Klein Windhoek “old house” turned into modern architectural landmark
If you were driving from an easterly direction from Avis towards Windhoek’s city centre along Sam Nujoma Drive two years ago, it would have been hard for you to miss the old white house on the corner of Sam Nujoma Drive and Dr Kwame Nkurmah streets, overrun with grass and weeds.
Then, slowly rising like the proverbial phoenix was a building which will, undoubtedly be one of Windhoek’s most remarkable architectural landmarks.
Recently completed for Namibia’s latest entry into the Diamond industry, Namib Desert Diamonds (NAMDIA), the “Eumbo” building as it has become known, has brought with it a fresh breath into the neighborhood of Klein Windhoek with many wondering what this architectural wonder is.
Designed by Kerry McNamara Architects Inc, one of Windhoek’s oldest and leading architectural firms, it carries, with it the spirit of both liberation and reconciliation as portrayed by the late Kerry McNamara whose sons, Rowan and Kevan have now taken over the family business.
The “Old White House” was the property of Danie Botha, a liberation struggle veteran and Member of Parliament (MP) in Independent Namibia’s first Parliament in 1991. In the pre-independence era, it was a sanctuary for many struggle stalwarts who would be on the run from Apartheid South Africa’s dreaded security apparatus. And sometimes it would just be a place where comrades, black and white would come together for more social gatherings.
The initial development was a collaboration between Danie Botha and Johann Opperman. The property was re-zoned from residential to office with an opportunity of free residential bulk.
The development brief was to maximize on this new zoning and its development potential. This resulted in a mixed-use development consisting of office space and residential apartments.
ENTER NAMIB DESERT DIAMONDS
Namib Desert Diamonds (Pty) Ltd is a diamond marketing and sales company, established in 2016 as a means of price discovery for Namibia’s diamonds in the discerning world markets and to generate additional foreign currency revenue for the Government of the Republic of Namibia.
Operating from a rented property, NAMDIA’s management saw an opportunity to invest in property which has potentially high return on investment; is safe for both its human resource and product and is a historical landmark.
Explains NAMDIA’s Chief Executive Officer, Kennedy Hamutenya “When we saw the building in progress, examined the plans and reflected on the site’s history, our reaction was simply WOW!”
And so the die was cast for NAMDIA’s interest and eventual purchase of the property. It required the re-development of the brief to achieve NAMDIA’s various aspirations and needs for the site and building whilst maintaining the inherent and existing design vision for the property.
URBAN DESIGN & ARCHITECTURE
Rowan McNamara describes the client’s brief as “to explore a building that pushed the boundaries of architecture and urban intervention in a way that served its onsite users but also gave the urban environment and street edge, back to the public. A building that was aesthetically pleasing but also evocatively uncomfortable to really draw attention to it.” Rowan continues that “you must drive or walk past the building and the experience must make a mark on your memory, make you look twice and want to know more, prick your inquisitiveness, talk about it and possibly return. It must tap into all your senses and capture at least one. This idea of a sensory sense of wonder and the idea of ‘live, work, grow’ formed a theme for the development and design going forward.”
With the above design brief in place a name was needed to identify the building beyond just a street address. Kerry McNamara Architects came up with the name “eumbo” and the client was enthralled by it. This name encapsulated many of the historical and future development and design intentions of the project.
Meaning of ‘Eumbo’ – In rural areas each Owambo family lives in its own kraal or eumbo, which is enclosed by a wooden fence. The houses are situated inside this fence and can be either round or square thatched huts, outside of the fence are the family’s lands. In the center of the eumbo is the family sacred fire (omulilo gwoshilongo) which is kept burning at all times.
The site and building as a symbolic gateway & entrance to the city. At an urban design scale, the form and orientation of the building purposefully responds to the environment, to the city and street as a whole and so to the existing street user ‘pedestrian’ and building user.
The building addresses the street purposefully forming the first real on-street edge architectural expression as visitors enter Windhoek from the east. At an urban scale, the building itself serves the public whilst still maintaining its core function of the user. Artwork, benches, sculpture and a memory wall add to the public realm rather than being insular.
An architecture that captures, gives, invokes emotion and expresses events, memories and stories.
The shapes and relationships of the building reflect a considered response to major issues that affect the nature of a “well-built environment” and that of the particular site, its planning constraints and the wellbeing of the inhabitants and passersby.
One of the major features in the design of the building is the economy of a pleasant working environment for the users of the building. The users, in this case the administration and office staff, have continual visual contact with the outside. This is an important feature for the occupant, and is also relevant to Windhoek and to the Namibian mind and psyche. The “humanising” effect of such spaces contributes to pleasant working conditions and low staff turnover, inducing employee efficiency, commitment and involvement.
Another interesting design feature is the ‘memory wall’ on the edge of Dr Kwame Nkrumah Avenue.
This wall in concept consists of a “portion” of the old house containing two of the old steel windows as part of the memory of the past. Pedestrians can pass behind this wall under the colonnade and look out through the windows back at the street as if being in the ‘old house’.
All finishes externally and internally have been considered in their longevity and aesthetic appeal to the user. Modern mechanical & electrical features such as light sensors, solar panels and low energy ventilation re-inforce the sustainability aspect of the design.
Ground floor Street Art Façade:
One of Namibia’s leading photographers Amy Schoeman assisted with the ground floor graphic street facing image. The architectural application of the image on the façade has resulted in a striking façade on the ground floor that locates the building to Namibia whilst capturing the imagination and attention of the passer by.
Ground floor Street Sculptures:
A further item was an external sculpture of a person or persons on the corner of the site. This sculpture has the intention of adding to the above overall concept but also the need for it to be become iconic, possibly a must on the tourist route. The corner of the site has extreme exposure and the site forms a first impression or gateway landmark into Windhoek from the East as one arrives or departs. The sculpture of two dancing girls (yet to be installed) will be accessible at a glance (people driving past) and will leave the viewer wondering whilst also engaging pedestrians passing by at a human scale.
Olga Grosse-Weischede and Veico Bonhof of Creative Collide Design Consultants were tasked with the interior design of the building, requiring that the layout, space planning and functionality of the building met the client’s criteria.
“We had to conduct an institutional review into the client, the diamond industry and Namibia’s history to fully understand the task at hand and to execute it with professionalism and insight”, says Olga Grosse-Weischede.
With that in mind then, the look and feel was created by using images, colours, shapes, materials that related and were applied either in the ceiling, on the walls, or on the floor. “Be it the edged lines of a cut diamond, the texture of split rock, or the colours of the dunes as well NAMDIA’s corporate colours – these key elements were repeated so that a image of NAMDIA would be present throughout the building interiors, whilst keeping a sophisticated, modern and clean approach to the overall interior”, Olga says.
A FINAL WORD
For Usi //Hoebeb, Communications strategist for NAMDIA, this building represents NAMDIA’s aspirations of innovation, visionary direction, historical appreciation and a people’s desire to be in charge of its own destiny.
NAMDIA’s CEO, Kennedy Hamutenya concludes that “we cannot and will not compromise on the safety of our people working in Eumbo and whilst it is an aesthetically appealing building it is also practically perhaps the safest building in town, with the latest state-of-the-art security features to protect both our greatest assets - our staff - and Namibia’s natural resources - diamonds.”
Eumbo has been completed with just the snag list being finalised and should be commissioned soon, whereafter we are looking forward to its official opening.
Usi Hoebeb Communications