In 2014, Libreville, the capital of Gabon, will for the first time host a conference of the African Union. The conference will be held in a brand new assembly hall perforated by open, oval gardens—and infused with the emerging nation’s optimism.
WORK Architecture Company (WORKac) won an international competition for the Assembly Hall. The New York City firm impressed the jury with their proposal which offers a self-shading, circular structure that maximizes active and passive design while incorporating the vibrant ecology of Gabon.
Dubbed L’Assemblée Radieuse (Radiant Assembly), the design organizes a vast program of conference, assembly and dining facilities around courtyards – each representing one of Gabon’s rich and diverse ecosystems. The circular form is topped with a dramatically sloped roof, which emerges from the lush, green hills of the surrounding diplomatic quarter. This angled roof becomes one of the building’s most prominent façades, allowing views up from the city below to the courtyard-gardens and to the rooftop reflecting pool – taking the elliptical form of the auditorium below.
Incorporating Gabon’s diverse ecology in the planning and designing of L’Assemblée Radieuse was extremely important. According to Dan Wood, principal at WORKac, the project was in many ways about representation and how best to represent Gabon’s ambitions and emergence on the world stage.
“We felt that it was important to emphasize not only the President’s commitment to preservation, sustainability and ecology but also to acknowledge that this larger conception of the role of “natural resources” is a critically important part of Gabon’s identity. We also feel that this is a model that can be adopted across the continent, as stewardship of the environment continues to become as important as exploiting it for economic gain.”
The design uses passive cooling strategies to ventilate its program of conference space, dining facilities, and an Assembly Hall, the latter of which takes the form of a flexible 1000-seat auditorium. Three carved out open-air interior courtyards, each planted with native species, are lined with African limestone louvers that allow further ventilation into the structure; similar louvers also wrap the building exterior. A sloping, light-colored roof both deflects heat and collects rainwater, which re-circulates through a waterfall before being re-used within the facility.
The building will harness the best in active and passive sustainable design.
- Preservation and Sustainability: The site’s former structures were strategically wrapped to conserve resources and impart a sense of historic continuity.
- A Culture of Ecology: A series of iconic courtyards represent Gabon’s rich natural resources.
- Sustainable Technology: Louvers made of African Limestone provide maximum shade and increased energy performance; courtyards provide natural ventilation; light-colored materials reflect the sun’s rays for thermal efficiency; the sloped roof directs rainwater through a courtyard waterfall and into a treatment reservoir for reuse; solar panels provide energy for the building’s hot water.
- Visibility: The iconic sloped roof of L’Assemblée Radieuse is oriented toward the city so it can be seen all the way from the heart of Libreville; its circular form signifies the cycle of life and the environment and projects Gabon’s ecological consciousness to the world at large.
The 1000-seat auditorium is designed to divide easily into two separate spaces, with each potential configuration retaining optimal sight lines and state-of-the-art acoustics. Additional key spaces arranged around the central auditorium include a triple-height banquet hall as well as a number of smaller auditoria and meeting rooms.
Circulation within L’Assemblée Radieuse is organized by the garden courtyards which are linked by a semi-enclosed, shaded “philosopher’s path.” This continuous promenade provides flexible and informal meeting spaces for walking, thinking and discussing the urgent matters of the day, connecting the three gardens and providing striking views over Libreville, as well as of the landscape and sea beyond.
“Our take on the “indigenous” aspect of the project was really first and foremost in the embrace of the specific ecologies, climate, and site of the project. This includes a specific tailoring of the projects form to its site within the “Cite de la Democratie” – a verdant hilly site above the city. The roof’s dramatic slope is aligned with the Place de la Paix so that the three gardens and rooftop pool are clearly seen from the city below, for example.”
L’Assemblée Radieuse takes a cylindrical form with a dramatically slanted roof on a hillside in Libreville. Water cascades from the rooftop through voids into a series of open courtyards below, reused in irrigation of lush foliage.
WORKac was also heavily influenced by Libreville’s vibrant history of modernism, particularly the work of Marcello D’Olivo, an Italian architect who was one of the earliest proponents of “ecological urbanism” and who drew up Libreville’s master plan and designed many iconic structures, including the spiral sculpture at the Place de la Paix.
