 2005 the Casamance region – named after the Casamance river – was the focus of a bloody separatist conflict.

Sedhiou, on the banks of the river Casamance, is a small settlement of 22,000 people. The latest projects aims to create a space where local people can discuss history and issues arising from the recent armed conflict.

Sedhiou in Senegal

Sedhiou in Senegal

Sedhiou in Senegal

Proposals should include facilities for education, exhibitions and performances along with offices and restrooms. Local materials such as bamboo, clay bricks, straw, laterite stones, shells, sand, wooden beams and boards should be harnessed. Alongside the 550m² centre, an open space of 400m² will also be required.

Applications must be in English and should include an A1-sized display board featuring design concepts, 3D views and plans along with a 2,000-word written report. Submissions will be judged on their sustainability, building process, architectural quality, flexibility and context response.

Judges include Kengo Kuma of Kengo Kuma Associates, Raoul Vecchio of Balouo Salo, T Hirano from the Università of Tokyo, A Muzzonigro from Stefano Boeri Architetti, and R Bouman of Mohn+Bouman Architects.

The overall winner – to be announced 20 May – will receive €2,500 and an internship at Kengo Kuma Associates in Tokyo. A second place prize of €1,000 and third place prize of €500 will also be awarded, along with two honourable mentions worth €150 each.

How to apply

Deadline

The deadline for submissions is 25 April

Fee

Early registration from 15 January to 13 February: €60
Normal registration from 14 February to 10 March: €90
Late registration from 11 March to 4 April: €120

Contact details

Associazione Onlus Balouo Salo
Via Timparosa, n.9
Acicastello (CT)
95021
Italia
CF. 90054350872

Email: info@balouosalo.com , raoulvecchio@balouosalo.com
Tel: + 39 3406675955

Visit the competition website for more information

Thread case study: Q&A with Jordan MacTavish

The designer at Toshiko Mori Architect discusses lessons learned creating a new cultural centre in Sinthian, Senegal

How did your project deliver an appropriate cultural forum for the Senegalese settlement of Sinthian?

Thread is a socio-cultural centre that houses two artists’ dwellings along with ample indoor and outdoor studio space for local and international artists. In addition to the artists’ residences, Thread is a hub for Sinthian and the surrounding villages, providing agricultural training, fertile land, and a meeting place for social organisation—here, the most important mechanism for sustainable development. The mission of Thread’s residency program is twofold: to allow artists access to the raw materials of inspiration found in this rarely-visited area of the world; and to use art as a means of developing mutually respectful linkages between rural Senegal and other parts of the globe.

The mission of Thread as a whole is to be a flexible and evolving public space. As such, it exists at a crossroads between (inter)national artist residency, agricultural hub, community farm, water source, exhibition and performance venue, cultural centre, local library, children’s play gym, and village cell phone charger.

The success of its atypical plurality proves why art and architecture should not be considered tertiary privileges, but instead rights of all people. At Thread, incorporating agricultural, medicinal, and educational efforts of aid in the cultural sector has allowed international and local actors to achieve a far more sustainable, respectful, and encouraging relationship with those people they are supporting.

Thread cultural centre in Sinthian, Senegal by Toshiko Mori Architect

Thread cultural centre in Sinthian, Senegal by Toshiko Mori Architect

Source: Image by Iwan Baan

Thread cultural centre in Sinthian, Senegal by Toshiko Mori Architect

Which architectural, material, visual and other methods did you harness in your design?

Relying exclusively on local materials and construction techniques, the building’s traditional structure is formed primarily of large bamboo members sourced locally and compressed earth blocks made on site. Climatic considerations figure prominently in the building’s form and specify the orientation of the studios and covered gallery areas. The building also offers ample shading of outdoor areas and considers wind orientation for ventilation. In the design, a parametric transformation of the traditional pitched roof is achieved through a process of inversion, inscribing a series of courtyards within the plan of the building and simultaneously creating shaded studio areas around the perimeter of the courtyard. The inversion of the roof through its particular geometry enables an optimal amount of runoff rainwater to be collected through a series of pitched canals and two reservoirs.

Inspired by Senegalese building typologies and in an effort to save resources, regional materials and the skills of local labourers were used during the construction of Thread. This approach simplifies efforts to maintain the compound. It also provides the community with a further sense of ownership, as opposed to Thread being viewed as a foreign construction. The project offers an iconic shape in a landscape that is a vast, flat bushland.

