Located where the Niger and Bani rivers meet, Mopti is Mali's fourth largest city and its most important commercial port. Founded in the 19th century as part of the Massina Empire, it rises on three islands, and owing to its limited ground area, has a higher building density than other towns in the country.
After carrying out the restoration of the Great Mosque of Mopti, commonly known as the Mosque of Komoguel, The Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) turned to the construction of the Center for Earth Architecture, a visitor facility that forms part of the city's tourist infrastructure but simultaneously accommodates an administrative program servicing local needs in the district of Komoguel. The building falls under the AKTC's Rehabilitation of Earth Architecture Program, which has overseen similar initiatives in Mopti,Timbuktu and Djenne, all with the aim of instructing people in the traditional methods of construction and thereby ultimately stimulating local economic development through industry, employment, and tourism.
The center stands close to an interior lake, on land gained by a backfill at the waterside that has made it accessible for public use. Addressing the needs of the program, the building consists of three independent volumes, two of them connected by a shared roof. The largest one is the main section featuring several exhibition rooms, a cafe, and a small store. A smaller construction serves the local population with spaces for work and training. The smallest volume, situated at the east end of the complex, contains washroom facilities.
Compressed earth blocks were used to raise the building, in particular, all the walls and barrel vaults. This construction system is particularly suited to the climate conditions of the region. Openings made in the walls and vaults make it possible for air to flow freely. Besides this natural ventilation, they help to keep indoor temperatures at comfortable levels, making mechanical cooling systems unnecessary.
Crowning the three volumes are two roofs with metal frames and geometrical arrangements that do their share in reinforcing the building's overall natural ventilation system while providing shaded outdoor spaces. The landscaping part of the project provides wide public lakeside spaces as well as a promenade that stretches along the top part of the dike.
Source: Luis Fernández-Galiano (ed.) Atlas: Architectures of the 21st Century. Africa and Middle East. Bilbao: Fundación BBVA, 2011.