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Updated: Dec 16, 2021



Today, sub-Saharan African cultural artefacts are held In European and American museums. According to the 2007 UNESCO forum, up to 95% are estranged.

Intricate and elaborate systems of extraction and distribution have been systematically developed historically. Anonymous villagers and local craftsmen produce replicas based on old archetypes for a pittance. Price increases infinitely, the further they are from the point of origin. Muslim traders - powerful culture brokers use their expansive networks of local production to satisfy cheap touristic tastes and esteemed overseas dealers. Figures crafted are “faked” to resemble what was rather than what could be in authenticity wars - the sacred is commodified. Rupturing the very fabric of traditional Lobi culture that has since gradually decayed.

“The Lobi is a farmer, a hunter and a herder, but above all he is a warrior, they are amongst the fiercest and proudest inhabitants of Burkina Faso." - director of the Gaoua museum.


Several ethnic groups belong to the blanket term Lobi, it widely refers to a strata ethnic groups that are closely related. Linked by their common artistic tradition, linguistic dialect and social organisation – these peoples are divided among three contemporary nation-states. Situated at the intersection of southwest Burkina Faso, northwest Ghana and northeast Côte d’Ivoire, Lobi country centred around the small town of Gaoua. Victims of historical tumult from both local and alien forces.


The Lobi believe in a Garden of Eden-esque premise. Bateba were generationally crafted as animist manifestations of Thila - Gods spiritual intermediaries, housed within the dwelling shrine room. Under the stewardship of the summoned village diviner - conveying prohibitions to the Lobi on how they should operate within key aspects of life.


Bateba are crafted for specific purposes, varying in supernatural power within & from a specific timeframe.

THE PAST – Refers to sacred animals & guardian spirits.

THE HISTORICAL PRESENT - Common ancestors, in recently passing are crafted.

THE PRESENT - Gendered pairs, solve day-to-day factors.

THE FUTURE - Supernatural objects & entities.

“The material world confronts us only to serve as a mirror for social relations.” - Bruno Latour.


President Macron in 2018, vowed that France would begin to return African objects. The proposal is framed within a tripartite contract comprehending a framework by which Bateba can be legally returned to the Lobi and rehoused within a traditional contemporary architecture. Proliferating a strengthened future through a spiritual craft heritage.


Gaoua, the capital of Lobi Land – was an ideal site. In the dotted red square, it is within reach of the town centre pervaded by formal settlements, informal and rural settlements lie in-between. Resting atop a 60m high hill adjacent to another. The landscape is a clay-rich laterite surrounded by dense pockets of deciduous growth both of which enable vernacular construction.


Rather than to merely design and build. Traditional Lobi vernacular techniques involving clay and timber are learned by the Architect. New earthwork techniques are exchanged with Lobi Master Masons conveying instruction to their apprentices. Involving fired earthen bricks and rammed earth - a collaborative hybrid conclusion manifests a new form.


The main road dissects the centre of Gaoua, leading to its airport northwards and the town Batie towards the southeast. Running below the vessel, a new path is veined from this main road, carving through the landscape towards and up the hill meandering from its narrow southern side, departing from the hill through its opposite narrowed point travelling northwards.

The vessel is nestled in between the hills two peaks via discrete cuts in the landscape, oriented to propagate East/West spiritual passage. Four key agents proliferate the physical & spiritual characteristics of the architecture. Vessel constructing Master Masons, spiritual Diviners overseeing the Bateba, Craftsmen on both facets & Land Chiefs.


It is via this newly laid road that resituated Bateba collections are transported, arriving by van - parking on the most southernly east-facing open excavated clearing. Adjacent to the stepped hill is the main entrance revealing the dark interior – softly illuminated by direct morning eastern rays. Through there, the delivery team enter the vessel holding Bateba encased in sealed boxes.


