Adjaye Associates has unveiled its design for a new historical centre for African consciousness, 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, according to the 2021 RIBA Royal Gold Medal winner Sir David Adjaye.
Located in Riviera, Johannesburg, South Africa, the Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library “will become 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.”. 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, office space, and an archive center.
The third recently disclosed project in Africa, after the Edo Museum of West African Art in Nigeria, and the Martyrs Memorial in Niamey, Niger, the Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library “makes visible the invisible knowledge of ancient and contemporary African history through both form and program”. Featuring a multiplicity of functions, the library will provide infrastructure for the preservation and distribution of African history and knowledge, with an archive centre that will store papers, artifacts, and key documents of President Mbeki and other significant African historical figures. “The architecture of the Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library brings together continental African thought and form as a powerful means of tapping into collective memory”.
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
Inspired by granaries, the structure is a metaphor for knowledge-based nourishment, accommodating multiple functions. Reimagining storage and sustenance into form, the project takes on eight cylindrical granary-styled forms, connected horizontally with an indoor den, a sort of public space to the community. “Made 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 library uses locally sourced materials. Moreover, solar harvesting is utilized through photo-voltaic solar panels on the rooftop; and 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.
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. — President Thabo Mbeki
- Client: Thabo Mbeki Foundation
- Design Architect: Adjaye Associates
- Local Architect: MMA Design Studio
- Area: 5,400 sm / 58,125 sf
- Program: Museum, temporary exhibition space, research center, and special collections, auditorium, women’s empowerment center, reading room, shop, cafeteria, digital experience, seminar rooms, office space, archive center, and service spaces