exploring // concepts, words and image


word mapping // community voice inspiring new ground

concept diagram

West Africa // new orleans

In New Orleans, understanding the cultural values of the translocated slaves provides and fertile contexts for understanding part of the dynamic cultural history of the city.  The persistence of traditional West Africa cultural has contributed to the narrative of New Orleans and the development of a multiethnic social structure. In an effort develop a deeper understanding of current social and political culture within the predominately African American neighborhood of St. Roch, expanding the context of the research will provide a richer understanding of the culture and diverse city.

In the eighteenth century the slave trade connected with New Orleans brought slaves from Senegambia in the western region of Africa.    While West Africa had been a central slave trading region for the world through the 17th century, it declined in popularity in 18th century due to shifting political structures outside the continent.  However, New Orleans remained connected to the West African region because of historical ties, political connections and established business partnerships to Senegambia.

In the eighteenth century the majority of the slaves brought to New Orleans originated from the Lands of the Bambara, located between the Senegal and Niger River.  The Bambara are Mande people with a strong tradition in oral history. The knowledge and values embedded in the oral history has been easily transmitted through myths, proverbs and legends.   Although the physical territory of the Mande was fragmented by post-colonial political structure and modernization the culture has been able to persist because of its adaptable framework and oral traditions.

The foundational mythology for the Bambara relates to the development of the universe.  The beliefs are grounded in a complex process of accepting dualities and respecting interconnections. The world developed out of a void in the universe and gradually all of the elements-like sound, spirits and light- were created. Pemba, a wood spirit, was the first ruler and after seven years he created Moussa Koroni.  Moussa was the first woman and she gave birth to animal and vegetables. The common ancestry of humans, flora and fauna ties all living creates together in Bambara culture.  Respecting interconnection in Bambara culture creates a deep respect for life at all levels.   In time Pemba deserted Moussa and she filled with wrath and anger. Faro, the androgynous water spirit, tried to ameliorate her anger but she refused to submit.  Instead Faro established dominance over Pemba, upholding the principle of androgyny as respecting duality within the universe and suppressing sexual impulses. The beauty of the Bambara mythology lies in its resilient, flexible approach to living which provides the framework for living with contradictions.

The Bambara understood valued the understanding of duality and the importance of balance.  The social organization recognizes the importance of both conformers and nonconformists.  Conformist was the understood as the stable family foundation and linguistically it was associated with females.  In contrast, nonconformists were revered as innovators and linguistically it was associated with males. Despite the hierarchal structure of the Bambara, as evidenced by gender roles, participatory democracy is evident within the different levels.  From childhood the Bambara participate in groups segregated by gender.

After the fragmentation of the Mali Empire the Bambara developed new techniques for maintaining connections between migrating spiritual communities.  The objects generated by artisan grew out of a partnership between the craft, the process of creation and spiritual meaning.     Charms called nyama boli were easily transferable and mobile objects symbolizing spiritual connection between distant groups.  The Bambaraian slaves transported to New Orleans took the mobile traditions to New Orleans.  Reinforcing the cultural acceptance of duality, two types of charms representing extremes were produced.  There were charms signifying support and/or power called the Zinzin and others signified harmful charms were known as Grisgris.

In addition to objects, performance was an important mechanism for communicating cultural values. Musical performances were understood as religious activities, similar to an act of praying.  Everyday activities had ceremonial and spiritual significance that strengthen and reinforced the values of the Bambara.

. . .

Hall, Gwendolyn Midlo. African in Colonial Louisiana. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1992.

West Africa // monumental trees // embedded cultural functions

essay response //

In West African settlement  monumental trees have been endowed with significant identities linked to specific cultural  functions.  The arbres a palabre, or palavar trees, mark the central location for political gatherings, judicial administration, social networks and spiritual centers for Senegambia and Madagascar.   The etymology of palavar is Portuguese meaning speech, parley or discussion.  On multiple levels the foundation of the community is connected to the monumental trees. The trees are the physical foundation and the point of departure for the development of the community.  The longevity of the trees symbolizes a balanced relationship with nature that helps to build spatial order from the ground up.   The use of monumental trees in West African society for political, social and spiritual centers provides an interconnected framework, rather than a bifurcated structure, of environmental and social organization.

The tradition of an interrelated relationship between the environment and societal organization significantly influenced the spatial organization of West African settlement.   In Senegambia human constructed public architecture lacks monumentality or permanence that is associated with many western and eastern cultures.  In contrast to built architecture baobab trees, one of the main species for arbres a palabre, are monumental and persistent living structures within the context of the savanna landscape.  (Ross 2008, 134) The growth pattern of baobab trees can be easily adapted to articulate basic architectural forms and functions.  As baobab tree mature the center of the trunk dies, creating a multifunctional void that can be occupied or serve as the symbolic center for gatherings.  The openings in the trees trunk symbolically represent a doorway connecting individuals to inner structure of the tree. The interior of the monumental trees provide an intimate setting for spiritual rituals.  The architecture of the individual baobab trees has been adapted to different societal functions.  The essential concept of monumental trees is the connection between nature and social organization at multiple scales.

