Designing an embassy or a consulate poses a myriad of challenges. Architects face a task to resist the temptation to design that which is wholly representative of the mother country without necessarily applying contextual measures. Questions ponder. ‘Home’ country or the host? Concepts; materials; labour; technology….and so on. And yet these facilities exist or are projected to exist within existential socio-cultural, economic and climatic realms.
Kilburn Nightingale Architects were not spared of these inquiries. The architects however succeeded in drawing inspiration from both the ‘home’ country and the local hosting nation. The end product therefore is building done for permanence and belonging.
Camouflaged in the Ugandan red earth and lush greenery, the British High Commission rises. Elements in the design composition are clearly distinctive but well linked. Having distinctively split into the main administrative and consulate visa sections, operations within the facilities tend to slightly differ. Thus access has been provided from the adjacent roads a feature borrowed from the African dwellings (public front and back entrance). Beyond the over sailing canopy which enhances the welcoming entrance at the front is a sheltered courtyard which doubles as a focal point for the offices.
The architects dare to differ with most of the recent public-type buildings in terms of material selection. Many such constructions have made use of imported materials ignoring the local typical vernacular buildings made of homemade bricks and simple metal roofs. Almost all materials used are available locally. Choice was made based on solidarity, low-maintenance capabilities and durability. Liberal use and careful articulation of specially made brick, terracotta, clay tiles for the roof and decorative ribs in the courtyard ensures fusion within the context while avoiding a monotony of hue and texture within the development. Material selection ensured the achievement of a low energy building and minimizes on the negative impacts on the environment.
Responding to climate, the building has a capability to be fully naturally ventilated. Cross ventilation has been done through perforated screens and large, openable windows. Heat gain is mitigated through provision of heavily shaded windows and creation of landscaped garden which shades the compounds creating a cooler micro-climate.
Giles Omeziin 1001 Buildings You Must See before You Die, remarks thus “Overall, the High Commission marks an interesting point in global cultural consumption, with Cullum and Nightingale confident in referencing critically the Ugandan and African context for what is essentially a patch of Britain”.
‘The High Commission is a sophisticated and elegant collection of buildings, designed by thoughtful and erudite architects … It is down to the strength of the original idea and sheer persistence of the architects that the resulting scheme flies a flag not only for Britain but also for good architecture everywhere’.
As opposed to most Embassy and Embassy related compounds the British Council Building in Addis Ababa replaces the usually high solid walls with a rather porous design with open railings that maximise visibility of the building, a clear indication of the approachability and openness of the Coun...