Taking third place in the recently-concluded Kaira Looro competition to design a multi-faith place of worship for the community of Tanaf in Senegal, this design by Sean Cassidy and Joe Wilson proposes a circular chapel with a sunken exterior moat in which locals can privately reflect and pray. Meanwhile, the central sanctum is designed to be constructed by locals with handmade clay bricks, forming a design which, as Cassidy and Wilson explain, “literally comes from the ‘God given land'” that the community equally “can take pride in and call their own upon completion.”
The Kaira Looro competition, whose name was derived from the words for “Architecture for Peace” in Tanaf’s local Mandingo language, asked entrants to develop a small religious design focusing on “a sustainable and culturally-driven architecture, for a place with a lack of materials and with low technology.” This was the inspiration for Cassidy and Wilson’s use of clay brick, as they sought to use a common, cheap and sustainable construction method while nonetheless using that construction method “in new inventive ways, allowing the villagers to push traditions and give them a space to be proud of.”
This pride is reflected in the building’s form. “The circle is the generator of form—it is universal, unites, and represents peace,” say the architects. “The form is a landmark in the village standing out against the surrounding context.” To emphasize this landmark status, the building is set back from the road, creating a civic plaza for use as a meeting and events space.
In this context, the building’s sunken floor, with its surrounding moat, performs an important psychological function: “descending downwards into the earth enhances the transition from openness to sacred,” say the designers. Within this sunken area, the space is further split into communal and private, with spaces for individual reflection around the edge of the building, while the interior of the building serves as a space for group worship.