Dogon Eco Tourism Center, Bandiagara, Mali

The 2012 Inform Awards jury recognized this project by ISTUDIO Architects for its landscape architecture excellence.

Part green design, part urban planning, the eco-tourism center for this UNESCO world-heritage site in sub-Saharan Mali incorporates a vision of tree-lined streets, green space, and a visitor center that will be a model for sustainable community building. The team spent weeks in the field researching the vernacular and documenting a rich heritage of climatically responsive architecture of the Dogon people. A collaborative site selection process was aided by interviews with community leaders. Asked to design a visitor center with a positive impact on the community, the team responded with a plan that works within the city fabric and may be developed in stages.

For precedent in the landscape the team looked to the lives and stories of the Dogon and their ancestors, noting iconic figures such as the river, caiman, and baobab tree. Sources of inspiration include the working landscape (cultivated fields), the escarpment, the ecotones of the region (oasis, plateau, and falaise), and the geography of the bowl (which is the rough translation of a bandiagara). The built world of the Dogon is represented in stone terraces, intricately carved wood doors, adobe and banco walls, the granaries, and the organic forms of the Tellem homes. Details are found in the rain scuppers, indigo blankets, caiman masks, and the concept of the Kanaga linking heaven and earth, man and spirit.

C o n c e p t

Plans for the site draw inspiration from the cultivated landscape of the Dogon people, a response to the harsh dry climate of the sub-Saharan Sahel region characterized by steppe vegetation and hardy drought-resistant trees. Stone retaining walls create stacked low terraces planted with indigenous wild and cultivated plants.

S i t e

Landforms shape paths and spaces for gathering while providing a vantage point for the Visitor Center. They collect and distribute rainwater for irrigation, some of which is stored in underground cisterns. Terraces on the east side of the site overlap and form a long sloped accessible route that winds its way around the site and culminates in the open space—the Bowl and Visitor Center. The route on the west side of the site passes through the Grove and leads to the Amphitheater, a set of grand step that lead to the facility.

S u s t a i n a b i l i t y

Visitor Center entryway

A sinuous thread of bioswales—collectively, the River—wind their way across the north edge of the site collecting rainwater stored in cisterns to nourish plants and trees in the dry season. In Dogon mythology the river crossed by the ancestors on the back of a caiman is at the edge of all tales about the people and acts as a boundary to the land. The sculptural tower at the curve of the stone wall, a landmark in the landscape, doubles as a light well and solar chimney. By virtue of the use of the stack effect, which accelerates rising hot air, cool air is drawn into the visitor center and expelled via louvers on the leeward side of the solar chimney—a low-tech passive form of cooling and ventilation. A turret in the tower allows for the louver to be rotated and take advantage of the prevailing breezes of the season.

N a t u r a l m a t e r i a l s

Adobe walls rise up out of the landscape to form a low open building facing southwest toward a public Amphitheater. The building is open to trade winds blowing from the southwest and shaped to provide buffering from the windblown dust storms of the Harmattan winds out of the east. Elements of Dogon culture inspire the details, and the facility is designed with low-impact development and passive building strategies to provide clean water, fresh air, and natural light while celebrating the Dogon heritage.

The 2012 Inform Awards jury one honor award in Landscape Architecture, one honor award and two merit awards in Object Design, and two honor awards and one merit award in Interiors. You can read about those projects here. The jury also identified 28 projects as worthy of recognition for design excellence. will publish those projects throughout the year, and they can be seen in aggregate here.

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