Tented love: how Senegal created a spectacular new African architecture

After independence in 1960, the country cast off western influences and forged a new African style full of triangular forms, rocket-shaped obelisks and rammed earth. Is this spirit now being suffocated? Our writer takes a tour of the capital

Visiting the International Fair of Dakar is like taking a stroll through the ruins of some ancient Toblerone-worshipping civilisation. A cluster of triangular pavilions rises from a podium, each clad in a rich pattern of seashells and pebbles. These are reached by triangular steps that lead past triangular plant pots to momentous triangular entranceways. All around, great hangar-like sheds extend into the distance, ventilated by triangular windows and topped with serrated triangular roofs. All that’s missing is triangular honey from triangular bees.

Built on the outskirts of the Senegalese capital as a showcase for global trade in 1974, this astonishing city-sized hymn to the three-sided shape was designed by young French architects Jean Francois Lamoureux, Jean-Louis Marin and Fernand Bonamy. Their obsessive geometrical composition was an attempt to answer the call of Senegal’s first president, the poet Léopold Sédar Senghor, for a national style that he curiously termed “asymmetrical parallelism”.

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