Inspiring Real Change in Buildings: One Airport Square
12 Jul 2019
Please tell us about the “light-bulb moments” and how these came about. These might be conceptual breakthroughs that happened years ago, or a problem solved at the coalface of the project. In each place MC A is going to realize a project, it strives to express, not only the own architectural style, but rather the identity of places, people, local materials and environments. The collection of data on the socio-economic contexts and vernacular architecture along with the analysis of local climate and ecosystems, allow MC A to design projects which fits in the context and dialogues to the environment. Every projects has its peculiarity and specific elements that comes from a mix of innovation, analysis and know-how. Starting from this preconditions, One Airport Square was designed with the ambition to make a significant contribution to the surrounding landscape and to be an example in terms of environmental sustainability and in ethical terms for the new generation of office buildings in West Africa.
Was there resistance to “doing it differently” from the client, other professionals, or contractors and how was this was overcome? MC A’s approach is based to always work in close partnership with local design firms and encourages the adoption of a design language capable of expressing the beauty and the richness of local cultures. That allows to find project’s strengths and a dialogue with commitments that usually agree.
Discuss the most difficult trade-offs, if any, and how these were ultimately settled. One Airport Square is a mixed-use building of approximately 17,000 square meters which houses a round floor commercial space and a ten-storey office block. The building envelope is the key and most peculiar project element that demonstrates the integration between form, structure and environmental strategies. Aesthetic elements and architectural design are in fact inspired by the traditional local art and by the form the bark of the palm trees typical of that area, but are also closely linked to environmental strategies to provide a viable solution to climate problems. A further defining element of the building consists in the reinforced concrete structure (primary local building material), the inclined piers of which confer greater rigidity upon the building and the overhangs, while also featuring as a decorative motif for the front. All these elements represented a great challenge but also a settled solution by MC A that made the project unique.
Define the project’s greatest triumph in relation to this chapter. One Airport Square is the first building in Ghana to have been awarded 4-Stars (Design Stage) by the Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA). It has a compact form that contains within it a large hall, the function of which is to provide lighting and to facilitate natural ventilation of the interiors. Besides, it consists of a system of slabs that protect the building from solar irradiation, with a glass back facade protected from the sun. Many other environmental strategic solutions were designed to improve efficiency and built a real sustainable building.
What compelled you to build green? One Airport Square is located in a specific climate and cultural context, that of Accra. In this colorful environment, modernity has been represented by the unusual display of mirrored buildings mostly of which unfortunately have no relationship with the climate, or language of this culture. But this cannot be the way to follow in architecture. We have to imagine buildings with minimal visible technology, maximizing instead the efficiency of form, as materials change to become an active part of the final result, silently performing a task, a function, becoming part of a new circular economy. Buildings with a high degree of empathy, a creative empathy, that means they could enter into an intimate relationship with the climate, and with the concept of place.
This must have been difficult to implement in Africa: Which challenges did you encounter going this route? And the benefits? In One Airport Square the most advanced technologies are balanced with the local tradition, using the most efficient design. Since the site is located in an equatorial area, analysis was conducted mainly of climatic conditions in order to select the best passive and active environmental strategies to be applied to the scale of the building. This aspect, together with medium-to-high temperatures throughout the year, necessitated strategies for reducing the requirements for cooling the building. A compact configuration was therefore selected, with the offices on all floors facing an internal courtyard open to the sky to facilitate natural ventilation by chimney effect. The plant is based on a principle of distribution of the fresh air conveyed in the floating floor which reaches in a uniform manner throughout the plane. To reduce consumption of drinking water there are technologies that limit the amount of outflow, the duration and the time of delivery, while it is expected the rainwater for toilet. All of these elements are designed in order to reduce energy consumption of the building and optimize the use of natural resources.