The final installment of The Architect’s Studio series at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art showcases the works of Cave_bureau, an architectural studio from Kenya. The exhibition explores the volcanic caves of Kenya, emphasizing the concept of “reversed futurism.” Cave_bureau believes that by studying the past, they can develop sustainable solutions for the future.
The exhibition introduces the core values that define Cave_bureau‘s architectural work. It takes visitors on a journey back in time, starting millions of years ago when the landscapes shaped the origins of humanity. It then progresses through critical historical events that have contributed to the current era. Finally, it focuses on the Anthropocene, the current geological age defined by the visible impact of human activities on the environment.
Cave_bureau draws inspiration from the ancient volcanic caves close to Nairobi, which have considerable historical significance for Kenya. Early hominids lived in these caverns, and, during the colonial era, East African slaves and freedom fighters used them as a means of transportation. They also record significant turning points in the planet’s transition to the Anthropocene.
Cave_bureau works with indigenous groups, anthropologists, and geologists to bring light to the underlying injustices that come along with the switch to green energy. Cave_bureau aims to define the fundamental ideas that should drive their practice as young African architects through their films and architectural projects, which are collected together under The Anthropocene Museum. In an effort to prevent history from being repeated, they implore tourists to pay attention to the voices of indigenous peoples as future generations build the towns, cities, and villages of tomorrow.
The entrance to the exhibition is a rendition of the gate through which West African slaves passed before being transported by ships, “The Door of No Return.” Cave_bureau enlarges and transforms it into an installation featuring limestone stalactites from the Shimoni Cave in eastern Kenya. This gate invites visitors to embark on a journey through time, immersing themselves in the history of the region guided by Cave_bureau.
The Anthropocene Museum’s numerous initiatives are displayed in the exhibition’s first room. Short films are used to showcase conversations, installations, and analytical surveys. Additionally, the space exhibits a variety of Kenyan cultural and natural artifacts that serve as the inspiration for Cave_bureau’s activist architecture. A separate installation by Cave_bureau examines the geological processes that shaped the volcanic caves. They refer to past architectures as they utilize models to show how the caves have affected the development of architecture. According to Cave_bureau, future architecture should be built on a comprehensive understanding of geology as it continues to shape our planet.
As the exhibition goes on, projects that are directly influenced by the caves’ architecture are displayed. Restoration of the “Cow Corridor” in Nairobi, a Maasai grazing route that has been inaccessible for pastoral migration since the advent of the British in 1880, is one such initiative. Cave_bureau displays the caves’ intricacies using 3D scanning techniques by Cave_bureau, which then use these models to create new, context-specific architectural ideas. Working with the caves at a 1:1 scale is crucial to Cave_bureau’s practice, enabling them to comprehend and confront the traumatic historical aspects of the caves as well as grasp the intricate geological processes that shaped nature’s architecture.
This year, the 18th International Architecture Exhibition, curated by Lesley Lokko, a Ghanaian-Scottish architect, featured work by Cave_bureau. The Nairobi-based studio presented an Oral Archive of conversations with members of African cave-dwelling communities. Moreover, the Sharjah Architecture Triennial, taking place in November 2023, also features work by Cave_bureau. Titled “The Beauty of Impermanence: An Architecture of Adaptability”, the studio hopes to expand its long-term research program of the Anthropocene Museum, using the Neolithic caves to analyze these separate geologies further.