A new museum and centre for culture and community, Bët-bi is to open its doors in Senegal in early 2025, the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation and Le Korsa have announced. Architect Mariam Issoufou Kamara, founder of architecture practice Atelier Masōmī in Niger, has been selected by a jury from a shortlist of four African architectural firms to lead the design.

‘It is a great honour and a privilege to be selected to lead the design of Bët-bi,’ Kamara says. ‘For far too long our region has been a place where cultural wealth is pillaged to profit museum collections. This project is an opportunity to design a new type of space that is inspired by the roots and spiritual legacy of the region. It is a chance to push the boundaries of what defines a museum in the 21st century.’

portrait of Mariam Issoufou Kamara
Portrait of Mariam Issoufou Kamara. Photography: Rolex / Stéphane Rodrigez Delavega

Bët-bi – or ‘the eye’ in Wolof – will be a state-of-the-art museum in the southwestern part of Senegal, in West Africa, with the 1,000 sq m space comprising an exhibition and events space, a library and community rooms.

The new space will be built using sustainable and traditional methods, and created with local artisans. An emphasis on communal spaces and an inclusive environment will incorporate a nod to the heritage of the area, with a design that pays tribute to the historical significance of the area’s ancient stone megaliths and four Unesco World Heritage sites. Kamara will honour both this local history and the people themselves, who have occupied the area since the 11th century, in her design celebrating the connection they feel with the land, sun and water.

‘We approached this project through a look back at the site’s past,’ Kamara adds. ‘We looked at the history of the Saloum Kingdom very closely and have been absolutely fascinated by its origin story, as a place jointly founded by the Serer and the Mandinka people. The latter are historically a people from the Mali empire, who are known for their monumental architecture. As museums and galleries are a product of our more recent past, it is important for me that the project serves as a bold imperative to continue the recent dialogue around rethinking the typology in order to explore new spatial languages around museums.’

rendering of Bët-bi museum
 Rendering of the proposed Bët-bi museum and community centre in Senegal. Image: atelier masõmī

Bët-bi will partner with institutions across Africa to showcase both historic and modern African art as well as act as a temporary space for repatriated objects, until the homes to which they rightfully belong have the ability to conserve them.

‘We are thrilled with Mariam Kamara as the unanimous choice of our distinguished architectural jury,’ says executive director of the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation and founder and president of Le Korsa, Nicholas Fox Weber. ‘Her profound respect for local traditions, keen awareness and knowledge of environmental impact, and eye for visual beauty will result in a building sure to help revitalise the economy of the region, providing the benefits well demonstrated by other new cultural institutions in locations with minimal previous tourism. Bët-bi will demonstrate Josef Albers’ maxim of ‘minimal means for maximum effect’ and Anni Albers’ faith in ‘art that is universal and timeless’.’ §