Notes from Kumasi Part 3
At the KNUST campus the library and Great Hall complex work very well within their elevated landscape setting. The Gerlach and Gillies-Reyburn’s muscular grey abstract ‘kente’ cloth brutalist hall and library extension is arranged in a ‘quad’. The complex overlooks the campus, facing a formal axis that leads to the administrative and teaching blocks. The composition is completed on its south flank by an architectural gem, which we discovered is the original KNUST library block. Is this James Cubitt’s riposte to Fry and Drew’s Ibadan Library?
The ‘old’ KNUST library presents an essay in tropical architectural design. Still sitting on its cast, fluted piloti this four storey structure employs screen walling, operable louver windows, and shading devices to both demonstrate and celebrate the possibilities of creating a successful architectural resolution to the needs of passive design. Its forlorn main entrance, clad in travertine, and superseded by the Gerlach and Gillies-Reyburn entrance to the East, shows the quality of materials employed in specific areas of its design.
Inside, much of the Library building seems frozen in time. Reading carrels lie empty whilst the daylight filled reading spaces, with custom built, empty journal shelves have few readers, and ageing academic book collections. The e-resource room however has been kitted out with desktop computers and seems to be the most used student space in the building. A second “IT” floor was being planned, and the new desktop computers were just being commissioned, in spaces flooded with artificial light, closed to the exterior with floor to ceiling fabric curtains – only this space in the building needed fans for cooling. Meanwhile the offices at the top floor with their no longer used spiral staircase took one to another world of naturally cross ventilated office space, and custom designed insect screens – demonstrating that climate responsive design in the tropics still works. One hopes its on-going transformation doesn’t forget this idea.