“We wanted to tap into that incredible spirit of post-colonial optimism of the 1960′s and 1970′s which resulted in a unique take on modernism – one that acknowledged the climate (many incredible examples of bris-solei’s informed our design of the stone louvers, for example) and presented a progressive, forward–looking vision of Africa, without resorting to historicism or cliches about traditional Gabonese building forms that perhaps have little to do with the requirements and vision of the institutions of the contemporary city.”
WORKac, founded in 2003 by Amale Andraos and Dan Wood, is a New York City-based firm developing architectural and urban planning projects that engage issues of culture and consciousness, nature and artifice, surrealism and pragmatism.
Recent projects include a competition-winning design for an assembly hall in Libreville, Gabon for the 2014 African Union Summit, a new cultural center on New Holland Island in St. Petersburg, Russia, a museum extension for the Blaffer Museum of Art in Houston, Texas, and the first Edible Schoolyard New York City with chef Alice Waters. The practice is supplemented by Amale Andraos and Dan Wood’s academic involvement and research – Amale Andraos is currently an Assistant Professor at Columbia University and Dan Wood will be the Louis Kahn Chair at the Yale School of Architecture in the Fall of 2013.
Their focus on urbanism and ecology is the subject of their book ’49 Cities’, published in 2009 by the Storefront for Art and Architecture, and most recently resulted in the project “Nature-City”, commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art, NY for the exhibition Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream.
All images courtesy and copyright of WORKac.
Chipata, Zambia, Southern Africa
Client: Foundation Chipata
Architects: ELstudio, Blol Kats van Veen architects (BKVV)
Engineering: BREED Integrated Design, Gilbert van der Lee
Energy Consultants: DWA
Hospices in the southern African country of Zambia are few, particularly outside the capital of Lusaka. In Chipata, population 98,416, and the capital of the Eastern Province of Zambia, the architectural duo of ELstudio and Blok Kats van Veen Architects (BKVV) were tasked by Foundation Chipata with designing a hospice that would not only relieve some of the distress of caring for the terminally ill, but also introduce a low cost and solution that could be easily replicated at low cost.
The project was designed to provide a comfortable stay for 24 patients, expandable to 48 people, and with a CO2 footprint smaller than an average European household.
The building is designed as rotunda, reminiscent of traditional huts, and organized around a central core of staff spaces and storage of medications and resources. Around it are twelve bedrooms, all visibly accessible from the central nurse station, and which can be extended yet again with extra rooms, connected by a wide circular corridor, which serves dual duties as the main circulation and providing space for family and visitors.
The central organization makes the building highly efficient; it provides a clear overview for the nurses, making it possible to run the hospice even with a shortage of staff. In addition, the round shape of the building lowers the need for maintenance and energy consumption. Together this leads to a substantial reduction of operating costs.
The building is made of local sourced materials using locally available labor. Multiple openings around the exterior and inner core create natural ventilation and cooling in this subtropical climate, while keeping the interior well lit with natural light during the day. Roof top solar panels general the building’s energy.
Banyan Tree Corniche Bay,
La Gaulette, Mauritius
Client: Corniche Bay/Tatorio Holdings Ltd.
Architects: Foster + Partners, Jean Michel d’Unienville & Associates Architects Ltd
Landscape Architects: Newton Landscape Architects
The masterplan is for a discreet and environmentally intelligent architecture that blends harmoniously with the lush and extensive landscape. Green fingers of lush vegetation extend down towards the sea, with a series of contemporary buildings inserted amid tropical plantings to create an architecture that at once responds to the contours of the landscape and recedes into the green totality.
On the mountainside, a cluster of elegant villas are discreetly inserted into the vegetation. With panoramic views over the Indian Ocean they balance privacy with a sense of community.
The concept evolved from a single line that is the starting point for the dynamic curves that categorise the scheme. Drawing with this single straight line, we created a language of curves that enliven the design and recall the organic forms of the lush setting of Mauritius.
The design of the interiors celebrates outdoor and island living. characterized by the use of natural materials that echo those found on the site, the design concept creates a holistic experience without any division between the exterior and interior spaces.
The architect’s philosophy of intergration was a big influence on this development, which is designed to fit perfectly into its natural environment, seamlessly blending into its spectacular surroundings as attractively as possible. Attention to detail is paramount, with every aspect of the development carefully designed to be as ecologically sound, culturally relevant, and aesthetically pleasing as possible. Luxury becomes a self sustaining quality with the use of local materials, and high efficient energy systems incorprated into the design.
The resort is due for completion in 2011.