The island nation of Cape Verde, off the west coast of Africa, may be tiny, but it has an outsized influence. Once a slave port, it is now an important international commercial hub, and a cultural melting pot, bridging African and European traditions. It was this rich cultural heritage that architect Kunlé Adeyemi – founder of Amsterdam- and Lagos-based studio NLÉ – and Samba Bathily – the Mali-born sustainable solutions pioneer – wanted to honour and amplify when they first started discussing working together in 2018. Adeyemi recalls: ‘We wanted a scheme to use as a point of global connection back to the [African] continent, using music, arts, culture and hospitality’.

Mindelo, on the island of São Vicente, has been central in the development of the local musical tradition that gave birth to talents such as Cesária Évora. It also became the home for Adeyemi and Bathily’s joint scheme, the Floating Music Hub. ‘[Bathily] wanted to do something with music in Mindelo and create a recording studio there,’ says Adeyemi. ‘So we expanded the idea to a floating hub to be part of the narrative of this port city, as Cape Verde was historically one of the last points of departure from Africa during the transatlantic slave trade, leading to the births of great new genres of music. It tells a story about that journey and a history of African people and their diaspora.’

Floating Music Hub
The Floating Music Hub a few months ago, while in construction

The architect used his Makoko Floating System (MFS), a prefabricated, modular, A-frame, sustainable timber structure that was first realised in 2012 as the Makoko Floating School in Lagos. Three more versions followed – one at the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2016, and one in Bruges and one in Chengdu, both in 2018. Mindelo’s is the fifth version of the concept to complete, and it includes four parts: a small, medium and large wing, and a central triangular plaza that links to dry land. The complex, which can hold about 300 people at capacity, includes a performance space, a bar and canteen, and a recording studio. ‘It’s a way to expand Cape Verde’s cultural impact, create a platform for local musicians, and bring international artists to record and co-create,’ says Adeyemi.

The MFS was customised for an ocean environment that can sometimes be aggressive. Apart from sapele hardwood, the NLÉ team used stainless steel and aluminium to better withstand corrosion, and the anchoring system was also improved. ‘Mindelo has one of the highest wind speeds in the world, so it challenged us to push the design further, to be more resilient, as it had to withstand almost hurricane wind speeds,’ says Adeyemi. ‘We improved the quality of materials and made it adaptable for various future uses.’ The structure is scheduled to stay in place for 15 years, but there is the possibility to extend its leasehold. We can’t wait to check out its first live event. §