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The Africa Centre appoints Freehaus to lead transformation

The Africa Centre (right) and Freehaus teams outside The Africa Centre, Southwark

THE AFRICA Centre has announced that it has appointed London-based architects Freehaus to lead the design team responsible for the transformation of its Southwark home.

Founded in 2012, and led by Jonathan Hagos and Tom Bell, Freehaus were unanimously selected ahead of a number of practices shortlisted through an open competition.

Architects tendering for the project were invited to develop a bold and creative design concept that embraces the aesthetic and cultural diversity of the African continent and its diaspora and reflects a contemporary pan-African vision, as well as underpinning The Africa Centre’s central aim to become the most welcoming cultural space in London.

Freehaus’ vision for The Africa Centre considers the ‘ambassadorial role’ the organisation can play in celebrating Pan-African culture on the global stage. Focusing on the essential elements that connect and bind the continent rather than on strict representation, this sees the Centre serves as a forum for ideas, a platform for exchange, and an embassy of optimism.

The judging panel was impressed with the intelligence and sensitivity of the design concept, which has been created with consideration to typographies, traditions, rituals through shared and sacred spaces. Central to this vision is the communal role of food as the route via which the diversity of the continent and the diaspora can be expressed and explored with visitors.

The team will now work closely with The Africa Centre to develop the building design, which will be informed by a series of public conversations and events. On Wednesday, 18 September as part of the London Design Festival, Kenneth Olumuyiwa Tharp CBE, director of The Africa Centre, and Freehaus director Jonathan Hagos ARB RIBA will discuss the challenges and opportunities in developing a landmark building in Southwark.

The project, which is supported through the Mayor of London’s Good Growth Fund, will transform the building, known as Gunpowder House, into a café, bar and terrace with a strong Pan-African flavour, an art gallery, a learning and research centre as well as meeting rooms and a broadcast suite.

Kenneth Olumuyiwa Tharp CBE, Director of The Africa Centre, says: “We are delighted to be working with Freehaus on this exciting chapter in the story of The Africa Centre. Their vision was bold, intelligent and rooted in our identity and purpose as an organisation, putting the people who will engage with us, and how we will connect with them at the heart of their vision.

"Their sensitive understanding of both the heritage and future of The Africa Centre was evident throughout, as was their understanding of how we will exist as an organisation in these newly-developed spaces, not only through how the spaces look and feel, but also crucially, in the way that people will inhabit them.”

Following the move from its historic Covent Garden location to its new home in Southwark, this capital project comes at a pivotal moment of development for The Africa Centre, with a new permanent Director, a new team and new Trustees.

Oliver Tunde Andrews, Chair, The Africa Centre, comments: “We are delighted to be teaming up with Freehaus in order to realise our bold Pan African vision for the new Africa Centre in the cultural heart of London. It was important to the Board to appoint an architect who could draw directly upon their African heritage and experience in order to achieve that ambition. We are looking forward to working with Jonathan Hagos and his team, and all of our Africa Centre community and stakeholders to bring our dream to fruition.”

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