Adjaye Associates unveiled its design for the Edo Museum of West African Art (EMOWAA). Investigating the archaeology of the Kingdom of Benin, including buried remains below the site, the EMOWAA Archaeology Project is set to start in 2021, involving the Legacy Restoration Trust (LRT) and the British Museum with the local communities, the Benin Royal Court, the Government of Edo State, and the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM).
Appointed to undertake the initial concept and urban planning work on the new museum, Adjaye Associates will use “archaeology as a means of connecting the new museum into the surrounding landscape, by revitalizing and incorporating the surviving remains of the walls, moats and gates of the historic city, seen throughout the modern city today”. Acknowledging the importance of the buried archaeological remains, the excavation of the site will become part of the visitor’s experience.
Part of a wider scheme to revitalize the cultural core of Benin City, the EMOWAA and the archaeology project will be the drive behind the city’s economic revitalization. Supporting the contemporary arts community in Benin, the museum will house West African art and artefacts, currently within international collections, “presenting the wider histories that these represent”. Seeking to focus on Benin’s history, the project “will create new opportunities to address […] also the painful history of the invasion and destruction of Benin”. Moreover, this intervention will look at new ways of engaging local communities, through workshops, publications, talks and digital content, reconnecting local people with their history and highlighting the significance of the history of the Kingdom of Benin.
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From an initial glance at the preliminary design concept, one might believe this is a traditional museum but, really, what we are proposing is an undoing of the objectification that has happened in the West through full reconstruction. Applying our research into Benin’s extraordinary ruins, the city’s orthogonal walls and its courtyard networks, the museum design reconstructs the inhabitation of these forms as pavilions that enable the reconceptualization of artefacts. Decoupling from the Western museum model, the EMOWAA will perform as a retouching tool - a place for recalling lost collective memories of the past to instil an understanding of the magnitude and importance of these civilizations and cultures. -- David Adjaye.
Inspired by its surrounding historical architectural typologies, the new EMOWAA “establishes its own courtyard in the form of a public garden, exhibiting a variety of indigenous flora and a canopy that offers shade […] galleries float above the gardens and are articulated by a series of elevated volumes - an inversion of the courtyard typology – within each of which sit pavilions which take their form from fragments of reconstructed historic compounds”. Containing the rich, regal and sacred objects of Benin’s past, arranged in their pre-colonial context, the museum allows visitors to look out into the visual landscape, and imagine the once historic borders of a restored ancient kingdom.
Starting in 2021 and continuing for a period of five years, initial archaeological work will include surveys of the museum site and the wider surroundings, nevertheless, the focus of excavations and fieldwork will be at the new museum site and in the immediate surroundings. On that subject, Governor Godwin Obaseki stated that “the construction of a world-class museum in the historic part of Benin City requires archaeological work to ensure historic remains buried below the ground at the museum construction site are preserved and recorded, and artefacts can be catalogued and preserved for display and to become part of the future collections of the new museum”.