Located on Africa’s westernmost tip, Dakar, the capital of Senegal, hosted the 15th Francophonie summit in November 2014 attended by 75 heads of state.
The city’s International Congress Center, designed by Turkish architect firm Tabanlioglu, was built for the occasion. Its colours and materials hark back to Senegalese traditions while the architectural programme incorporates natural elements with deep-rooted significance for the local population.
Foremost among these are the tree and water, key references for a people living in a dry land. For the Senegalese, the gigantic ancient baobab standing steadfast in the dry savannah represents longevity and resistance as well as a sense of collective identity. Water is, of course, a revered and precious resource, the mean of survival in a parched land.
The conference centre’s broad timber-mesh roof spreads out like the canopy of the baobab, sheltering the different pavilions and metaphorically bringing together the 75 different identities of the attendee countries. Stretches of water are another unifying feature, offering relief from the dry desert climate and creating a series of communal spaces.
Under the cover of this protective mesh and interspersed by the reflective pools stand seven parallelepiped pavilions, a combination of transparent glazed façades and semi-transparent metal outer skin. As well as ensuring shade and privacy to occupants, the orientation and tilt of the burnished metal blades of the outer screens give the walls an iridescent, 3-D appearance - heightened by the shimmering water and clear skies.
As well as referring to Senegal’s values and local traditions, the architecture also references the country’s long-standing democratic character: the distribution circuit, for example, symbolizes the coming together of different entities in dialogue and peace. The pavilions, gathered under the single spreading roof, host an auditorium, a presidential suite, exhibition areas, a restaurant, offices and pressrooms.
After hosting the Francophonie Assembly, the International Congress Center will continue to be a major venue, a public place open to the people of Dakar. Proof that this architecture touches a deep chord in the collective unconscious are the many visitors who every day come and visit the museum and exhibition areas, eat in the restaurant or simply enjoy the cool breeze off the pools in this island of peace in a hot dry land.