Architecture has the potential to artfully blend cultural identities with modern aesthetics, and this is true for the Botswana High Commission in Canberra. Designed by Guida Moseley Brown Architects, the building showcases the traditional art and craft of the country within a refined, celebrated architectural framework.
Sited in the Deakin diplomatic district of Canberra, the design of the Botswana High Commission is inspired by the building history of Botswana, a reflection of neo-classical public buildings of the British colonial era and traditional decorated huts of the Tswana people. Essentially, the building is comprised of three elements: a curved entry wall, an administration building and a ceremonial hall.
Marked by a distinctive freestanding curved wall, the building defines a strong frontage that celebrates the entry in an array of coloured glazed bricks inspired by the basket weaving patterns of Botswana. The exterior façade of the building itself is lined with bricks enclosing a concrete and steel-framed structure, with a ‘break’ of heightened glazing in between the masonry façade that defines the entry further, allowing daylight and visibility into the public space within.
Whilst modest in size, the architects have created an appropriate sense of procession and ceremony through a sequence of spaces from the entrance that leads to a sizeable ceremonial hall. Oval in plan, the hall conducts major cultural events and references organically formed traditional dwellings and meeting places of the Tswana people. Warm timber interiors and a sophisticated structure establish a formal atmosphere while creating a tactile sense of enclosure. The ceremonial hall stands as independent, opening to a garden formed by the wing of offices, planted with native Australian flora similar to those found in Botswana.
Designed with a clear, rational logic, the building’s organisation and planning strikes a clear delineation between public spaces and the suite of the secure secretariat and High Commissioner.
A small bridge links public spaces and offices on the first level, connecting visitors to the inner workings of the embassy without issues of security. Along the building’s street frontage, offices look out to show a sense of lively occupation to the people outside, while passages and common areas to the west overlook the garden and distant views.
The High Commissioner’s office itself is defined as a prominent, special place within the overall scheme. The room overlooks the landscaped garden and is accessed through a sequence of naturally-lit spaces for visitors awaiting appointment. Enclosed by a delicately curved glazed wall, the High Commissioner’s office and other circulation zones provide a distinctive character to the interior, shaping the garden outside while relating to the sweeping gesture of the ovaloid character of the hall.
In homage to the arts and crafts of Botswana, the building creatively integrates cultural design elements within the administration building’s interiors. Graphics, interior finishes and furnishings have been abstracted, translated or used rather directly to animate the life of Botswana. Photo murals and abstracted perforated stainless steel panels in the foyer represent animals symbolic to the country. An enlarged pattern of a zebra decoratively finishes the entry and foyer, while an oversized print of cheetahs within dense grasslands line the stairwell. The architects themselves took charge in designing large rugs with abstract patterning inspired by the Botswana landscape.
Guida Moseley Brown have successfully imbued the Botswana High Commission with readable references of traditional crafts and building forms of Botswana. The modest, yet resolute cultural interpretation has been one of thoughtful execution and integrated design over the entire project. The result is a building that speaks of its roots and its purpose, a fine showcase for Botswana to the wider embassy precinct.+
PHOTOGRAPHY John Gollings
1. The building’s offices and ceremonial hall encircle a courtyard of native Australian plants reminiscent of those found in Botswana. 2. The entrance and foyer is marked by enlarged zebra patterns printed on the wall. 3. A curved entry wall of coloured glazed bricks defines the building, inspired by Botswana’s traditional basket weaving patterns. 4. Timber interiors of the ceremonial hall create a formal atmosphere for major cultural events through its sophisticated structure. 5. An oversized print of cheetahs marks the stairway as part of the project’s use of graphics to reference various animals symbolic to the country.