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Kaira Kora

Matteo Serra, Mirko Santoni, Andrea Ruggieri

Politecnico di Milano

The Griot safeguards the community’s tradition that is conserved through the usage of the words.
This poet’s tale is accompanied by an instrument called “Kora”.
A sacred place should play a similar role and become the “Instrument of Worship”.
The project’s aim lies in the belief that a single holy place can host different religions (muslims, catholics and animists), a single instrument able to emit different notes of a same chord, a peace’s harp: Kaira Kora.
The tradition becomes a design reference in order to achieve an architecture raised from the context.


The relationship between the enclosure and the elements contained by it, and the tension they apply on one another are the composition’s principles: from Mundane (exterior) to Holy (interior - open), from Holy to Symbol (building).Sheds and metal sheets’ roofs are proposed again in section to achieve the ventilation, the Iight’s control and articulate the relationship between Earth and Sky.Only one element is detached from the complex to summon the believers, developing in height and being recognizable from the main street: Minaret, bell tower, totem.This place should represent a resource: an underground wastewater collection system would allow to store the monsoon season’s water with the purpose of using it both inside (holy water for ablution, baptismal font, offering to the gods) and outside the complex (water for the community).When needed this place should be versatile: thanks to the flexibility provided by the movable elements, the complex can morph into an emergency hospital (increasing the area by 50 square meters).Constructive simplicity and economic capital are imperative conditions to ensure that the project can be built in loco without specialized workers or advanced technologies

Your project is conceived from the belief that a single holy place can host different religions, where did this concept originate from?

The idea of designing a place of worship for three religions does not come from us but was the theme of an international architecture competition (Kaira Looro - Architecture for Peace) that we participated in the spring of 2017. Later, very satisfied from our project (even if we did not win anything), we decided to continue working on it by turning it into a Masters Degree Thesis at Politecnico di Milano.

How did you approach such a delicate subject of religious architecture?

The absolute center of our project is human beings. In the beginning we asked ourselves what was the common root to all religions and we identified it in a rule of peace / cohabitation. In architectural terms, this rule of cohabitation translates into a common central space which, however, safeguards the various individualities in the moment of prayer: the real places of worship, in fact, present themselves as independent volumes. Every religion has its own needs in terms of space (the mosque has a more longitudinal development to reduce the overall distance from the Mihrab while this does not apply to the church where the procession to the altar is a very sensitive topic, the animist hut is proportionate in order to inscribe a sphere in that in all cultures it, in its perfection, represents the All or the Void, the God or Cosmic Spirit), of orientation (the Mihrab of the mosque must necessarily point to Mecca, the altar of the church must turn to the light of the rising sun of the east and, in our specific case, the orientation of the hut of the animists makes it a "rose of the winds" because every corner indicates a cardinal point) and use of light. This is why we do not believe in a single space that can accommodate all these cults at the same time.

The project is located in Tanaf, Senegal, what persuaded you to choose this location?

As we said before, Tanaf was indicated by the competition as project area. The theoretical principles that have guided our choices, however, are applicable in every part of the world. We strongly believe in the value of the context in the architectural project: the context is what allows us to decline the theoretical lines in shapes and materials and, at the same time, to the tradition and the history of the place.

Another key component of the project is its adaptability what techniques were introduced to allow the project to become so resourceful? And why were these so important to the project?

Less consumption of water resources, constructive simplicity and use of local materials were the principles that guided constructive choices. The constructive system is the “earthbags” (bags filled with earth placed one on the other covered later in clay mixed with laterite to give the walls a characteristic reddish color, we also thought to add incense to the mixture so that inside the places of worship you may slightly perceive its smell). In the subsoil we have a system of tanks for collecting rainwater that becomes water for the community, holy water and water for ablutions. In our project we also paid close attention to the topic of flexibility: we invented a system of manually movable arms that can configure the central space according to needs. They can cover it completely, thus recovering another 50 square meters of covered area, useful in case of health emergencies, for example. In this way, a place of worship becomes a real resource.

It is clear that the project takes a modern adjustment to the vernacular architecture of Senegal, what influence did this ornate design have on the design process?

The hut is undoubtedly the most obvious reference. We imagined this place of worship as if it were a house, everyone's home. The heights and proportions of the spaces have a domestic scale because of the desire to produce a building as contextual as possible and the most "familiar" as possible: we did not want to risk "scare" people used to seeing houses with a maximum height of 3 / 4 meters with a place of worship with a height of 30 meters. Remember that Tanaf is a village of 4000 inhabitants. Moreover, the shape of the hut further articulates the relationship between earth and sky very dear to religions (you can see it in section)

What do you feel you have learnt by undertaking this project?

We had never dealt with the topic of religion before and so we have certainly learned a lot about the spatial needs and rituals of individual cults. Furthermore, when you are confronted with very current topics such as that of coexistence between religions, you feel a great responsibility. Trying to concile people with different beliefs is a huge challenge in which architecture can and must play a fundamental role. We are proud to be architects because we understand that our work can really change things.

You present your drawings in a unique style of colour combined with black and white accents, what if anything has influenced your drawing style?

The choice of this style of representation comes from the desire to underline the importance of simplicity in the design of architecture: today we are all used to seeing stunning and absolute photorealism but in all this we forget that architecture comes from clean and refined lines that must have the power to tell a project well. In our case, therefore, we preferred to represent the project by not counting on the spectacularization of the image given by the render but to use the perfection, the cleanliness, the color and the suggestion that the basic instruments of architecture offer us.

Could you provide our readers with an insight into your drawing process, do you use a particular software to produce your drawings?

The tools we used in this process are autocad, illustrator, photoshop and rhino.

If you could offer one piece of advice to our architecture student followers what would it be?

An advice about the representation. We are aware that, today, spectacular rendering allows you to win a competition or simply to impress the people watching your project. However, we are architects and we design spaces, we try to restore emotions and wellbeing to those who will use our projects, we are not 3D artists or graphic designers who create images that are fine for themselves. The focus of our work is and must always be the quality of space. Representation is an instrument of architecture, not the other way around.

Finally, where can people find out more about you and your projects?

At the moment we do not have a website or an online portfolio, but I (Matteo Serra) believe in the power of Social Networks and therefore I use them a lot to publish my works (Instagram @matteoserrams)

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