The Italian architect’s energy-efficient One Airport Square project is changing the landscape of Accra.
Accra, Ghana’s sun-baked capital of 2.3 million people, is better known on the continent for its bustle than its beauty. While it has its share of towers (including not a few hotels clustered around the airport in the core), it has little in the way of architectural icons. However, a new structure rising in the heart of the city’s growing business district is poised to change that reputation.
Designed by Italian architect Mario Cucinella, One Airport Square contains nine floors of office space, with 2,000 square metres of retail. It’s also the first project in the country to receive a four-star rating from the Green Building Council of South Africa, thanks to several intelligent features that pair energy efficiency and a uniquely Ghanaian panache. “We set out to establish an example in terms of environmental sustainability, as well as in ethical terms, for the next generation of office buildings in West Africa,” says Cucinella.
Seen from the generous public square at the foot of the building, the most striking feature is a superstructure that combines in situ concrete floor slabs and internal pillars with zigzagging external columns of precast concrete, the primary local building material. This exoskeleton’s unusual diamond pattern was inspired by the trunks of palm trees native to Ghana’s coast, a motif replicated in decorative facades throughout the northeast.
“We always strive to express the identity of the places we build in: their people, materials and environments,” he says, “not our own architectural style.” By day, the terraces shade the windows and minimize solar gain. By night, the tower glows like a golden lantern lit from within.
As visitors step inside, another major gesture is revealed: an atrium open to the sky allows hot internal air to rise, which helps with ventilation. A chief objective is to keep the building cool – crucial in a country where temperatures soar to 40 degrees in the summer, combined with humidity that rarely dips below 80 per cent. Cucinella has specified automatic presence detectors to minimize the use of artificial lighting; and a rainwater collection system that handles irrigation and grey water plumbing.
The target is to lower energy use by up to 40 per cent. If achieved, it will be a considerable advantage in a country that suffers from rolling brownouts and blackouts, and where the government has been known to abruptly announce 100 per cent hikes in the cost of electricity tariffs in an attempt to address the energy problem. For now, One Airport Square is an outlier in the city, but it may also be the shape of things to come.