Southern African Customs Union Headquarters Building
Barnard Mutua Architects - Namibia
Drawings, plans, elevations
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Southern African Customs Union Brief: Established in 1889 as the Customs Union Convention, the Southern African Customs Union is an important institution which co-ordinates the regional co-operation between the member states Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland. As such, the client required a head office which would reflect the importance of this institution and fulfill the needs of the modern states and reflect on the cooperative nature of SACU. Design Approach: To give importance to the stature of the institution the design approach was to have a freestanding building with strong references to historic institutions, an “abstracted temple”. The white painted cubic form stands on a raised platform in a classical manner, referencing other buildings of government and civic importance. The setback from the is road creates a space in front of the building that will become a forecourt when the wings on both sides are built up to the road in the next phase. The cube is articulated and abstracted further through the vertical fins which create a strong columnar rhythm. Deep concrete fins on the north and south facades are contrasted with thin steel columns supporting sunscreen louvres on the east and west facades. The abstracted cube form remains uninterrupted, retaining the strong visual presence. The office building is contained within the exterior colonnade. The dark surface treatment of the top floor helps to accentuate the articulation of an abstracted exterior colonnade supporting a floating roof enclosing the office building. Visitors are welcomed into the multi-volume entrance atrium via porte-cochere. The internal atrium is flanked by offices and walkways. The main stair and lifts are on axis with the main entrance. This arrangement creates a legible internal space which echoes the simplicity of the exterior form. Offices are arranged around the central core optimizing the views and exposure to natural light. Deep fins, on north and south facades, sunscreens on the east and west facades mitigate against thermal exposure as well as articulating the form of the building. NIA AWARD OF EXCELLENCE The building achieved an Award of Merit in the 2017 round of the Namibia Institute of Architects merit awards. Here is the citation: “This facility hosts and administers important regional and international trade and economic discussions. The purity and abstraction of the monumental form is appropriate for the function and stature of the leaders that it hosts. The layered facades and technical resolution allows a transparency and connection to the street and views of the surrounds; and addresses the security requirements through an integral experience of the building, the site and its elevated position in the urban landscape.”
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