The new Marina Residence compound in Cotonou, Benin, by architect practices 5+1AA and Peia Associati is a gated community of 69 private villas and two public service blocks. The perimeter wall, an obvious barrier against visual and physical intrusion, has here been given even greater iconic importance than the minimalist design of the villas inside the precinct. In clear reference to the walls of African desert towns like Ghat and Ghadames in Libya, fortified Moroccan oases and the villages of Mali, the imposing length and irregular height of this structure - a uniform rusty red like the African soil - contrast strikingly with the uncluttered lines of the villas within. Inside the compound, 3 m whitewashed walls mark out private property boundaries and conceal the houses from the road. The outer red wall in contrast stands as high as 12 m in some sections. At intervals it expands into entry tower gates. The trapeze-shaped site is wedged between the embassy precinct and airport to the west, the Hotel Sheraton to the east, the beach and Gulf of Guinea to the south, and Boulevard de France to the north, where the main entrance to the compound has been placed. The masterplan runs along a north-south axis, stretching, in other words, from the city towards the sea. The centre of the complex comprises two community buildings set amid gardens and a public square. The three types of villas are compact volumes with one almost opaque facade and a transparent opposite one, shaded thanks to the overhanging terraces. A triple-height open inner court is a reminiscence of the closed, shaded courtyards of traditional north African houses. Ranging from 350 to 600 sq m, the dwelling units cater for affluent, extended families or diplomatic residential needs. A square urban grid optimises spatial distribution allowing each house to be surrounded by grounds where tropical vegetation mitigates the stark lines of the walls. The structures have been built with conventional reinforced concrete. The “Africa-red”-coloured lime-based plaster finish was achieved by adding earth and pigments to the initial mix. Thermal insulation materials were used for the walls and flat roofs while all air conditioning and water-delivery plant are latest generation, ensuring reduced electricity consumption and lower emissions. Taking advantage of Cotonou’s geographical position near to the south of the equator where the sun is always high, considerable use will be made of large photovoltaic panels on the extensive flat roofs.