For some people a building is just a box that is intended to shelter and protect people from adverse weather conditions, but to others it is a beautiful piece of art that has to be carefully designed, crafted, and assembled to ensure that all individual parts are functional and work well as part of an aesthetically- pleasing whole. The new Ecobank headquarters in Accra, designed by Mobius Architecture (Ghana) in partnership with ARC (South Africa) is an example of the realisation of latter. The Ecobank headquarters was carefully designed and constructed with the intention of ensuring proper articulation between the overall form, external look, its internal spaces, the outdoors, and the environment. It is located along the Independence Avenue Road – a stretch of road which has quickly become a much sought-after prestigious location for establishing physical institutional presence in Accra. It sits across the road from the Efua Sutherland Children’s Park named for Ghana’s first notable playwright, and is surrounded by The Heritage towers, The Accra World Trade Centre and the Ghana Shippers’ House. This iconic edifice tends to draw attention immediately it comes into view. It is imposing and can be deemed intimidating in spite of how aesthetically pleasing it is due to its rounded form, colours and the careful combination of materials like glass, steel and aluminium which gives it a unique appearance in the architectural landscape of Ghana. It is composed of two primary towers of different heights – one with five storeys and the other with fourteen – linked by a bridge that houses public functions that the designers have dubbed ‘The Market’. Within the two towers can be found various spaces such as a banking hall, an auditorium, canteens for staff and various levels of management, a gymnasium and several office spaces.
The design of the Ecobank Headquarters building evolved from various interesting themes and concepts – including dynamism, flexibility, fluidity and growth. These are obvious both in the exterior and interior features. The building takes an interesting elliptical form which means it can be viewed from all ‘sides’ and fully appreciated – “a 360-degree building”. In response to Ghana’s hot, humid tropical climate, there are of carefully placed solar shading devices that also look beautiful. A perforated metallic panel wraps around the building, reducing and blocking solar ingress where necessary especially on the south western and western parts of the building where the intensity of the sun is felt most in Ghana. The designers sought to embrace and portray both the Western and African influences and design ideals, and this makes the building all the more intriguing in the way African design references and cultural references combine with Western design principles. Serendipitously, the point of the major elliptical tower is directly in line with the famed African Union Obelisk – a monument built to symbolise the ideals of pan-Africanism.
The design and symbolic location of the Ecobank building, the fact that the tagline for the bank is “The Pan-African Bank, provokes thought about Pan-Africanism, Western culture and what is Ghanaian, or African about the architecture. The story of the design process, the building form, context, function and intended users also inspire thoughts around transparency, surveillance and the future of African architecture. In this series of articles, we will each present our responses to the Ecobank building from our individual perspectives based on our tour of the building and conversations with the architects.
The Ecobank building was designed to embrace and portray both Western and African elements, and if we had forgotten, Ecobank’s neighbouring landmark buildings remind us and exemplify excellence in our struggle for development. Design is an iterative process that involves various stakeholders who contribute their quotas to ensure the realization of the design project. The client and the architect are stakeholders that play vital roles in this regard. It is therefore key for the architect to shape the dreams of the client to tell stories that are familiar to their context and surroundings and promote the identities of the places and cities in which they are situated. While Architecture reflects the barriers already put in place by society, culture is not static. The architect, being a creative, is also tasked with dreaming outside of this box, to think ahead, and shape what is yet to come. What do our structures communicate about who belongs in a future African city? Who are we leaving behind in the “past”?