Three decades ago, the 43-acres of land where Airport City is situated, was nothing to write home about. It was an undeveloped piece of land, frequented by the cities undesirable elements, a den for marijuana smokers and criminals. Airport City was designated to be part of the Accra Redevelopment Scheme between 1996 and 1997, as part of the core mandate of the Ghana Airport Company Limited to develop and operate its airports and to expand the commercial component of the airport business. Airport City is a modern urban development concept that seeks to make air travel better by the creation of a hub of commerce and businesses that serve airport users and other clientele. This Airport City Project has seen the transformation of this once void space to a modern, architecturally designed space of high rise glass buildings. Some of these developments include Silver Star Tower, Holiday Inn Hotel, Marina Mall, the SSNIT Emporium and One Airport Square.
On Friday, 6th July 2018, a team consisting of four students who are being trained to express the African perspectives on architecture within African urban spaces undertook an observational tour of One Airport Square (Referred from now on as The Square). The Square is a commercial building situated between the Holiday Inn Hotel and the Silver Star Towers. It is an imposing multipurpose nine level storey with a two-level basement car park that has a glazed exterior and a nest-like appearance. The Square was intended to be a public space which brings its surroundings to life during the day and also at night through commercial activities and other services provided. During our visits, we made the following observations in regards to The Square which we categorize and discuss under the following themes: appearance, functionality, sustainability and security.
By appearance, we are looking at physical features of the exterior view of the building. The Square deviates from the regular commercial buildings in Ghanaian urban settings but at the same time fits itself within the community in which it is located.
One Airport Square: A Description
The setting of The Square is that of a central business district with high-rise structures all around. Unlike other buildings in the area such as that of The Silver Towers and Stanbic Heights, The Square is unique in terms of the outlook. It is has a diamond-patterned bark exterior, inspired by the trunk of the palm trees which are common in Ghana. It projects boldness, bulkiness and opulence. The skeletal system, which for this structure are the columns that have been arranged in zigzag patterns supporting the slabs, have been employed to make the structure stable. The structure is mainly made up of glass, concrete and steel.
According to Archdaily, One Airport Square is sited on about 4.2 acres of land. The structure is a high-rise building that makes good use of space considering the number of office spaces built on a relatively small piece of land. It has two underground floors which serves as a staff car park. It is able to provide parking space for as many as 300 cars and also has a surface car park. The management has thoughtfully allocated office spaces to companies providing different services, so users are able to have at least one need met whenever they use the facility. There are different kinds of retail activities such as a restaurant, coffee shops and a boutique, as well as services like banking, a gym and an event centre hence the name Square. The compartments within the structure are made of materials that could easily be disassembled and reassembled which create flexibility in the use of the spaces. The Square tries to allow an ease in movement through the use of elevators. The elevators make movement between floors easy and also disability-friendly.
In terms of sustainability, we are looking at the impact of the building on the environment and how the building caters for itself in the long run. With the sustainability measures employed, we observed that the use of curtain wall diminishes the boundaries of the space thereby rendering the spaces larger enough for user. The design utilizes sunlight through the use of skylight and curtain wall. The curtain walls along with the skylight reduces the amount of artificial lighting used during the day which in turn reduces the energy consumption of the building. Due to the glass surrounding the building, there is a lot of solar radiation entering the building especially through the east and west sides of the building. The heat created from the solar radiations is a problem which is countered by the use of a central air-conditioned plant. The reception is an atrium which makes use of the mechanical ventilation. This could have been ventilated using the natural means and not the mechanical based on the principle where warm air rises and cool air replaces the warm air. There are systems in place to harvest rainwater, which is used alongside grey water as non-portable water for flushing of toilets and irrigation. This cuts down on the amount of portable water sourced from the Ghana water company. The facility is mostly made up of hard landscape and a bit of soft landscape which is not the best. The source of power used is the national grid and a stand-by plant to power the structure when there are outages. For such a commercial facility which runs mainly on mechanical ventilation, it would have been sustainable if they made use of solar energy as a source of power to help cut down on the amount of power needed from the national grid.
Is this a space I want to be in? Do we even feel comfortable and at ease in this space? These were some of the questions that brought the issue of belongingness to mind after exploring different principles of natural building and the art of belonging. In an attempt to answer these questions, we realised that, this building was uninviting with all its security measures. Even though it is located in a commercial enclave, we observe that the Square is not very friendly to the general public and even when it does, it has strict access restriction to its users. Thus, people and vehicles are not permitted to move freely within the premises. Before a vehicle is allowed to enter any of the car parks, drivers are required to show an identification if a member of staff or provide a reason for the visit if not a staff member. Also, all visitors are required to have an appointment before being permitted to move onto any floor higher than the ground floor. Again, to gain a tour of the building and its compound, one is required to secure permission from management. There are security cameras at vantage points all over the compound and within the building. People are also not allowed to access the projected slabs which are found outside on each floor due to the absence of railings to prevent people from falling.
The structure has been built primarily to achieve economic goals, that is, on the part of the owners or management as well as the companies that have rented the office spaces and shops. It therefore baffling that the building has measures with respect to limited accessibility. The obvious question following from this is: wouldn’t these companies, especially the coffee shops, make more profits if the building is made easily accessible to the general public without having to answer a bunch of questions from the security just like most commercial structures in Ghana?
Also, the Square has been built to meet both local and international needs. The structure with traces of European artistic and scientific designs provides friendly environment and familiar condition for expatriate companies to bring highly skilled professionals to work in Ghana. Situating this within historical context, we realise that such development is not new as it happened during the colonial period where the colonial administration constructed European-styled houses in friendly and familiar environments, (European residencies), as an incentive in attracting European staff. This could be a laudable venture, but the fact that it was closed to Africans provides justification for scholars who describe it as part of a grand scheme to segregate Africa racially. On this trajectory, it is obvious that One Airport Square will not attract the poor, non-affluent Ghanaians, because it seems to have been constructed to respond to the spatial, commercial and economic needs of expatriates and at best middle-class Ghanaians.