The original Africa Centre opened in Covent Garden in 1964. It served as a place of community and a vital hub of political and cultural activity for the continent’s London diaspora for nearly 50 years, before closing its doors to the public in 2013.
This much-treasured institution has reopened having secured funding for relocation to, and refurbishment of, a once unremarkable office building in Southwark. It serves once again as a beacon of pan-African culture.
Designed by architects Freehaus with Price & Myers, the competition-winning scheme has profoundly transformed the reinforced concrete framed, 1960s building formally known as Gunpowder House. It is emblematic of what can be achieved when refurbishment and retrofitting are the chosen strategy ahead of demolition.
The six-storey building houses a performance and exhibition space, research and learning centre, a business suite, as well as a lounge bar and café.
A new stair has been inserted between ground and first floor, and the lift has been extended to serve the top floor. Our civil engineering team designed a drainage for the kitchen and bathrooms. Additional glazing has been installed to the street-facing facade to promote transparency and visibility and to warmly welcome visitors.
Sustainability was a major driver for the design. Several options have been implemented to enhance the building’s energy efficiency, and a range of low- and zero-carbon strategies were adopted to make sure the building would perform with minimal environmental impact. Aside from the adaptive reuse of the existing building, the heating and ventilation strategies were reconfigured, a heat recovery unit was added, with the new central stair also serving as a thermal chimney for the natural ventilation of the building.
The Africa Centre is once again a focal point for the continent’s communities in London, and a welcoming and engaging meeting place. The Centre’s design overcomes some considerable constraints to improve the environmental sustainability of the building and to enhance the social sustainability of the city.