Adjaye Associates has unveiled its design scheme for the Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library in Johannesburg. Named after the previous president of South Africa, the project is an opportunity to realize the dreams of Thabo Mbeki to advance and empower an African renaissance and offer a new historical center for African consciousness.
Located in Riviera, Johannesburg, South Africa, the Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library is the third recently disclosed project in Africa from Adjaye Associates, after the Edo Museum of West African Art in Nigeria, and the Martyrs Memorial in Niamey, Niger. Described as a structure that “makes visible the invisible knowledge of ancient and contemporary African history through both form and program”, the Library is designed to be a space of learning, research, discourse, and cultural exchange. It will include a museum, temporary exhibition space, research center, and special collections, auditorium, women’s empowerment center, reading room, shop, cafeteria, digital experience space, seminar rooms and office space.
In addition to this multiplicity of functions, the library will provide infrastructure for the preservation and distribution of African history and knowledge, with an archive center that will store papers, artifacts, and key documents of President Mbeki and other significant African historical figures. The intention is deliver a new anchor point and campus for local and international scholars, harboring the knowledge of the land whilst acting as a space for connection in which the advancement of an African Renaissance becomes the premise of the structure.
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. —
Sir David Adjaye OBE
Conceptually, the library is represented in design as a metaphor for knowledge- based nourishment, by referencing the structures of granaries — which allow for the extension of grain production and the systematization of cycles of feeding, planting and harvesting. Using architecture as a tool to reimagine storage and sustenance into form, the granary stores guide the overall building concept. 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. 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.
To collectively reduce the overall carbon footprint of the structure, locally sourced compressed mud in the form of a rammed earth facade are used in combination terrazzo flooring made from local stone and timber cladding from local wood species. Through a site-specific understanding of the subtropical highland climate of Johannesburg, solar harvesting is utilized through state of the art photo-voltaic 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 powerful 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. Johannesburg-based MMA Design Studio is acting as the local architect for the library, which was officially be unveiled during a conversation between Adjaye and Mbeki on November 19 in Johannesburg which you can view here.
My vision for the new presidential library aims to encompass both an African past and an African future. 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 epicenter 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. —