Posted by Ellen

The new library building of the Ahmed Baba Institute in Timbuktu, designed by South African architect Andre Spies, sits at the edge of the Sahara Desert– for all intents and purposes at the edge of the world.

Timbuktu has always been miles from nowhere, and the sands of the Saharan nowhere are now blowing through its streets. Years of desertification have spread the Sahara southward, through Timbuktu and beyond across much of Mali and surrounding parts of West Africa.

The Institute was built in part as an archive to preserve ancient documents and religious texts, many of which had survived to the present day by being buried out in the desert. Its architecture was intended to echo the vernacular style, in which most buildings are constructed of mud, with thick, fortress-like walls. Needless to say, many Malians criticize the design as far too modern.