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.