David Adjaye's rammed earth library is an ode to South African president Thabo Mbeki

Featuring eight granary-styled cylindrical forms in rammed earth, Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library in Johannesburg is set to become the epicenter for African Renaissance.

by Zohra Khan Published on : Nov 24, 2020

Ghanian-British architect and RIBA 2021 Gold Medal winner Sir David Adjaye recently unveiled the design of an educational campus to be built in the honour of second post-apartheid president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki. The 5400 sqm project - Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library - is planned for Riviera suburb in Johannesburg and will be executed by Adjaye Associates in collaboration with local architect MMA Design Studio.

Main avenue entrance | Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library by Adjaye Associates | STIRworld
Main avenue entrance of Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library Image: Courtesy of Adjaye Associates

The library, as per Mbeki, will become the epicenter for African Renaissance, and a place where Africans uncover their own history and identity. It will house key documents and artefacts concerning the life of Mbeki, who served his presidential tenure from 1999 till his resignation in September 2008, which was nine months before the conclusion of his second term. In addition to providing itself as a repository on Mbeki’s life, the library will also host literature on other significant African figures for local and international scholars.

The library will be laid in eight cylindrical granary-styled forms in rammed earth | Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library by Adjaye Associates | STIRworld
The library will be laid in eight cylindrical granary-styled forms in rammed earth Image: Courtesy of Adjaye Associates

Designed as a rammed earth structure, the form of the library draws influences from the structure of granaries. Here, Adjaye Associates have used architecture as a tool to reimagine storage and sustenance into form.

Eight granary-styled cylindrical forms, four on either side, comprise the new library building. Spread on two levels, the internal infrastructure of these forms will be connected via an indoor den that extends the length of the building and doubles as a public space.

  • Ground Floor Level | Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library by Adjaye Associates | STIRworld
    Ground Floor Level Image: Courtesy of Adjaye Associates
  • Long Section | Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library by Adjaye Associates | STIRworld
    Long Section Image: Courtesy of Adjaye Associates
  • Lower Floor Level | Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library by Adjaye Associates | STIRworld
    Lower Floor Level Image: Courtesy of Adjaye Associates

Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library will house multiple programmatic functions such as a museum, temporary exhibition space, research center, auditorium, women’s empowerment centre, reading room, digital experience space, offices, and an archival center.

Apertures on the domed roof to bring natural light into the interiors | Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library by Adjaye Associates | STIRworld
Apertures on the domed roof to bring natural light into the interiors Image: Courtesy of Adjaye Associates

On the outside, the traditional cylindrical forms will reveal a more contemporary nuance through its domed roofs that feature subtracted volumes. These apertures, as per Adjaye Associates, will take into consideration the solar orientation within the site and create a distinct atmosphere for each of the program within.

The materiality of the project draws focus on reducing carbon footprint of the structure. This includes rammed earth walls to be built of locally sourced compressed mud, local stones in terrazzo flooring, and timber cladding incorporating local wood.

  • Visualisation of the research centre | Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library by Adjaye Associates | STIRworld
    Visualisation of the research centre Image: Courtesy of Adjaye Associates
  • Visualisation of the reading room | Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library by Adjaye Associates | STIRworld
    Visualisation of the reading room Image: Courtesy of Adjaye Associates

Photo voltaic solar panels on the rooftop, geothermal heating, and thickened walls of rammed earth, which stores heat during the day and releases it at night, will regulate conducive interior temperatures while keeping the infrastructure energy efficient.

For Mbeki, the library will become a place where Africans uncover their own history and identity and where they 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,” shares the 78-year-old former president, who is also a fellow member of the African National Congress.

“The architecture of the library taps into the collective memory of the continent,” says principal architect David Adjaye, further adding that here knowledge, education and sustenance will be thoroughly nurtured.

Adjaye Associates’ previous projects that celebrate history and culture include the design of 1199SEIU healthcare union in New York city that reveal tiled murals; the concept of Niamey Martyrs Memorial that fuses sacred and the civic; and the Edo Museum of West African Art in Benin, Nigeria to house historic arts and artefacts. 

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