North of the city of Dakar, not far from the airport, a set of pyramidal volumes form the International Fair of Dakar complex. This building demonstrates the growth of Senegal and more broadly the growing influence of modernism in West Africa. But more than that, it is above all the expression of an architectural identity of its own, the asymmetrical parallelism, which reflects the postcolonial ambition of the country.
Asymmetrical parallelism and architecture
In 1971, the Senegalese government launched an international competition to build an exhibition center in its capital, Dakar. This competition reveals the direction taken by the country in its desire to reclaim its culture and identity. President Léopold Sédar Senghor, Senegal’s first president, wanted to affirm the political renewal of his country by forging its own cultural and therefore architectural identity. The statesman and poet, theorized the integration of a rhythmic dimension in architecture, drawing inspiration from both poetry and music. He wishes to transpose to architecture the principle of asymmetrical parallelism which he defines as “a diversified repetition of rhythm in time and space”. Applied to architecture, it consists of an African architecture liberated from the Western tradition, an architecture made of similar volumes and spaces that do not repeat themselves.
Reaffirming modernity and emphasizing the identity of Sénégal
The International Fair of Dakar complex is a building that must represent this conceptual independence, this cultural reappropriation, this new language proving the modernity of Senegal. Nevertheless, two French architects won the international competition. The construction of the project started in 1972 and was completed in 1974. The conference and exhibition center is in fact made up of four main areas, representing 27,000² of exhibition space. The entrance hall is the Senegalese Pavilion, then seven regional exhibition pavilions are used for exhibition, exposition halls are surrounding the main pavilion, and the last area is the congress center, which consists of the conference hall and offices.
The project is based on a triangular module with a square base of 10 x 10m, an unusual shape inspired by the nomadic tent construction system. All of the pavilions are built around a central square. These forms emerging from the ground create a succession of partially open and fully enclosed structures. The passage spaces have been artificially raised above the ground level, to give the visitor another perspective. The path is punctuated by attention to light, materials and differences in levels, creating a unique atmosphere. The generous height of the interior spaces allows for total flexibility without sacrificing a form of grandiloquence in the staging. Outside, the rough textures of the façades suggest a fabric pattern. The graphism and design elements, such as the shape, and the decorative patterns of the pavilions, are inspired by West African traditions. The warm colors combined with the rigid and controlled geometry of the complex give the buildings a unique sense of harmony between the elements.
This building with its unique architecture stands out not only by its exterior appearance but also by the feeling given by the succession of spaces. The rhythm imposed by the architecture, and the triangular patterns and shapes draw a new architecture, modern but anchored in the identity and culture of the country. A way to claim the cultural authority from former colonial powers.