Togo arts centre reopens with show that honours the West African country’s capital

Togo arts centre reopens with show that honours the West African country’s capital

After five months of closure, the Togo arts centre Palais de Lomé – recently redesigned by Archipat, Segond-Guyon and Sara Consult – announces plans to reopen ahead of an architecture and urban planning exhibition launch in late September

A city named for the bountiful verdant expanses on its original site, Lomé was known as ‘Alome’ in the early 20th century, which in the native Ewe language means ‘among the alo trees’. Today, the city is a bustling metropolis sprawling across the West African coast and Togo’s capital; and it seems fitting that an upcoming exhibition at major local culture and arts centre Palais de Lomé – the first after a long, pandemic-induced closure – will focus on the city’s story and evolution. 

Lomé + is set to present the architecture and urban metamorphosis of the city from its foundation in 1890 to its current state and visions of its future. The show, curated by architect and anthropologist Sename Koffi Agbodjinou, is scheduled to open its doors at the end of September – while the Palais has just opened its doors to the public this week. 

Photography, film, multi-media installations and augmented reality elements are mediums through which the show will explore the trajectory of the city. Alongside the digital displays, the Belvedere Tower of the Lomé palace – overlooking a palm lined coast lapped by the Atlantic Ocean and offering panoramic views of the capital – will provide a striking backdrop to the physical show.

Palais de Lome entrance

Less than a decade before its restoration a few months ago, Palais de Lomé was the derelict, crumbling remains of the local governor’s palace, built under German colonial rule. According to the director of the cultural centre, Sonia Lawson, the palace ‘played a major role in the building of the colonial area of Lomé’ more than a century ago. ‘The map of the main avenues was designed around this very building,’ she says.

Since its restoration, the gleaming, white, two-storey concrete structure is a monument nestled within 26 thousand square feet of rich vegetation. French architecture studios Archipat and Segond-Guyon alongside Lomé-based Sara Consult completed the refresh in late 2019. The process involved stripping away poorly executed additions to reveal the original structure. Local sustainable teak and iroko forests were sourced to reinstate vaulted wooden galleries that had been destroyed. Details such as the faithful refurbishment of the imperial staircase and the use of salvaged tiles juxtaposed with pivoting glass doors as a modern touch are highlights for restoration architect Laurent Volay.

The pandemic has proven a set back for the Palais, which is part of wider state plans to boost Togo’s culture sector and cement the West African country’s position within the region’s vibrant arts ecosystem. However, the 3.6 million dollar government funded project has already transformed the site from a symbol of Togo’s fraught colonial legacy to a beautiful, contemporary public space. §

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