Bauhaus in Africa: the hospital in sweltering Senegal inspired – and funded – by the Albers | Architecture

When Anni Albers started weaving at the Bauhaus in the Twenties, little did she know that her geometric patterns would at some point adorn the doorways of a hospital in rural Senegal. Shadows play throughout the floor of the staggered wood blocks set into the doorways of Tambacounda’s new maternity and paediatric ward, making a woven impact echoed by the sample of dappled daylight streaming in by way of the perforated brick partitions. These are small particulars, however they go some technique to lightening the ordeal of being right here, poetic touches that make the medical atmosphere really feel like a spot of care.

The art-world-philanthropy-complex works in mysterious methods. 100 years since Anni and her husband Josef Albers met at the radical Weimar design college, the development of a brand new hospital has been enabled, 1000’s of miles away, by the astonishing sums that their work now sells for, together with the fundraising energy their identify instructions. Situated in certainly one of the hottest locations on the planet, but designed to operate with out air con, the result’s a constructing that aptly embodies the German duo’s philosophy of “minimal means, most impact”. And it occurred nearly by likelihood.

“It’s due to my dermatologist in Paris,” says Nicholas Fox Weber, the energetic American artwork historian who has run the Albers Foundation since Josef’s demise in 1976. “Sooner or later he advised me that he had began a small non-profit organisation to assist hospitals in Senegal. I requested if I might go together with him on his subsequent journey. Six weeks later we arrived in Tambacounda with provides: a suitcase filled with blood and a whole bunch of toothbrushes.”

Serpentine … the winding new hospital, which also boasts Tambacounda’s first playground.
Serpentine … the winding new hospital, which additionally boasts Tambacounda’s first playground. {Photograph}: Iwan Baan

Fox Weber was appalled by what he discovered. In the maternity ward he was proven an “incubator” that consisted of a tray on a desk, the place three newborns had been huddled beneath a desk lamp. Hypodermic needles had been scattered on the flooring, whereas an working desk was barely standing on three legs. Ladies lay crammed collectively at completely different phases of labour, or having simply given beginning, whereas others waited outdoors on bamboo mats on the flooring.

What he noticed led him to discovered Le Korsa, a non-profit organisation funded by the Albers Basis (which itself is especially funded by promoting Albers work), devoted to enhancing healthcare and schooling in jap Senegal. Since 2005 they’ve constructed rural clinics, a women’s refuge, an arts centre and the first secular college in the strictly Muslim area, the latter two designed by Japanese-American architect Toshiko Mori. There are additionally plans for a brand new museum, with the architect to be drawn from an all-African shortlist. 4 years in the making, the €2m (£1.7m) hospital constructing is their most formidable challenge thus far.

Winding its method for 125 metres in a serpentine curve, the two-storey construction is a surprisingly refined addition to the Nineteen Seventies hospital advanced, creating the most variety of rooms with the thinnest potential footprint. Moderately than including one other doughnut formed constructing to the campus of round wards, it weaves between them as an alternative, hugging the former paediatric ward on one facet earlier than curving the different technique to enclose a brand new playground courtyard shaded by a mature acacia tree.

Space and light … one of the balconies.
Area and mild … certainly one of the balconies. {Photograph}: Oliver Wainwright

“We tried to create a mannequin that the hospital might use for future extensions,” says Manuel Herz, the Basel-based architect behind the design. He had by no means designed a healthcare facility earlier than, however he was chosen in 2017 after being the solely invited architect to refuse to provide you with a design with out first visiting the web site to correctly perceive the context. His earlier analysis into modernist structure in Africa helped to tip the steadiness, too. “It was essential to come back right here and speak to everybody concerned and discover out what they actually wanted,” says Herz. “Our answer was to make the constructing as slim as potential to encourage cross-ventilation, whereas creating as a lot house as potential for hanging out.”

Area for hanging out won’t appear to be an pressing hospital requirement, however, as Herz found on his analysis journeys, a hospital keep in Tambacounda could be very a lot a household affair. The campus sees folks gathered on each potential floor, with sufferers’ kinfolk making meals, washing garments or resting on bamboo mats. It has the look of a chaotic campsite, with pots and buckets mendacity alongside stray cats, whereas new child infants shelter beneath mosquito nets beneath the timber.

