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A project by the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation and Le Korsa, the Bët-bi museum and center for culture and community will open in 2025.

An arial shot of a diamond-shaped building in a dessert with some green plants around.

A rendering of Bët-bi, a new museum and center for culture and community designed by architect Mariam Issoufou Kamara of Atelier Masōmī. ©Atelier Masōmī

Award-wining Nigerien architect Mariam Issoufou Kamara has been announced as the designer for Bët-bi, a new museum, and center for culture and community slated to open in early 2025 in southwestern Senegal. The project, which will comprise exhibition and events spaces, community rooms, and a library, is an initiative of the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation and Le Korsa. Set to be constructed near the town of Kaolack, the complex is meant to serve as more than a repository for art.

“Cultural projects [like this one] are important for the present and future of the continent,” says Kamara, who founded her firm, Atelier Masōmī, in 2014. “The question is, ‘how do we imagine them? What is their role for each society?’ They hold within them opportunities for the community, but also cultural discoveries and new ways to view and interpret oneself. This is particularly critical in an African context because we are systematically defined, objectified, and narrated by others. This project tackles all of these concerns by anchoring the design firmly in its context and taking inspiration from local narratives.”

A woman in a blue dress with long dark braids stands against a glass-and-metal background.

Architect Mariam Issoufou Kamara of Atelier Masōmī. ©Rolex / Stéphane Rodrigez Delavega.

Bët-bi—which means “the eye” in Wolof—will be a state-of-the-art museum built using sustainable and traditional methods of building. But, according to Kamara, the primary goal is to provide a space for the public. “The project is, at the surface, a public space for communities to come together and use as a destination, rather than a big museum building,” she says, noting that museums, “are a typology that was initially created to house plundered objects from the outer reaches of colonial empires.”

Museum buildings are often formidable and intimidating—spaces for the elite that overlook the populations they claim to serve. After spending time talking with community members in and around Kaolack, Kamara discovered that there was little interest in a large building erected to just show art. “The very few cultural spaces that have been successful in bringing in people on the continent have often been so because they double as a public space,” she says, citing the National Museum in Niger.

A building with two triangular elements sits in a dry field. People walk around outside it.

Bët-bi will be a community-focused space that encourages locals to gather in and utilize its public spaces. ©Atelier Masōmī

Bët-bi will respond to the historic and cultural complexities of its site. The design takes inspiration from the people who have occupied this part of Senegal since the 11th century and are known for their spiritual connection to the land, the sun, wind, and water. The museum galleries will be located underground—an architectural interpretation of the way in which, according to Kamara, “the megaliths surrounded a mound under which cherished memories and ancestors were buried.” Above ground, plaza-like spaces that are open to the surrounding landscape are approachable to all—gatherings, celebrations, and meetings will be welcomed and encouraged. For construction, Kamara plans to use as many regional materials (from iron-rich laterite to local stone) and local labor, skills, and expertise as possible.

“The form is a nod to both the logic behind the nearby megaliths and the Saloum Kingdom’s original ethnic groups, the Serers and the Mandinkas, which still inhabit the region along with several other ethnic groups," Kamara says of her proposed design. “The geometric language of the project came from looking at the traditional spiritual realm and the series of triangles that describe the relationship between divinity, the elements, the living, and the dead—a self-renewing cycle of life that was translated into a triangular building with a ramp system that metaphorically reproduces this sense of the sacred journey. The triangle (and resulting diamond shapes when put together) are also ubiquitous in design, decoration, and textiles in West Africa, further emphasizing its symbolic importance.”


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