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TAKE A LOOK | Thabo Mbeki library will look like nothing you've seen before

Business Insider SA
Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library
North Avenue, Riviera, Johannesburg - Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library (Image supplied by Adjaye Associates)
  • The 5,400m² Thabo Mbeki library will consist of eight granary-style domes, each housing at least two chambers.
  • Locally sourced compressed mud, stone, and timber cladding will be illuminated by spherical skylights.
  • An archive centre, which will hold African artefacts, includes an original transcript penned by Ghana’s independence leader, Kwame Nkrumah.
  • For more articles, go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

Construction of the Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library in Johannesburg is expected to begin in 2021 and, once completed, will include eight interconnected granary-style structures. It has been designed by renowned Ghanaian-British architect, Sir David Adjaye.

The 5,400m² facility will include a museum, exhibition space, research centre, auditorium and archive room. The latter will house papers, artifacts, and key documents associated with former President Thabo Mbeki and other prominent African historical figures.

“My vision for the new presidential library aims to encompass both an African past and an African future,” said Mbeki, South Africa’s second president since the dawn of democracy whose tenure lasted from 1999 to 2008. “It will be a place where Africans uncover their own history and identity.”

It is this fundamental connection to knowledge and African identity which influenced Adjaye’s design. Eight granary-style domes, interconnected through a wide corridor which extends throughout the length of the facility, are separated into two levels.

Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library
Lower floor - Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library (Image supplied by Adjaye Associates)
Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library
Ground Floor - Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library (Image supplied by Adjaye Associates)
Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library
Roof view - Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library (Image supplied by Adjaye Associates)

Compressed mud forming a rammed earth exterior exemplifies the distinguishable African aesthetic. The granary design represents a metaphor for knowledge-based nourishment with the emphasis on "feeding, planting, and harvesting wisdom".

“The architecture of the Library taps into the collective memory of the continent through the establishment of a new historical centre for African consciousness in which knowledge, education and sustenance are nurtured in the representation and intelligence of the continent,” explained Adjaye.

Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library
Research centre - Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library (Image supplied by Adjaye Associates)
Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library
Reading room - Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library (Image supplied by Adjaye Associates)

Light plays a vital role in the library’s design. While solar panels on the roof supply electricity to the facility, thickened walls store the sun’s heat in the daytime and release warmth at night when the highveld temperatures drop. Each dome contains a unique skylight which floods the top-level stone and wood chambers with optimal sunshine throughout the day.

One of the most treasured items which will be housed within the library’s archive centre is the original transcript of ‘I Speak of Freedom’ penned by Ghana’s independence leader Kwame Nkrumah.

The construction of the library has been funded by the Thabo Mbeki Foundation with logistical support from the Department of Arts and Culture.

Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library
Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library (Image supplied by Adjaye Associates)
Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library
Intersection between North and Main Avenue - Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library (Image supplied by Adjaye Associates)

“We will continue to support this initiative,” said the Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture, Nathi Mthethwa, at the launch of the presidential library. “Supporting it means that we are in a better position to ensure that our people in the country understanding clearly the African saying that ‘until lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter’.”

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