Lorcan O’Herlihy renovates Detroit’s African Bead Museum

The Detroit office of Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects (LOHA) has unveiled its initial phase of a small-budget, big-ambition renovation of one of the city’s most remarkable cultural institutions: the MBAD African Bead Museum, an independent exhibition space devoted to African material culture and art.

The museum comprises three townhouses and a 6,000-square-foot backyard sculpture garden that together stretch across almost a whole city block. Founder, owner, artist, and self-styled visual storyteller Olayami Dabls uses rocks, mirrors, wood, and iron to create sculptures that are parables for the development of African and African-American history and culture. According to its website, Dabls created the museum to help visitors better understand the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement through his sculptures and his collection of African objects.

The African Bead Gallery, a museum store, is as intriguing as the sculptures: trays of beads are the forest floor to strung beads and artifacts from the collection that cover the walls and overhead displays. Outside, the facade is covered in Dabls’s colorful glass-and-mirror mosaic murals.

As beautiful as it is, the museum’s physical space is in serious disrepair. One of the townhouse’s roof has collapsed, and the exterior walls are precarious. Over time and if funding permits, LOHA will reinforce the structure internally and build galleries, a new entrance, and a landscape within the new envelope.

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