Thread cultural centre in Sinthian, Senegal by Toshiko Mori Architect

Thread cultural centre in Sinthian, Senegal by Toshiko Mori Architect

Source: Image by Iwan Baan

Thread cultural centre in Sinthian, Senegal by Toshiko Mori Architect

What advice would you have to contest participants on designing a cultural centre for Sedhiou?

Imperative to Thread’s program is adaptability, which the informality and flexibility of its architecture facilitates. Fluidity of function is as present in Thread’s programme as it is in its architecture—the building has as easily accommodated 300 people for a dance performance, as it has been a contiguity of discrete spaces for different but simultaneous activities – all under a roof that acts as water source while embodying an innovative architecture that celebrates local techniques. In the design of any facility within this region, and particularly for the new cultural centre in Sedhiou, it is important to provide for this flexibility and adaptability.

Also, programmatic constraints and challenges must be seen as opportunities for innovation. The eight-month-long dry season in Tambacounda, for example, is not only a nutritional burden, but in corresponding to the academic year, limits the income available to send children to school. However, Thread’s general manager, an environmental sustainability expert, has capitalised on the innovative new water source and adjacent gardens by creating a community hub for teaching gardening and farming techniques and initiating a 1,000-tree nursery for reforestation of surrounding villages.

Thread cultural centre in Sinthian, Senegal by Toshiko Mori Architect

Thread cultural centre in Sinthian, Senegal by Toshiko Mori Architectq

Source: Image by Iwan Baan

Thread cultural centre in Sinthian, Senegal by Toshiko Mori Architect

Q&A with Raoul Vecchio

The architect, jury member and president of non-profit organisation Balouo Salo discusses his ambitions for the contest

Raoul Vecchio

Raoul Vecchio

Raoul Vecchio

Why are your holding a contest for a new cultural centre in Sedhiou, Senegal?

The Kaira Looro initiative has a social purpose but also one of architectural research in disadvantaged contexts where the environmental and cultural aspects are fundamental. Kaira Looro, which in Mandingo language means ‘architecture for peace’, is not just architecture, but it also represents the link to a culture, a spirituality and research of interiority. Kaira Looro was founded in 2016 with a workshop whose goal was to donate the entire proceeds to the organisation Balouo Salo which develops humane projects to solve emergencies, and which is currently engaged in Sedhiou (Senegal) for the construction of an infrastructure to benefit 40,000 people.

In addition to devolving the proceeds, the goal was to raise awareness of the international community towards complex design issues in disadvantaged areas, allowing architecture to solve social problems through the enhancement of native materials and the preservation of traditions. During the workshop, teams composed by students and renowned architects developed 11 projects that the Balouo Salo organisation has donated to the villages. Since this first initiative, Kaira Looro, many architects have supported the Balouo Salo project and made their knowledge available, creating a place for cultural exchange and training. Among these architects Kengo Kuma, Ghirardelli (Libeskind), Muzzonigro (Stefano Boeri), Kasik, Ferrara, Bouman, Pilar, Mazzaglia (Kaan) and many others. Given the success of the initiative in terms of participation but above all of sensitization and quality of the work carried out, Kaira Looro has become a competition whose theme was a Sacred architecture in 2017, and a Cultural Centre in 2018.

The idea of transforming Kaira Looro in a competition is to raise awareness on the international scene towards architectural research themes in particularly disadvantaged contexts. Similarly, the idea is to launch young professionals on the international scene. The collaboration established with Kengo Kuma allows the winning team to carry out an internship at the studio in Tokyo. The previous winning team – Natalia Serafin, Paulina Gorecka and Anita Wisniewska – will go to Tokyo in May and we are very proud to give them this opportunity. The selection of the jury is based on a consolidated experience and relationship between the jurors and the Balouo Salo organisation.

Our organisation works constantly in Sedhiou Region on humanitarian projects, and we know very well the social condition that afflicts the communities. These conditions put at risk secular traditions, so the planning of a Cultural Centre for Africa in the city of Sedhiou, Senegal, aims to renovate the identity of the area, trying to reach the goal of creating a location where local cultures may have the chance to be told, passed on and preserved. This challenge sees the planning of an architectural structure as witness of the peaceful relation occurring among local ethnic groups and promoting, at the same time, preservation of local traditions, today put at risk by migratory phenomena and by the processes of globaliszation.

