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Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library design unveiled

The Thabo Mbeki Foundation unveiled the design of the Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library (TMPL) by esteemed Pan-African architect, Sir David Adjaye, on 19 November 2020. The event, which was a fundraising drive, was broadcast live on @SABC News Channel 404. TMPL is one of a kind, showcasing material and artefacts associated with the life, work, and efforts of former President and Unisa Chancellor Thabo Mbeki.

Evoking grain storage structures, the Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library will feature an octet of cylindrical domed chambers. (Courtesy Adjaye Associates)

Planned for Johannesburg, TMPL has been designed by Adjaye as a space of excellence, learning, research, discourse, and cultural exchange predicated on the African perspective. The library will also serve as a museum with temporary exhibition space and as a research centre. The complex will additionally include an auditorium, a women’s empowerment centre, a reading room, a shop, a cafeteria, a digital experience space, seminar rooms, and offices. Finally, an archive centre will act as a repository for the papers, artefacts, and key documents of former President Mbeki—who served as the second president of south africa from 1999 to 2008—and other significant African historical figures.

Part of the Unisa Library from the beginning

TMPL was originally conceptualised and housed at the Unisa Library at its Muckleneuk Campus, where the Mbeki archival collection is held and which is being digitised by a team of expert Unisa librarians.

Mbeki thanked Adjaye for “working together with us as part of the process to ensure that this dream comes true”. He further commended and congratulated the Unisa Library for “the experience in library work and for digitising the collections that are part of TMPL…This library has been part of the Unisa Library from the beginning, and this is great because there is no other university library like it on the continent”.

Reading room (Courtesy Adjaye Associates)

Mbeki said that TMPL is a centre of conversation about the past, present, and future. “As Africans, we need to do something that communicates a better future—a library can do that. I’m inspired that in terms of what will be visible, what Sir David has done; just the image says we can do better as Africans,” Mbeki affirmed.

Making visible the invisible knowledge of ancient and contemporary African history

Talking about the design, Adjaye said his obsession with African history, artefacts, and research on the continent inspired his design. He pointed out that aspects from the map of Africa to the huts, tombs and farmhouses went into the impression the library will make.

(Courtesy Adjaye Associates)

For example, he said that African buildings used to be made of mud brick, “so the red will be representing that, just in a modern and new kind of mud brick”. The three buildings are almost round-shaped, and reminiscent of African huts, which “are stores and chambers of knowledge”. The new building also references granaries—structures that allow for the extension of grain production and the systematisation of cycles of feeding, planting, and harvesting—standing as a metaphor for knowledge-based nourishment.

The Unisa Library showcased some TMPL artefacts at the event.

*By Natalia Molebatsi, Marketing Coordinator, Unisa Library, and Sharon Farrell, Editor, Department of Institutional Advancement

Design images and design video courtesy of Adjaye Associates

(Courtesy Adjaye Associates)

Publish date: 2020/11/27