Nubuke Extended completes and reorients the Nubuke grounds, making it into a cultural and civic hub in the expanding metropolitan area of Accra and connecting it to a growing network of cultural spaces in Ghana.
The Nubuke Foundation is a visual art and cultural institution founded in 2007, offering a wide range of programs supporting the arts, culture, and heritage of Ghana. The grounds in East Legon, Accra, are defined by a large variety of day and evening programs that cater to many audiences spanning networks in the city, country, and region. The design of Nubuke Extended resolves this programmatic layering through a generosity and specificity of spaces. Green spaces and openness have been a driving design focus, as well as simplicity, which allows the spaces to become hosts to a variety of scenarios.
A new building hovers above the existing garden and frames a central green area, with Nubuke’s Indian almond tree at its center. It serves as a landmark that responds to both immediate and urban contexts. The massing strategy for the new gallery building is aimed at creating diverse spaces and spatial situations that are open for artists, curators, visitors, citizens, and children to engage with, while acting as a unifying character for the ensemble of buildings and landscapes on the terrain.
The new gallery, a split-level, one-room building with high ceilings, no columns, and exposed concrete walls, creates space for site-specific works of art and performances that characterize developments in Ghana’s and West Africa’s art world. Modulations in the floor, formed through a mezzanine, the height of the ceilings, and the walls, create a variety of spaces that allow both intimate and expansive scenarios for exhibitions, performances, and events. Users of the space are supported by an integrated rail system that allows for the hanging of objects, artworks, panels, and curtains throughout the space. The monolithic materiality of exposed concrete and the reduced colorscape of the gallery and campus create a backdrop for colorful exhibitions and activities to take place in and around the buildings. Nubuke Extended was designed to be cosmopolitan in terms of character and ambition, inviting and provocative at the same time, for both local and regional programmatic scenarios.
The massing of the new gallery responds to local climatic and urban conditions. Primary design drivers – the lifting of the building and its orientation in relation to the central lawn – create an iconic urban/landscape character on the campus, while also providing beneficial climatic consequences. Wind is allowed to circulate through the grounds above and below the new building, and green space is maintained and added through a green roof that spans across the extent of the exhibition volume. This improves both the microclimate on the Nubuke campus, one of the few remaining green spaces in East Legon, and helps to reduce the solar gain of the building through the roof. All six sides of the building – if thought of as an abstracted volume – respond to climatic parameters. In addition to lifting the building and the green roof (the bottom and top surfaces), the building surfaces towards the east and west are solid concrete walls, blocking out the tropical sunlight coming from both these directions throughout the year. The north and south sides of the building volume are characterized by large apertures that are oriented towards the prevailing wind direction and into surrounding green spaces such as the palm grove. As a result of these measures, the building functions climatically through natural cross-ventilation and passive strategies, creating comfortable spaces inside and below the building.
The materiality of the gallery building and the grounds is driven by the intention to expose construction materials and the idea of rawness. The gallery interior and exterior are characterized by off-shutter concrete that has been used for all the structural elements of the building – slabs, walls, and roof. All other architectural elements bring a reduced, raw material palette to the space that augments and softens the effect of the concrete surfaces: a polished screed floor, timber window frames, metal doors and handrails, and textile curtains. The overall effect harmonizes with the lush tropical vegetation of the Nubuke grounds and creates a strong identity and argument for regarding Nubuke as a space in Accra – a city that is characterized by extensive sprawl, construction, and an influx of imported construction materials, building elements, and decoration. Through the strong and responsive spatial character of the building massing and the raw material palette, Nubuke Extended provides a local counterpoint to current trends in the city and an alternative place that offers the freedom of appropriation and inhabitation by the artist community.
The two-story reinforced concrete structure of the Nubuke gallery is partially raised and sits on four rotated reinforced concrete walls, based on bored pile foundations. The entire concrete structure is exposed and is characterized by the use of 14cm wide timber boards as formwork that was arranged to accentuate the dynamics of the building geometry. The locally sourced and readily available Wawa wood used for the formwork was utilized up to four times and supported by timber and metal supports. Cantilevers of up to 4.5m were made possible by integrating slabs and walls into a tube-like structural system. Supports underneath the building had to remain in place until the complete tube (floor slab, walls, and roof slab) was cured. The thicknesses of walls are 25cm (ground floor, freestanding) and 16cm (all others). Thicknesses of slabs vary from 20cm to 32cm. All raw materials for the construction of the concrete structure were sourced from traceable sources from within Ghana, including the cement, river and pit sand, and aggregates. The concrete was batched on site and poured manually.
Nubuke Extended was designed and built by the collaboration nav_s baerbel mueller + Juergen Strohmayer. Both architects are based in Accra, Ghana, and Vienna, Austria, and founded their practices in 2007 (nav_s bm) and 2015 (JS). They work together on academic research and cultural projects that are developed in built and discursive practices. Baerbel Mueller is associate professor at the University of Applied Arts Vienna and head of the [applied] Foreign Affairs lab. She has exhibited e.g. at the Venice Biennale (2006), the Pinakothek Munich (2013) and Marrakech Biennale (2016). She was awarded the Ars Docendi State Award (2015) for excellence in teaching by the Republic of Austria. Juergen Strohmayer lectured at the University of Addis Ababa (EiABC) and is teaching at the University of Applied Arts Vienna. He has exhibited at Acadia (2014), Goethe Institut Addis Ababa (2016), and Marrakech Biennale (2016). He was awarded the Tische-Stipend and several Austrian state grants.