In the city of Mindelo on the island of São Vicente in Cape Verde, on the west coast of Africa, the new Centro Nacional de Arte, Artesanato e Design (CNAD) is proposed as an all-round participatory regeneration project, for the development of culture of local artistic craftsmanship but also for research on contemporary design

“Do you remember that day when the cargo ship stranded in front of San Nicolau was found? Hundreds of barrels filled with musical synthesizers with no trace of the crew. Leaving from Baltimore and bound for Rio de Janeiro for the World Exhibition of Electronic Sound in 1968. What a mystery!".

“Yes, I remember Amílcar Cabral had those synthesizers distributed in schools that had electricity. I continue to think that the independence of 1975 is also the fruit of all those geek kids intrigued by those strange objects that lashed the innate sense of Cape Verdean rhythm".

Sitting on a tree-lined bench on Rua Angola, Steven and Zeferino talk about how much Cape Verde has changed in recent years, how good cachupa is of fish and the times when they built wooden boats for fishermen looking for tuna.

Those were the years in which the young Cesária Évora, 'the barefoot diva', performed together with her saxophonist brother Lela in the square that would be named Amílcar Cabral Square, in the center of Mindelo, on the island of São Vicente, after the assassination of the great political leader.

Today, in the same square, you open the CNAD, the new National Center for Craftsmanship, Art and Design of Capo Verde.

A predestined work, an architectural icon that will influence the cultural future of these ten African rocks, a proud landing place for political-identity claims and music. "The museum project was born from a visionary dream", explain the architects Eloisa Ramos and Moreno Castellan.

“An old colonial house with an important role in the history of Mindelo and an old building at the back, separated by a patio, have become a handcrafted public work built by the people to serve the people and keep live your identity".

Eloisa and Moreno are architects committed, farmers who furrow the arid land with rudimentary ploughs, and have been irrigating it for years with sprouts of poetic architecture.

From the Aquiles Eco Hotel in San Pedro via the Terra Lodge in Mindelo to the Mami Wata Eco Village in Cruzinha, border sentinel on the cliff west of Santo Antão, have given architecture back its primary function: they slept under the stars to get to know the genius loci, with its winds and mood changes, they designed and built with their bare hands together with masons, carpenters, blacksmiths and local farmers the imperfection of perfect works.

In the CNAD they recycled 2532 metal barrel caps, the same ones that carried synthesizers, food, clothes and, sometimes, human beings in search of a better life.

Memory of injustice and slavery, and echo of a colonization that still leaves deep traces.

The barrels were manually riveted, sandblasted and painted, one by one. Like the pores of our skin, they have been placed on a metal mesh creating a double ventilated facade.

The museum breathes thus through the passive control of the internal temperature, without air conditioning, with the circular caps that can be rotated like shutters through nautical ropes, allowing the modulation of the internal light and the flows of air.

An inimitable example of architectural pointillism on its façade, the CNAD hides a musical score as happy as liberated Africa and each color corresponds to a musical note.

“We wanted to play with the perceptive phenomenon of synaesthesia and we invited Vasco Martins, an important composer and multi-instrumentalist to collaborate < strong>Cape Verdean, who wrote the music behind the colors, thus paying homage to the musical traditions of the islands and bringing visual musical joy to the square,” they continue.

The exterior mobile polychrome hides a diaphanous monochromy inside the new museum building in which the supporting walls and the white window frames alternate according to the structural skeleton of the pre-existing building on smooth concrete floors.

The first level, open onto the street and onto the patio that connects the renovated colonial house with the gallery, bar and shop, houses the temporary exhibitions dedicated to local crafts.

The second level is dedicated to the works of Alex da Silva, a well-known Cape Verdean artist, whose portraits represent brutalized and dying, but proud figures: “ The body of the slaves is abused but their spirit will remain forever free,” he reiterated.

Eloisa and Moreno, close friends of Alex, who died prematurely, agree that awareness and memory of identity are the only precursors of freedom.

Thus they place the library on the third level, the study room on the fourth and finally at the last the office, from which the entire bay can be embraced of Mindelo.

Photos and words by Sergio Pirrone