Turning right, they are led to the circular Diviner’s quarter. By a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, warmly illuminated through the roof well directly above via the intense equatorial afternoon

sun. Meandering between the timber posts, the delivery team leave the moment they place the boxed Bateba centrally on the elevated ground, the Diviners thank them as they each leave of their respective shrines that intimately encircle the Bateba ahead.

The Diviners prize the bundle of Bateba from each box, each of them takes a handful of Bateba to their respective shrines, that is where the true spiritual story begins. Each Bateba undergoes the intricate process of physical analysis pertaining to function and style. In an attempt to ascertain any allusions to the tribal and regional origin of each Bateba. Combined with the spiritual analysis of divination, gleaning celestial instruction, is vastly facilitated once a sharp shard of afternoon sunlight is doubly drawn - illuminating each shrine, through an opening in the roofs of the shrine and vessel directly above.

An architectural device of Bateba facilitation, these returned figures have four outcomes embodying a relationally spatial logic of the Vessel– with the first two being immediate. Once the diviners arrive at a conclusive agreement amongst themselves, these four outcomes for the Bateba are implemented. Allowing the Bateba embark on their journey of being recontextualised and reinvigorated with divine capability.

RESHRINED - Each shrine houses a specific type of Bateba, once Diviners conclusively agree on each figure's history.

IN FLUX - Pertains to inconclusive Diviner information.

REDOMESTICATED - Reshrined Bateba create seed shrines.

BURIED - in extending the vessel.


Extending ahead within the vessel, beyond the encircling Diviners’ quarter. Placed linearly along the vessel, adjacent to the interior face of the east-facing façade with a west-facing entrance, lay nine shrines. Each shrine houses a specific type of Bateba, earlier identified, clustered in groups of three, descending in celestial influence.

As each Diviner leaves his shrine, making his way along the dark earthen vessel with new Bateba in hand, he will regularly embark back and forth on this route in reshrining each recognised Bateba. Ideally rehoused, resting on the ground, finally, at one with the earth that once birthed them – each Bateba has ample time to be spiritually renourished.


In moments where both physical and divination-based information is deemed inconclusive, the Bateba are placed in Flux until further notice. Such a status has a spatial logic, on Lobi-style tables, long earthen plinths that are located linearly - directly ahead of the most powerful Bateba (re)shrines. Narrow and long roof openings lie above each hand moulded plinth ensure the afternoon rays that propagate below, regularly reminding the Diviners that their placement is only temporary. The intention is for such status to be regularly questioned, so the Bateba can be adequately recontextualised within the architectural conveyor belt – the Vessel. Realising a series of future spatial potentials of being reshrined, redomesticated or buried.


On the west-facing exterior façade, located at the furthest peripheral ends of the Vessel, are locations of the domestic seed shrines. The Diviners would regularly skim through each Bateba type-specific shrine, compiling the most complimentary collection – they would consequently relocate them within each domestic seed shrine. Thus, recreating a domestic shrine that would conventionally house a complete assemblage of Bateba.

Redomestication is the ideal resolution for each repatriated Bateba. The intention is for the Bateba of a seed shrine to form a divine affinity with a Land Chief, who may acknowledge a deep ancestral connection with the diligently compiled Bateba assemblage. As such a shrine is typically part of a dwelling, the intention is for the plasticity of the banco to be well utilized. Allowing a Land Chief to embark on the traditional construction process, consulting a Master Mason and drawing in another Chief to construct his new home Directly attached to the seed shrine.


In a sense, the Vessel is a schematically designed framework, blessed with an abundance of interior space – that patiently waits in Lobi antcipation. In time, it will be increasingly inhabited and reappropriated with truly Lobi sensitives. A proverbial blank canvas, with additionally successful claims for Bateba, and perhaps other Lobi artefacts, needing more agents, attracting an influx of surrounding Lobi inhabitants to be rehoused. Somehow the Vessel will have to develop accommodating such, it is schemed to grow linearly, adhering to the flow of the contours ahead.

