From the Series
It has been said that over the next couple of decades around two billion people will migrate to cities. This is a figure that’s been predicted by the United Nations, and the ongoing exodus is generally highlighted as being the largest documented movement of urban-heading humans in recent history.
This metropolitan narrative has been inspiring those in the urban design sector for a long while now, with the spotlight on Africa still shining as brightly as ever for architects working across continents.
Back in 2000, award-wining architect Paolo Brescia set up the Open Building Research (OBR) practice along with Tommaso Principi and a group of friends who met while working for Pritzker Prize-winning architect and engineer Renzo Piano. The group’s vision was to shape their research by investigating new ways of contemporary living, and to create a design network between Milan, London, New York and beyond to Mumbai and Accra.
Much in tune with the global narrative of mass urban migrations, it is Ghana that has become the location for OBR’s largest urban project, HOPE City. Launched in 2013, HOPE is the buoyant tag for Home Office People Environment, a forthcoming technology park that currently exists in rendered form only. The project had initially started off in 2012 as an ICT enterprise following Brescia’s introduction to Roland Agambire, head of Ghana’s technology group, RLG Communications. However, the venture became far more ambitious as it was clear that what was being visualised was a multidimensional city, with all the nuanced uses and functions that this would entail.
With investment from RLG and support from the Ghanaian government, the design blueprint for HOPE City now features six circular clusters, each connected by link bridges on different floors allowing for movement between each building. Residential, retail, ICT, business, leisure and cultural life will all be part of a new West African burg that aims to create a projected 50,000 jobs, and to host 25,000 inhabitants.
Hope City will be part of an international circuit involving a wide commmunity of people who can physically interact at a large scale,” explains Brescia. “It’s not only a new technological hub, but also a new worldwide technological anchor”.
Located in Prampram, which is about an hour’s drive from central Accra, HOPE City will be directly connected with a new airport that will help offset the heavy number of flights to and from Accra’s main international Kotoko Airport. The new city’s design aesthetic may seem futuristic, but Brescia points out the fact that the inspirational references behind the layout and composition are the traditional compound houses seen in northern Ghana. “In this sense, HOPE City works as a cluster, where people can feel part of the same community, sharing common values in the same common spaces,” he says.
This cooperative ethos ties in with OBR’s desire to preserve the essence of a classic West African-landscape. Essentially, OBR is striving to create a public space with multifunctioning buildings, and although there has been some international speculation about the completion date – with 2016 being bandied about by some media outlets – Brescia expresses a general skepticism towards rigid time planning.
To be honest with you, I’ve learnt that the future is unpredictable. I believe in flexibility, which creates opportunities. Our approach provides a design that’s adjustable and allows for different layouts and phasing that’s adaptable to future changes.
The promoted images of HOPE City have also drawn attention to the fact that the largest tower – which will stand at 270 metres with 75 floors in total – will be the tallest building in Africa; higher than the Johannesburg’s Carlton Centre skyscraper and dwarfing Nigeria’s commercial NECOM House building in Lagos.
This is all very impressive, but these types of structural comparisons don’t hold much water for Brescia. “I’m not interested in supremacy,” he states. “I became fascinated with this project not because of its dimensions, but because it gives a great meaning to the city of Accra.”
The goal for Brescia and his team is to give back something to the community in terms of public space.
The central piazza with a central park is the heart of the project. The connected towers that surround it provide spaces with different functions from very public to semi-public, semi-private and very private living.
Naturally, HOPE City is a complex undertaking, and not purely because of the landscaping of a brand new panorama.
“As Italian architects working within the historical city and building on the built, we feel that we are standing on the shoulders of giants,” says Brescia. “When we were involved with HOPE City as an ICT centre, the risk was to create a campus where single buildings are dedicated to specific functions. When you speak about a city, you don’t speak about buildings; you speak about the life of the people living in that city. If you don’t create a polycentric urban system, the city will collapse. We learnt that from the mistakes with the suburbs. For this project, we want to create a place where people can meet and enjoy their interconnected lives.”