Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library by Adjaye Associates

Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library

Located in Johannesburg, the Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library is 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 center and special collections, auditorium, women’s empowerment center, reading room, shop, cafeteria, digital experience space, seminar rooms, office space and an archive center.

The archive center will act as a repository for the papers, artifacts and key documents of President Mbeki and other significant African historical figures. Providing infrastructure for the preservation and distribution of African history and knowledge, the Library will become a new anchorpoint and campus for local and international scholars.

Design Concept
Conceptually, the new building makes visible the invisible knowledge of ancient and contemporary African history through both form and program. Sited in Riviera, Johannesburg, the Library will harbour 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.

Represented in design as a metaphor for knowledgebased nourishment, the new building references 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.

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 facade, 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 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. Source by Adjaye Associates.

  • Location: Johannesburg, South Africa
  • Architect: Adjaye Associates
  • Local Architect: MMA Design Studio
  • Client: Thabo Mbeki Foundation
  • Area: 5,400 sm / 58,125 sf
  • Year: 2021
  • Images: Courtesy of Adjaye Associates