The arbres a palabre is a metaphor for participatory democracy and governance.  Monumental trees provide the architectural framework and the soul of democratic governance in West Africa.  Within the political realm the monumental trees provide the spatial foundation for participatory politics and they are the heart of political ceremonies.  The network of tress and the political engagement that it engenders has resulted in a strong decentralized government in the region.  Political gatherings are egalitarian including individuals of all ages, gender and economic status. Everyone is encouraged to participate in the discussion and debates. In 2004 Simon Obanda, an African philosopher, argued that the palaver tree was Africa’s contribution to global politics because it inspired organization structures for international organizations like UNESCO. (Ross 2008, 133) On a smaller scale the concepts associated with palavar trees has been adapted by grassroots organization to further democratic governance.   The trees are the genus loci of local politics, which has given rise to the name ‘constitution trees’. (Ross 2008, 139)  In addition to serving as political centers arbres a palabre are the places where judicial decision are made and disputes are settled.

Although the use of monumental trees is well know for its political significance the practice is a vital part of the cultural landscape. Historically the trees mark the origin point of the community because their canopy provided shelter and the center of the tree can be a source of stored rainwater. Over time, without grandiose built architecture, the trees became the cultural monuments for the community.  The tree monuments provide a public venue to share the rich oral history of the community. The shared public experiences aggregated into a collective memory for the community.  The function of these trees are know as Lieux de memoire, or places of memory, and they are used as passive gathering sites. (Ross 2008, 144) Under the canopy of the monumental trees has developed into places to study literature, read, write and exchange knowledge in public setting.  Individual trees can also be religions, spiritual and cosmic centers for the community.  The spatial and cultural structure developed around the monumental trees blurs the boundaries between public and private spaces because there is an ongoing dialect between the two spheres.

In West African culture the network of monumental trees lays the political, social and spiritual foundation for the communities. The monumental trees function as markers and monumental for the development of collective politics and memory. The monumental  trees facilitate the development of community identity though an ongoing cultural narrative. Physically the trees link vital societal functions with cultural and spiritual values.  The trees are the embodiment of social, political and spiritual concepts that continue to adapt in function and use.  The network of trees, with their embedded functions, create meaning in the landscape and influences the spatial pattens in the settlements.

Ross, Eric. “Palaver Tree Reconsidered in the Senegalese Landscape.” In African Sacred Groves Ecological Dynamics and Social Change, edited by Michael J. Sheridan, 133-148. Oxford: James Currey, 2008.

Spatial Inspiration

2011/03/01 launching into spring “break”


What is the narrative that will spin the project together?  Develop the hook.  Why is this story/community/opportunity interesting and use that as the web to knit an interesting story?

As a designer what I am bring to the project is meaning + aesthetic + living system

What is the story? Heath, children and wildlife

St. Roch:    patron saint of good health


San Roque, pray for us,
That we may be preserved
From all diseases of body and soul. (Three times.)
Dear mendicant Pilgrim,
You once took care
Of sufferers from the plague
And were always ready to help others
By kind service and fervent prayers.
You yourself had no home
And you died in a dungeon.
No wonder countless invalids
Have confidently invoked your help.
Please grant a cure to
(name of the sufferer),
and help us all become spiritually healthy.

St. Francis of Assisi:  love of wildlife

Stories abound of how St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) could communicate with animals and felt at one with all creation.


Where there is hatred, let us sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is discord, union;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

Spring break// need to brainstorm

  • The cultural “kit of parts”

o   Mine the photos that I took  and the word clouds

o   What are the important forms and stories?

§  How can they be abstracted?

o   Gates, windows, trim, patterns, colors, faith forms (what is their function not association with a particular religion)

§  What are the functions associated with the cultural symbols?

o   Where are the places of learning engagement?

  • Start sketching street ROW spatial arrangement


Maya Lin

Mags Harries

****follow up with Julie B for more suggestions

Adjustment to graphics:

Need to get an age demographic chartà tie this to the lead soil issue.

Soil (density) to level

Rewrite the parameter title- to allow for move engagement. (additive approach) inductive moves from specific to broader generalizations

Meaning + aesthetics (use as a noun not a verb)

Resilience + ecological foundation


Julie’s notes

+ don’t make it complicated

-lines (streets) and lots (adapted)

-action plan

-putting the public work back in public

+This is a prototype project

–          What are the uses for the various parcels?

–          Connect the dotsà  water flow options + desires/education  + implementation

o   Do a diagram of concept

–          Low tech solutions + calculations

–          Basic and smart choices

–          Designing a way to move through the community

o   Sidewalks

–          What is the sponge? Is it incorporated with the sidewalk

–          Reclaiming the streets on multiple levels

–          What are the lot typologies

+ Process

-think like and engineer

-start with the pragmatic (planning)


–          APATITE experimental soil amendmentà lead is no longer bioavailable.  Lead phymorphite?

–          Approach was lock and load

–          fundred. Org à raising money to look at lead issue

–          Soil amended depth is 2” to 4”

–          How is make it right looking at the street right of ways

–          What are some other street precedents

o   What is working

o   What is not working

–          What is the water table level for the St Roch.

ORMà office recovery management (Erthea Nance)

CLASS:  research PARK and PEOPLE FOUNDATION- precedent for engagement?