franco namibia cultural centre, windhoek

Location: Windhoek Namibia

Status: Completed

Extent:

Client: French Mission for Co-operation and Cultural Affairs

Main Contractor: Stocks Building Namibia

Completion: 2000

The Franco-Namibian Cultural Centre (FNCC) in Namibia’s capital, Windhoek, is the result of a bi-national competition held in October 1997 between five groups of French and Namibian Architects.

Located on Robert Mugabe Avenue in a cultural precinct just outside the CBD, the site is hemmed in by streets on three sides. Its distinct characteristics had a profound impact on the conceptualisation of the new building, chief amongst which the presence on the site of an old German house (which had to be preserved), and a geological fault that runs alongside Robert Mugabe Avenue and intersects the site. These two elements became two distinct orientation axes, north-south (the fault and Robert Mugabe Avenue) and east-west (the old house and the pronounced gradient of the site down towards Robert Mugabe Avenue).

The most critical design consideration by far was the notion of inside-outside space. Albeit a concept well established in vernacular built typologies in Namibia, the local courtyard configurations are exclusive in nature and serve primarily to enclose and defend. These characteristics were irreconcilable with the fundamental aims of the FNCC at the time, i.e. to acknowledge the country’s independence by creating an approachable facility that strives to attract attention and to encourage exploration and participation by whoever passes by. A different arrangement was thus devised whereby inside-outside space was used to enfold an exhibition vessel that acts as a two-way filter: the extended activities taking place within the see-through container are elevated to the same level of exposure as those without, with the latter displayed to the passing viewer on a inclined platform formed by the sloping site towards Robert Mugabe Avenue. Visual and physical barriers are restricted to only that which is required for proper functioning.

The existing German colonial house in like manner is employed as an object of display forming part of a stage set within the larger ‘theatre’ space formed by the slanted courtyard. It depicts one of the many cultural influences in Namibia, whilst its assigned function as Café des Arts represents another.

As explained above, the new building was conceived as a transparent container accommodating the internal activities of the centre. Its articulation as an elongated rectangular box of three layers responds well to the urban context by assuming a domestic single storey scale along Schützen Street and a more public three-storey scale along Robert Mugabe Avenue. The positioning of the new building across the sloping site not only creates a dynamic tension, but it also enables proper north-south orientation, the bridging the fault in an economic manner, whilst also reinforces the existing axes. Its juxtaposition with the old house acts reflects and celebrates the multi-cultural diversity of Namibia, old and new.

A minimalist approach was taken in the choice and application materials, details and finishes: exposed structural elements are used alongside unadorned concrete, steel and glass. The four façades are appropriate manifestations in direct response to different combinations of internal function, external conditions and overall architectural language.

The complex was erected in three distinct phases over a period of two years, and received an Award of Merit for Excellence from the Namibia Institute of Architects in 2002.