ABIDJAN – Côte d’Ivoire’s economic capital is one of many overlooked cities in formerly-colonised Central and Sub-Saharan Africa that have hosted vibrant, experimental architecture since gaining independence. Lausanne-based firm Localarchitecture has recently contributed to Abidjan’s modernist offerings by updating a 1960s villa to host the new Swiss embassy. Once filed away in an upper storey of an office building in one of the city’s business districts, the embassy has now found a more idyllic retreat on a spacious, verdant plot acquired from the Norwegian ambassador.
The firm intended for its project to respect the site and its existing structure. Hence, the intervention involved extending the original volume towards the street to give it a more public presence. The villa’s roof now glides out over a new glazed section that houses the consular office, all resting on a hovering plinth from which a minimal triad of steps billow out towards the visitor. Trapezoidal pillars line the external void at irregular intervals, alternately slanting inward and outward. While incorporating Localarchitecture’s penchant for dynamic angular components, the façade is also meant to convey 'Switzerland’s strength and diversity', with the motion of the pillars functioning as a welcoming gesture in addition to providing stability.
The choice of materials aspires to similar diplomacy, remaining tied to its context with primarily local sourcing. Most notably, an interior wall that marks the point of exchange between staff and visitors interlaces different species of Ivorian wood with mirrors that reflect the surrounding gardens. It might just be among the more inviting places to sort through some red tape.