“It’s an enormous downside,” says Dr Thérèse-Aida Ndiaye, director of the hospital since 2016. “Every affected person comes with 4 or 5 relations, who convey their very own habits. I just lately discovered one relative having a bathe right here. We’re a hospital, not a home.”

They arrive out of necessity: there merely aren’t sufficient workers to supply each facet of the sufferers’ care, so kinfolk are wanted to choose up the slack, working errands and shopping for remedy from the close by pharmacy. Many have travelled miles to get right here. Tambacounda hospital sees about 40,000 sufferers a yr from throughout the area, together with from throughout the border from Mali, the Gambia and Guinea, with households typically compelled to journey collectively, unable to go away dependents behind.

Sheltered space … the shady interior.
Sheltered house … the shady inside. {Photograph}: Iwan Baan

Herz’s design embraces the inevitable entourage. Together with house for 150 beds, tripling the earlier capability, there are many social areas, together with semicircular balconies off the first-floor hall, with curved seating overlooking the playground so mother and father can keep watch over their youngsters. Two spiral staircases descend gracefully into the courtyards, providing another processional path to the extra useful steps inside. The playground was the thought of Herz’s spouse, Xenia, who steered there needs to be laughter audible from the wards (and the couple helped to fund its development with donations from their wedding ceremony company). Herz says it’s the first and solely playground in Tambacounda – a metropolis of virtually 180,000 folks.

The challenge’s most vital lesson is in what it lacks: air-conditioning. Tambacounda will get swelteringly sizzling, reaching greater than 40C (104F) in April, giving it the nickname Tangacounda, “home of warmth” in the native Wolof language. It’s positioned in the center of the vast, flat, tropical savanna, the place the air barely strikes. However by utilizing fundamental local weather design ideas – drawn from Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew’s 1956 e book, Tropical Architecture in the Humid Zone – the wards may be stored cool with simply ceiling followers (though air-conditioning remains to be required in the working theatre).

The primary trick is the double-skin vaulted roof, with a corrugated steel layer suspended above a concrete one under, making a thermal buffer that helps to attract air up by way of holes in the ceiling. The partitions are constructed from hole concrete bricks that enable air to go by way of, whereas being deep sufficient to shade the inside from direct daylight. Rammed earth was thought of, however Herz says it was safer to make use of a method that native builders had been accustomed to, given different logistical challenges. The 50,000 bricks had been made on web site utilizing a single mould, and dyed a reddish color with iron oxide. Echoing the patterned doorways, the uncovered concrete ceilings got a woven texture by sticking bamboo mats to the formwork.

‘I recently found one relative having a shower here. We are a hospital, not a house’ … Dr Thérèse-Aida Ndiaye, director of the hospital.
‘I just lately discovered one relative having a bathe right here. We’re a hospital, not a home’ … Dr Thérèse-Aida Ndiaye, director of the hospital. {Photograph}: Oliver Wainwright

“It’s vital that all the pieces was made domestically,” says Herz. “The home windows had been all fabricated in a close-by steel workshop, and all the builders come from right here. It implies that all the cash goes to the area, to not a world consortium, and they’ll be capable to function and repair all the pieces themselves.” The extra hi-tech international gear that’s imported, the extra there’s to go incorrect – as the medical doctors have discovered, with a defective new working desk and anaesthetics gear that has delayed their transfer into the constructing.

The native manufacturing course of additionally allowed additional experimentation, which led to an surprising bonus. At one level, Herz requested for a mockup facade to be constructed on web site to check the results of various sized holes in the bricks. Main the development course of was Dr Magueye Ba, a medical doctor-turned-builder, who has overseen quite a lot of Le Korsa’s initiatives.

Ba realised {that a} native village college was in want of a classroom, so reasonably than merely constructing a take a look at wall that might be demolished, he made a bit constructing for them, shaped of a number of bays of the hospital. It stands proudly on the fringe of the village, its jaunty roofline poking up from the grassy savanna, nearly doubling the capability of the college. Ba has since used the hole bricks on one other kindergarten challenge, their distinctive curved silhouette spawning one thing of a brand new native vernacular.

“It’s the good final result,” says Herz. “I’m not in management any extra – the design has taken on a lifetime of its personal.”

For extra info on the work of Le Korsa, see

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