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Society House Refurbishment, Lusaka, Zambia

Thursday 16 Jun 2011

A beacon of hope

All images courtesy of Louis Karol Architects 
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22/06/11 Anthony Hyland, Durham, UK
How mFortunately, the original building will survive under its smart new over-
coat.....coat. But how many buildings of a similar size, style and date, are awaitinawaiting demolition in the UK? Gateshead is about to demolish the Dunst Dunstan Rocket (20 storeys of unpopular council housing, which
could have been transformed into student apartments) and Owen
L Luder's multi-storey car park in the town centre (Get Carter?). Not anks oto mention Durham County Council's itchy fingers eager to demolish
Milburngate House, the central government complex on the banks of
the Wear. In a period of unavoidable financial retrenchment, can
central and local governments afford such profligate demolition?
(See digital Democracy's website for the campaign to Save
MMilburngate House).
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21/06/11 KJ, Manchester
As Society House dons its clean commercial suit I can't help but feel a certain sense of longing for the original building. It's clean modernist concrete concertina lines, even the roughly imprinted FM 89-5 at the top. I wonder if this is the fate of brutalist architecture - that even the most sympathetic reuse/refurbishment will inevitably remove it's edge, it's raw rock n' roll. But balance that thought with practicality - with this new shiny coat the building is occupied for the first time in 14 years, its history preserved and a fully functional building returned to Lusaka. Did it work in the first place or was it like a pair of beautifully painful high heels that remain in the box?
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Redevelopment of burnt-out concrete volume in Lusaka to reignite interest in the city 

Gutted by a fire in the 1990s, the ominous form of Society House in Lusaka, Zambia has stood derelict for the last fourteen years. The concrete giant has since loomed over the city’s undulating skyline as a monument to what was once a prosperous time; Robert Silke, partner at Cape Town-based Louis Karol Architects elaborates: “The 20-storey tower was built in Zambia’s golden decade of the 1970’s. Copper was expensive and Zambia was prosperous, modern and building state-of-the-art skyscrapers. Zambia had television while South Africa was still listening to the radio.”

On the 27th May 2011, a groundbreaking ceremony was held at the Society House site in celebration of a $100m redevelopment project which will see a consortium of South African and Zambian firms rejuvenate the property, injecting new life into Lusaka city centre. Due to act as a catalyst to ignite commercial interest in the city, the revival of this once-great tower will see its dulled exterior re-faced in gleaming copper to reflect the region’s history.

The ceremony was attended by Zambian President Rupiah Banda, who stated: “Today marks the beginning of the rise of Society House from the ashes of that terrible inferno…The face of Lusaka is surely changing for the better and my dream is that this change does not stop within the boundaries of Lusaka but spills over to other towers and cities.”

Aside from a new public face, the redevelopment will involve transforming the volume into a 160-room four star Holiday Inn hotel, with conferencing facilities, a retail mall, A-grade offices, and a 1,100-car parking garage. A 20-storey fire escape will shimmy down the exterior frame, in an effort to ‘animate’ its simplistic façade.

It is important to the architects however that the tower retains its original sense of self, as Silke explains: “Lusaka is a city of polite modernism and cyclopean towers. Society House is a 20-storey extruded concrete concertina with a neo-oriental brutalist pagoda on top, and you can’t just mess with that lightly. We’re going to embrace the existing form (love it or hate it) and surgically add and subtract using appropriate geometries, materials and expressive devices.”

The South African consortium members comprise architects Louis Karol, quantity surveyors Turner & Townsend, Pam Golding Properties and BWK Monamodi electro-mechanical engineers. Zambian consortium members include Bicon Zambia engineers and project managers, Yangtse Jiang Construction, PJP Architects and HB Chalwa Quantity Surveyors.

Key Facts

Status Concept design
Value 0(m€)
Were you involved in this scheme?
Louis Karol Architects

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