Richard Leakey Plans Libeskind-Designed 'Cathedra' Honoring Human Evolution In Lake Turkana

Renowned Kenyan paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey has commissioned a new museum in the desert near Lake Turkana. Designed by architect Daniel Libeskind, 'the cathedra' will be constructed at 400 miles north of Kenya's capital in Nairobi,  near the border with Ethiopia. 

It's in this region that the Leakey family and their decades old teams have uncovered many of the best-preserved fossils of humanity's ancient ancestors, some dated to 4 million years ago.

Lake Turkana is home to all the inspirations behind Anne of Carversville's Jewelry & Gift Collection, including Ethiopia's Omo Valley people, who live at the northern tip of the lake. It's the world's largest permanent desert lake and by volume the world's fourth-largest salt lake. 

We have many connections to LakeTurkana and Africa's Rift Valley both psychically and in our commitment to elephant conservation and the use of woolly mammoth bones in our jewelry. It's believed that woolly mammoths migrated out of the Rift Valley towards cooler climates and reliable water sources. 

Richard Leakey, the 72-year-old Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) chairman took Polish-American designer Daniel Libeskind to Lake Turkana to explore the project, now that financing has been secured for the design phase of the project. "Can we do something here that will absolutely stand-alone and wow?" Leakey asked the master planner of New York's post-September 11 World Trade Center redevelopment.

His vision is for a museum that is a "very creative" experience and not a fancy house for fossils. A museum pedigree is reason for eliminating people, not recruiting them for the project. The Kenyan powerhouse wants people from Silicon Valley or creative advertising professionals. "Why don't we have a room you come in to wearing a 3D headset and sit quietly in the middle of a band of Homo erectus moving all around you? That's much more interesting than a skeleton of Turkana Boy behind glass."

Libeskind considers 'the cathedra' to be one of his most important projects, given its focus on human evolution. In an interview with The Independent, early design ideas show "a cluster of irregularly-shaped buildings inspired by Stone Age hand axes and other tools unearthed nearby. The central hall rises 15-stories above the desert. The site's footprint's shape is the outline of the African continent. 

Richard Leakey has long protested on behalf of Africa's elephants. 

Richard Leakey has long protested on behalf of Africa's elephants. 

Building in Lake Turkana will be challenging. Famous for its enormous Nile crocodiles and flocks of flamingos, the desert temperatures regularly exceed 35C. Presently, there are no tarred roads to the proposed site, with only a dirt airstrip accommodating small aircraft. Water is scarce at the site and there is no grid power. 

Nearby is the border with South Sudan, home to a long-running civil war between north and south, with Darfur being a tragic problem. AOC and Anne have taken a strong stand for women's rights in Sudan with our opposition to the flogging of 40,000 women a year by the Khartoum government. We regularly highlight the enormous refugee problem in now independent South Sudan and the New York fashion models keeping attention on this devastating problem.

“We're as keen to make the technicalities of the building as ground-breaking as its overall design,” Leakey said. He concedes that it will cost “a very great deal of money, we're talking £80m-plus”. 

Oil firms prospecting in the Turkana region, including Britain's Tullow Oil, gave Leakey the GBP2.3m he needed to get Libeskind started, but securing the money to complete the work will take a global effort. 

Leakey is also committed to finishing the set up of the Turkana Basin Institute, to continue the critical work searching for and studying fossils. 

"The Turkana Basin Institute is the respository for the specimens and ongoing research by international and Kenyan scientists," Leakey explained. "The cathedra is the 'wow' telling the story behind them"

He wants to move Kenya's world-class fossil trove currently housed in a "cramped museum complex in Nairobi" into the prominent space that it deserves.

“The geology and the history of Turkana means we can trace the human story from basically today continuously back to just under five million years ago in one place,” Leakey said. 

“That’s a pretty special story. Telling it where it took place and where the entire theatre of humanity has played out has a sort of symbolic resonance that makes it iconic. 

“If you dare use the word in this context, it is somewhat of a spiritual journey that I think that would resonate with people and cultures across the world.”

Hopes are high that construction on 'the cathedra' could start as soon as 2019. For GLAMTRIBALE, this plan for 'the cathedra' in Lake Turkana adds an inspiring new creative dimension to our design work. Prior to news of Leakey's new project, we released our new East Africa Map Woolly Mammoth Goddess Beads Pendant with Earrings. This magnificent, hand-crafted pendant is only the first of a wide-range of design ideas that will inform new jewelry in our design house.