ALLIANCE FRANCO-SÉNÉGALAISE

Designed by Patrick Dujarric; completed in 1994 Kaolack, Senegal
With his project for a new French cultural center in rural Senegal, architectanthropologist
Patrick Dujarric gave a new twist to an indigenous architectural style. The
Alliance FrancoSénégalaise that he completed in 1994 in Kaolack, links a vernacular
tradition to a new decorative program. Kaolack is a rural city, with a population of
approximately 150,000, that lies 160 kilometers southeast of Dakar in west-central
Senegal on the right bank of the Saloum River. French cultural centers in West Africa
ostensibly act to promote and disseminate French culture and language, but they are also
important venues for showing African art forms, from films to paintings. With its
reinvention of local architectural traditions, the Alliance Franco-Sénégalaise makes clear
that this building does not simply house an institution affiliated with the French
government but is also a local community center.
Senegal is a former French colony, and Dujarric is a longtime resident. He completed
this project in 1994, the client being the Mission de Cooperation et d’Action Culturelle.
Unlike French cultural centers in Dakar and Saint-Louis du Senegal that are housed in
Colonial-style buildings, Dujarric’s work is both French and Senegalese.
The plan for the center is loosely modeled on an African village or compound.
(Although the project borrows eclectically from several West African artistic traditions,
the ethnic groups most prominent in this region are Sereer, Wolof, and Djola.) The
complex comprises three main blocks that are separated by courtyards and that
themselves have open-air courts. The main block houses the administrative and public
exhibition areas. It also contains the center’s office, an exhibition hall, a library, and
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audiovisual and pressrooms. Two courtyards puncture this main block, bringing air and
light to the interior spaces.
A smaller block contains four classrooms. Three small courts separate the classrooms
and can be used as additional lecture space. The third element is an open-air theater that
can be used for many purposes, such as showing French newscasts, screening films, and
presenting live performances.
Anyone visiting the center is immediately awestruck by its profuse decoration. The
decoration is sometimes geometric, as many of the walls, piers, and columns are painted
with stripes. It is sometimes figural, showing people and animals in scenes derived from
local graphic traditions. Although the graphic forms are traditional, many of them are
traditional to nonarchitectural art forms, such as pottery and textiles. In a move that is
unusual today, patterns cover almost all visible surfaces. Dujarric decorated everything:
floors, walls, ceilings, and columns. Such an exuberant profusion of decoration is
associated with Gothic, Byzantine, and Islamic religious architecture but is rare in
modern secular buildings.
Reviewers of the project (many of whom were French) have frequently claimed that
Dujarric’s Kaolack structure was an architectural embodiment of French literary
Poststructuralism. The building itself, because of its elaborate decorative program, was a
“text” that had to be read and interpreted by viewers. According to many critics, the
postmodern decoration and graphics act as an interactive text, inviting visitors to create
their own textual and visual meanings. For a building that houses and exhibits a variety of
media, the structure itself has become a form of media. Architecture is thus integrated
into the larger realm of popular art and graphics.
In addition to the local iconographic programs that it draws on, the Alliance building
incorporated another traditional artistic practice: the use of perforated claus tra walls. Claustra walls are
a feature of Tukulor houses and mosques, and their open-air grillwork treats light as a
raw material that can be transformed into patterns. When light patterns move across
already decorated planes, surfaces come alive, and painted figures dance, thus imbuing
graphic representations with video-like qualities.
This project was one of the recipients of the 1995 Aga Khan Awards for Architecture.
Previous rounds of the Aga Khan Awards, in 1983 and 1986, had recognized few modern
buildings, and traditional buildings dominated the winners. This left the awards program
open to criticism (from such notable Aga Khan jurors as Mehmet Doruk Pamir and Hans
Hollein) that it was reactionary, anti-modern, anti-Western, and antitechnology. The
Alliance Franco-Sénégalaise puts much of that criticism to rest, for it is a project that
grows out of local traditions yet houses modern functions and uses new materials.
The materials of this low-budget project include terrazzo floors in which stones from
the Thiès region provide local color. Cement block can no longer be considered a modern
or foreign material, for much of the architecture around the Kaolack region is made from
it. Dujarric ingeniously created columns by pouring concrete into PVC pipes that were
then richly painted with horizontal stripes.

The project is economical not only with its materials but with its energy costs as well. It is not airconditioned but relies on
crosswinds, ceiling fans, and shaded areas to keep the place cool and well ventilated.
The largely favorable reviews that Dujarric has received for this building suggest a
need to see new kinds of architecture that grow out of African traditions. Successful or
not, this building does affirm that Africa is not importing modernity from the West but,
rather, is creating its own.

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