Since 1961, the Africa Centre in Covent Garden has served as a home base for the African Diasporic peoples of London. Serving as a nucleus for the black Londoner, the building has always served as a host for many programs intended to unite the African populations of Britain and provide an outlet to celebrate and preserve their culture. It has become an important landmark for Africans, allowing for people to convene for festive, political, business, academic, and social affairs in its 50 years of existence. After struggling for many years to secure a renewable source of funding, the Trustees have decided to sell their lease and seek a new location in Central London.
This decision sent a ripple across the Internet, with many of the British African Population speaking out in defense of the building that they held so dear. One blogger recounted the importance the Centre played in his family, calling the people he associated with through the Centre’s programming as an extension of his family. He gives a voice to those tied to that location at 38 King Street, giving a very visual description of the spaces the building housed. Other supporters have started a Save the Africa Centre Campaign, which is supported by many noted African and diasporic leaders asking the Trustee’s to reconsider their proposal to sell and secure a new space and instead to renovate the Centre.
At the center of this movement is an inspired renovation plan by world-renowned architect, David Adjaye. Adjaye currently heads his practice, Adjaye Associates, out of London, and has been pivotal for bringing attention to British design and architects of color. He is best known in the US for his participation in the design of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, due in 2015. The architect is of Ghanaian descent, and was raised in Tanzania and London. Adjaye’s designs are often influenced by African furniture, styles, and iconography. It’s only natural, he would step up with a design for one of the few places in London that celebrates Africa as a whole.
Adjaye’s £6 million renovation of the space envisions a brand new interior that includes galleries, a restaurant, and a new roof lounge. The current space is focused primarily on the ground floor, so the redesign plans to utilize all the floors of the building, expanding the program and square footage. The Save the Africa Centre Campaign and some notable donors have backed Adjaye’s design as a positive alternative to vacating the property. Hadeel Ibrahim, the Executive Director of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, worked with the Trustees to promise £3.6 million towards the project. In July, the Trustees granted a stay until next month to review other avenues, including Mr. Adjaye’s design before committing to sell the building.
I for one and supportive of their move towards a process that preserves the current space and includes more public participation. For the many supporters and user of the Centre’s spaces and programs, Adjaye’s proposal presents an opportunity to breath new life into the cultural center to continue to serve London’s African Diasporic Community for many more years to come. It will be interesting to see what the new face of Africa in the UK will look like.