Anecdotally, through their contrasting modes of analysis, there is the potential for Diviners to conclude that some medium-sized Bateba were manifestations of long past once common ancestors. Conventionally such Bateba were crafted to rest permanently within the domestic shrine, although from the moment that they were extracted from their original context, even the Vessel will not suffice as an ideal resting place. The ground ahead will be excavated, as the Vessel continues to grow, these Bateba will be laid to rest with their bygone owners. Buried deep in the earth, upon which the Master Mason led construction propagates each time, the clay-rich earth continually ingests and renews.


The site is surrounded by rich clusters of deciduous growth, particularly during the dry season Craftsmen will venture from the Vessel in groups, collecting timber from nearby sources. Through a unified programme of silviculture, cyclically removed trees are sufficiently replaced by new seeds, and timber will be rotationally extracted - promoting new growth. The roof was traditionally used for the short-term storage of harvest to dry, as such the Vessel roof facilitates this traditional practice whilst including the additional system of short-term timber storage.

Craftsmen skilfully oscillate through both spiritual and physical facets, using the largest stores of timber to maintain the Vessel. In addition, when the Land Chiefs collectively agree to extending the Vessel; installing the posts into the excavated ground ahead with the subsequent cross beams above them. In satisfying socioreligious rites, Craftsmen produce new Bateba under the request of Diviners and fellow inhabitants alike. Whilst crafting that additionally important wooden objects that are key to Lobi life.

Furthermore, as a silviculture programme fits itself into the traditional rural calendar, a crafticulture initiative attempts to achieve much and the same. Next to the west-facing exterior façade, there are two mirrored outdoor enclosures, on either side of the adjacent hill. They are each bordered by moulded loam altars, that work in tandem with the interior shrines telegraphing spiritual passage. The excavated enclosed spaces become breeding grounds for bustling creative exchange, promoting the craft of newly invented objects. Through which artefacts of old could at most inspire new forms for a future export economy.


The Vessel exists a hypothetical manifestation, derived from a presupposed interaction between architects and Lobi Master Masons. Nonetheless, having exchanged new earthen techniques and constructed the Vessel alongside Lobi Master Masons who divulge to their apprentices, the Architect is expected to depart with his team. Yet the architecture remains, as such, in extending and expanding the Vessel, if need be, this will be now executed solely through the initiative of the Lobi Master Masons. Their natural balance will be restored in collectively building architectures without

architects. The tradition of the Master Masons will translate into an architectural language that communicates the continuity of life itself

At its very nexus, the Lobi do not recognise an ultimately divine figure of leadership that is manifest in human form. Whilst Land Chiefs act as cultural stewards for their people, they would only consider themselves as middlemen under the supreme guidance of Bateba. That initially convey their divine prohibitions through each ordained Diviner. Moreover, the Lobi are not exclusively defined or recognised by these said agents they comprise a much wider demographic. Wives who would maintain the dwelling and plant seeds into the land is towed by farmers. Assisted by young boys who would also clear the field with bush fires, additionally cleared by roaming pastoral herdsmen. Young unmarried men and women, children, and the elderly each play out their pivotal roles. They are of equal importance in maintaining the overall dynamics that pertain to the richness of Lobi culture.

Coining the proposal as the “Vessel” served as means to allude to much wider ramifications - almost like a Noah’s Ark of sorts for the Lobi peoples. Thus, it would ultimately be remiss to deny that opportunity of the architecture able to house more, if not the complete bibliography of Lobi artefacts. The deliberate focus on the Bateba was to vividly reveal the innate and boundless potential embedded within particular sacred objects, and what they can proliferate.

It is conceivable that well within the next two decades, the expanding boundary pertaining to Gaoua’s urban typology will abruptly meet the contemporary vernacular of the Vessel. This in addition to the earlier identified speculations provokes a truly fascinating prospect of a truly amalgam contemporary typology that could be birthed. Speculating the innate power embodied within sacred African objects that can tangibly proliferate a reimagination of not only traditional Lobi urbanism. Rather, the wider potential of future West African traditional heritage embedded in urban form.


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