Architecture and design firm Adjaye Associates has designed the Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The 5400-m2 (58,125-sf) library seeks to be a space of excellence, learning, research, discourse, and cultural exchange predicated on the African perspective. The new library will feature a multiplicity of functions including a museum, temporary exhibition space, research centre and special collections, auditorium, women’s empowerment centre, reading room, shop, cafeteria, digital experience space, seminar rooms, office space, and an archive centre. The archive centre will act as a repository for the papers, artifacts, and key documents of President Mbeki who served as the second president of South Africa, and other significant African historical figures.
Providing infrastructure for the preservation and distribution of African history and knowledge, the library hopes to become a new anchorpoint and campus for local and international scholars.
“The Thabo Mbeki Center presents an opportunity to realize the ambition of the dreams of President Thabo Mbeki to advance and empower an African renaissance,” said Sir David Adjaye OBE. “The architecture of the library taps into the collective memory of the continent through the establishment of a new historical center for African consciousness in which knowledge, education, and sustenance are nurtured in the representation and intelligence of the continent.”
Using architecture as a tool to reimagine storage and sustenance into form, the granary stores guide the overall building concept. The eight cylindrical granary-styled forms are made contemporary through the topping of domes with apertures that take into consideration the solar orientation of light within the site to create a distinct atmosphere for each of the programs within. The internal infrastructure of these chambers see to it that the building accommodates a multiplicity of programmatic functions. They are connected through an ‘indoor den’—a horizontal interstitial space that extends the length of the entire building to provide a new public space in service to the community.
Use of the locally sourced compressed mud in the form of a rammed earth façade, terrazzo flooring made from local stone, and timber cladding from local wood species collectively reduce the overall carbon footprint of the structure. Through a site-specific understanding of the subtropical highland climate of Johannesburg, solar harvesting is utilized through state-of-the-art photovoltaic (PV) solar panels, located on the rooftop absorbing sunlight and generating electricity. Geothermal heating and thickened walls harness the earth’s energy by storing heat during the day and releasing it later at night to warm the building when temperatures drop.
The architecture of the Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library brings together continental African thought and form as a means of tapping into collective memory. This memory, embedded within the intelligence of the African consciousness, now sees a typology of learning and a typology of sustenance materialize into form.
“My vision for the new presidential library aims to encompass both an African past and an African future” said President Thabo Mbeki. “It will be a place where Africans uncover their own history and identity. A place where we are empowered to script a brighter and more prosperous future. Through this wonderful collaboration with Sir David Adjaye and his team, I believe this building will become the epicentre for an African renaissance—a place of pride, celebration, and future-forward thinking in which a strong sense of the African identity is empowered for further leadership in service to humanity.”
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