dordabis communal spine

Location: Dordabis, Namibia

Status: Completed

Client: Ministry of Environment and Tourism with support of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and funded by the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation for Development (AECID)

Main Contractor: Interior Woodworks

Completion: 2014

Earmarked as a Rural Youth Cultural Village project initially – viz. an initiative to empower and uplift the (young) people of Dordabis – this social intervention project subsequently evolved into the creating of a platform for the development of a unique cultural precinct to serve passing tourists as well as the local community. It is a space where conventional lines are blurred, encouraging tourist and day-to-day community activities to co-exist and intermingle. Collectively, the cultural village offers spaces for the display of cultural activities such as dancing and crafts to passing tourists and facilitates the upliftment of the community through skills development programmes and opportunities.

Longer term sustainability poses the biggest challenge for a project of this kind, hence the critical importance of rooting the intervention within the community itself. Sustainability does not only refer to aspects of environment, but also those of culture and socio-economics. With this in mind, and given the specific site context, a stereotypical “four walls and a roof” solution was abandoned in favour of a structure which, if not used for crafts and tourism, would create an installation in the landscape, an intriguing element for passersby and a space-creating device for the community.

RELATION TO SITE

The site allocated to this project is located behind an uninvitingly tall fence, alienating it from the village and tourist trade potential.

Pursuing the idea that this intervention should be integrated with and linked to the village, a structure was devised that would “define” the community and serve as a “celebrated” entrance into the village. Placed on the edge of the site to make it accessible to both tourists and the community, the structure thus becomes multifunctional: it is integrated into and replaces a section of the existing high barbed wire fence, serving as a usable and accessible device which demarcates and defines the site and, most importantly, creates a new entrance and visual link to the village. Movement along the spine is encouraged and the community’s daily routes of travel enhanced.

The tree and ritual fire located at the central point of the traditional village served as cue for the meandering and curvy nature of the installation: within the architectural intervention, a tree is used as focal point for the trading area, while an amphitheatre assembly space is treated in a similar way.

CONCEPT

Conceptually speaking, this installation is informed not only by its physical surroundings, but also the cultural, social and economic context of the community it serves. Dynamic in nature, it is meant to act as a shading device – both functional and sculptural – encouraging and enabling the setting up of a series of formal and informal sheltered spaces in a flexible configuration, i.e. platforms/areas for uses of trading/markets/gatherings. It is a simple yet prominent initial intervention that lends itself to subsequent changes/additions (informal and formal, big or small) to accommodate the changing needs of the community.

The new spine introduces a means of connecting the village with the road, a linear element that signposts a new gateway into the village, promoting chance encounters along the path where villagers and tourists can stop and mingle in the shade.  It is hoped that over time the installation will become progressively activated as it attracts more activity and inspires the display and selling of souvenirs to tourists and everyday items to the community within the spaces created en route.

LAYEREDNESS

The evolution and success of this intervention is supported by the concept of a parasitic installation, where the current structure is established as the spine of the project and acts as an initiator onto which future interventions are attached and added. In essence, it is a narrative of layering, with each new layer enriching and transforming the existing context. This layeredness is twofold: the layering of several lines of intertwining “spines”, which in turn create different layers of interconnected use and programme.

The phasing of the project programme further enhances the notion of layeredness: different layers are to be incorporated as and when space needs are identified and funds become available – a playground for children, an amphitheatre space for community gatherings and social events, etc –collectively acting as a catalyst for skills development, craft production and piecemeal community upliftment.

The Dordabis Community Spine project forms part of the pro-bono project portfolio of Wasserfall Munting Architects, and was awarded a joint first place in the 2014 Young Architects in Africa Competition in Venice, Italy.