AMKNA, the Dubai-based studio, has been shortlisted for the 2018 World Architecture Festival, in recognition of their design proposal of a cultural center in Sedhiou, Senegal. The proposed “Sedhiou Cultural Center” will provide citizens with a rich cultural, social, and educational experience, all while sustaining the surrounding environment and keeping African heritage alive.
The power of a cultural building lies in its ability to morph history, music, food, dance, color, and material into a well-designed, functional space. Senegal’s Sedhiou is one of Africa’s underdeveloped towns but is rich in cultural vibrancy. Regardless of its lively heritage, the town lacks a place of artistic expression and is constantly affected by the economy’s globalization. The proposal’s design seeks to become an icon for the entire country, ensuring sustainability and the use of local materials. The structure will include areas for education, exhibition, performances, bureaus, and restrooms, catering to everyone in the country.
AMKNA’s design tells centuries-old stories of Africa. Sedhiou inhibits approximately 22,000 citizens and has been affected by the Casamance conflict during 1980 – 2005. The Casamance River was crucial for transporting natural resources, such as Kapok, Palm, and Fromager trees, from Sedhiou to neighboring towns, but the ongoing war took its toll on the city’s trade movements, affecting its economy. Even though Senegal is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean, the country suffers from a devastating water crisis, killing millions of people yearly.
Naturally, drought is very apparent on the land as it creates cracks on the ground’s surface. Instead of submitting to these constraints, the architects decided to use the land’s imperfections and derive the structure’s concept from the cracks’ forms and the land’s excessive need for water. The roof of the building is split into inwardly-inclined platforms so that people can benefit from the rainwater harvesting. In addition, the plan was intricately designed in a way that allows natural winds to travel through the building via vents (cracks) on the facades, creating cross-ventilation within the space. The structure will house reading rooms, musical areas, craft workshops, and outdoor activities.
Since it was vital to make use of the existing natural resources, the architects chose to use a clay/mud hybrid for the project’s structure, as it is traditionally used in the construction of housing in Senegal. The architects also chose to use bamboo, wooden beams, traditional plaster, and plenty of vibrant hues of blue, red, green, and gold to keep the traditions of Africa alive.
“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 are mixing together in harmony, within an environment full of experiences. Some of those ethnic groups are deeply rooted in history, and, since they never had any archives or written works, they passed those stories only thanks to words coming from the Elders.”