Sedhiou in Senegal

Sedhiou in Senegal

Sedhiou in Senegal

The intervention area represents a breeding ground of centuries-old cultures, rich in rituals and experiences coming from father to son, and telling stories about Africa. Cultures here mix together in harmony, within an environment full of experiences. Some of those ethnic groups are deeply rooted in history, and, since they do not have any archives or written works, these stories are passed down orally by the Elders. A great intellectual of the Peul ethnic group said: ‘In Africa when an old man dies, it is library that burns’ (Amadou Hampate Ba).

Globalisation effects are reflecting today on communities, putting ancient rituals and the preservation of cultural identities at risk. Among the most important and numerous local ethnic groups, is the Mandinga one, which has become famous through the history of the Mandinga kingdom led by Prince Soundjiata Keita. Among the Mandinga the social figure of the Griot is the one that promotes culture and tradition through the musical instrument called Kora. This uses half an empty pumpkin as a sound box. The traditional Griot songs hide secular secrets. A famous phrase by Soundjiata Keita’s Griot goes: ‘Without us, the kingdom of the kings would fall into oblivion.’

What I consider particularly important about the Kaira Looro initiative is that the proceeds are go entirely to the non-profit organisation Balouo Salo to develop and donate humanitarian projects. 

What is your vision for the new cultural centre?

We find ourselves in a particular context, in which the processes of globalisation produce a growth of architecture far from local traditions and materials. Very old traditional architecture can offer truly innovative technological solutions which can be reinterpreted in a modern way. The area is rich in high-performing natural materials that can be used in various ways to obtain structures and finishes, highlighting the naturalistic architectural value, respecting the environment and enhancing the resources of the territory that are rarely exploited.

The tradition offers inspirations in functional and compositional terms that I think should be analysed and reinterpreted to create a surprising design, balanced with the environment, which is inspired by the territory and its culture, in order to preserve the tradition without diminishing it. The cultural centre needs to investigate the relationship between tradition, culture and architectural space, through the research of relationships with the environment, man and materials.

The goal is to find the equilibrium between man and culture, between man and nature, so between the man and himself. A balance that is often forgotten today, dragging us into the vortex of globalisation, destroying the ancient culture of which our earth is rich.

Sedhiou in Senegal

Sedhiou in Senegal

Sedhiou in Senegal

What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?

In the previous competition, the jury appreciated a variety of approaches to the project that could, generally, be associated with a training method and an architectural language sometimes linked to geographical origin. For example, many projects by Japanese and Indian participants were inspired by the architecture of Kengo Kuma; many projects by Portuguese and Brazilian participants seemed inspired by Souto de Moura etc. 

We hope to receive many projects from students or young graduates around the world, with different architectural approaches. We try to give at all the winning proposals the maximum visibility through exhibitions and publications in media partners around the world, as well as the publication of an official Kaira Looro book. Previous finalists have thanked us for the opportunity, because, thanks to Kaira Looro, they had found employment in a big studio sensitive to the issues of architecture for emergencies. 

Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects/designers be procured?

The idea of Kaira Looro is to launch an annual competition. The aim is always to improve the social conditions of disadvantaged areas through an innovative and contextualised architectural approach.

What is certain is that in the Balouo Salo intervention area there is a great need for help, and future Kaira Looro proposals will always be dictated by local needs. Issues related to the economic and health development of the area and the conservation of the environment will be fundamental elements.

Are there any other recent Senegalese cultural centre projects you have been impressed by?

An architecture that particularly impressed me with the delicacy and reinterpretation of tradition is a work by Toshiko Mori, in the village of Sinthian, near Kanel, in the north of Senegal and near the border with Mauritania. The project realised a few years ago is clearly inspired by the architectural composition of some traditional houses and villages, using natural materials and traditional technologies like that of pressed earth. The large roof, besides having a technological function, manages to reinterpret the place by creating a relationship of coexistence between architecture and the natural context. In this project, architect Mori has exactly formalised the concept of reinterpretation in a modern way, which I consider fundamental in the development of architecture in disadvantaged contexts.