Contrasting Office Blocks

Education Building
Education Building

The old Ministry block in the foreground was built and designed by the British Administration’s Public Works Department in 1965. The contrasting, dominating giant block in the background was designed by Dalgleish Lindsay (Ian Marshall) in 2007.

For 81 years, the British administered the Protectorate from Mahikeng in South Africa. In 1963 it was agreed that the country would achieve Independence in September 1966 with its capital at Gaborone.   Within this three-year period, plans had to be drawn up and approved, and what was virtually a new town, created. At the time, the country was one of the poorest in the world, as we all know. Its annual budget was heavily subsidised by the British Government.

   When creating the new capital, the British were understandably keen to hold down costs but also concerned that the new prestige buildings should be attractive and to a degree imposing.  Arguably, they were noticeably successful.

The smaller of the two buildings shown in this photo was one of four identical two storey Ministerial office blocks.   The building is utilitarian but well-mannered, and low cost. Its dimensions are modest, the civil service then being extremely small, and it has no time for the grand entrance although this is given emphasis by an additional central storey. Its shielded windows are visible and friendly - unlike some of Gaborone’s prestige buildings such as the old SADC building whose exterior is chillingly cold, expressionless, characterless and totally dead. It is impossible for those passing by in cars or on foot to imagine that anyone has ever worked in that building or that people routinely enter and leave it.  The design of the building seems intended to make the startling statement that there is either no organisation which occupies it or that the one which currently does so, prefers to remain anonymous. In the circumstances, the building would seem ideal for an entity such as the Directorate of Intelligence and Security which prefers to be anonymous, but wholly inappropriate for others which, normally, wish to be visible and widely known. It is of more than usual interest to compare the two adjacent buildings in this photo. Their east-west alignment suggests that both architects were particularly conscious of Botswana’s harsh climate. The earlier building has partly recessed windows and air conditioners which would have been installed as a much later addition, occasional fans having earlier served that purpose.  The flat roof, however, comes as a surprising, unwise innovation.   The giant 11-storey building in the background reflects this country’s very changed economic circumstances and its hugely increased civil service. Great care was taken in the design to ameliorate solar radiation with tinted glazed sun protection screens to reduce glare and heat gain from the sun. As with the older 1960s office block, but unlike the old SADC building, the building, now occupied by the Ministry of Home Affairs, does have windows which open.  Without question, the building, with its twin, makes a major contribution to the city’s townscape and character.

Editor's Comment
Botswana needs proper rehabilitation centres

Our sister publication The Monitor earlier this week carried a story on serious human rights abuses being meted on people who have gone for rehabilitation at a boot camp in Kgatleng. Allegations cite verbal and physical abuses, children being stripped of their dignity and shaved in front of others. While the abuse came to light after a suicide incident of a 23-year-old, Botswana Institute for Reintegration and Rehabilitation of Offenders’...

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