An old colonial house, the abundance of crafts, the scarcity of resources that inspire the art of recycling, the vision of a couple of architects and the passion for music: these are the ingredients of the project for the new CNAD, Cape Verde’s National Center for Crafts, Art and Design, which opens next Saturday, July 30, 2022 in Mindelo, the port center of São Vicente, an island in the Cape Verde archipelago. The authors of the project are Eloisa Ramos and Moreno Castellano, founders of the Ramos-Castellano studio, partners in work and a couple in life.
“The idea of the restoration of the Center for Art and Design was born by chance,” says Moreno Castellano, an architect born and raised in Sardinia, who has lived in Cape Verde for twenty years. “The center was born in 1977 at the will of great local artists such as Manuel Figueira and Bela Duarte. Since 1979 he had settled in a building of emblematic value for our country: it is a colonial house, born as the residence of Senator Augusto Pereira Vera- Cruz – the only Cape Verdean appointed senator in Portugal and a reference figure for the development of Cape Verde – which over the years became a high school, and subsequently the seat of the historic radio Barlavento: it was here that Cesária Évora recorded her first album.
One day Irlando Ferreira, the manager of the center, asked us almost as a joke if we had a solution to improve the building. The answer was immediate the idea of a new architecture, a museum that could represent Cape Verdean culture ».
The raw material for the project consists of an element that is available in large quantities in the archipelago: the metal barrels used to send and receive goods from all over the world. The inhabitants of Cape Verde – more or less a million and a half people – regularly receive clothes, food and other materials from their countrymen around the world, who number about a million. In a country accustomed to valuing every resource, empty drums certainly do not go to waste: they are opened and turned into metal sheets to cover the houses, used as formwork for concrete pouring, reworked to get pots and knives. “For years I’ve been painting on metal sheets from open barrels because of the lack of material for the art we have here,” Castellano continues. “The recycling culture is part of life on these islands. Considering the very limited budget allocated to the museum project, the need to distribute work and money to as many local artisans as possible and the great availability of trade barrels, the idea of using them as raw material for restoration seemed perfect to us ».
The outer wall formed by thousands of colored metal circles, made of barrel caps, it is undoubtedly the distinctive element of the project. «A source of inspiration was Christo and Jeanne Claude’s work “The Iron Curtain”, the first installation they made in Paris in 1962. To this we added an original idea, something that could adapt to our culture: a synesthesia between colors and sounds. Both have a wave nature: therefore, if there is harmony in a sequence of colors, the same sequence transformed into sound must return the same harmony. So for the exterior facade, we designed a ventilated wall consisting of three thousand barrel lids, restored and stained. Each color corresponds to a note. In short, a kind of musical score that, if played, reproduces an original song written by Vasco Martins, São Vicente musician and composer in balance between classical, electronic and traditional local music from Cape Verde.
To those who believe that the new museum is out of harmony with the original colonial house, Castellano responds as follows: “The project is intended as an architectural scream which draws attention to Cape Verde’s melting pot, a territory where Africans and Europeans met and created a unique culture. It is a resistance movement against colonization, it wants to stir the conscience and create a local identity. If a material destined for the landfill can be transformed into a valuable and identifying local project, architecture becomes a manifesto for equality that can erase the now retrograde idea of the first, second and third world’.
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