Located in Pretoria, South Africa, DIRCO: Department of International Relations and Cooperation was designed by TC Design Architects. The architectural output specifications of this Public Private Partnership (PPP) competition were focussed around the creation of a building which emphasised unity, openness and friendliness to the visitor. It was to be a uniquely South African building in which the themes of Africa and the African Renaissance came through. It was also important to create a building which would showcase the Department of Foreign Affairs as the gateway to South Africa, whilst also portraying an environment of justice, equity and democracy.
The intention was for the building to tell a story. In rural Africa, decorative blankets are used to adorn emissaries bearing traditional gifts. The symbolism of the blanket and veil run deep through African culture. Blankets, veils and other coverings form part of many cultures’ rituals for young men and women as they enter adulthood; they are used in initiation and marriage ceremonies, and as part of the celebration of childbirth; older people indicate their status and roots through the layering of over-garments. These coverings take on a wealth of form, texture and colour.
In the same way that fabric at some point may become clothing, structure may become enclosure. The ‘blanket’ that protects is mimicked by the enveloping structure which functions as an environmental ‘veil’ for the building. The initial concept for the north facade allowed for the ‘veil’ to be closed to shield the buildings beneath from aspects of the environment, or open to expose the facades to the benefits of winter radiation. Like the form of the skeletal structure itself, the function is reptilian in nature.
The pervading external and internal use of the simple precast concrete ash block, fixes the building in a language of materials as used in low income housing. The imposing overall scale and individual building elements are juxtaposed and tempered by these humble blocks.