By Nelly Gyebi
A few years ago, Airport City, the high-end commercial development located close to Accra’s Kotoka Airport, looked very different from what it is today. This transformation took place between 1996-97, during the Accra Redevelopment Scheme when the Ghana Airport Company Limited (GACL) began the Airport City Project. Airport City was planned to boost the commercial portfolio of GACL and improve the airport’s real estate. This once undeveloped area is now home to contemporary high-rise buildings, the Marina Mall, SSNIT Emporium, and Stanbic Heights.
The most eye catching of these is One Airport Square, a high-rise mixed commercial and office space structure. It is radically different from other contemporary high-rise structures in Accra, with a unique, modern design serves that exemplifies a new generation of mixed use commercial and office buildings in West Africa.
According to Contract Italiano, the building’s architect, the layout was configured as a public square suitable for various events, such as fairs, exhibitions, and other events together with commercial activities. The design aimed to accommodate initiatives such as these to bring the area to life by day and night. Currently, this does not seem to be the case. The building features cafes, a boutique, a Pan-Asian restaurant, a gym and an event center soon to be converted into a gym. However, the atmosphere in this environment is strictly controlled with tight security. In a typical public space, accessibility would not be a major problem, but it is here: It is uncomfortable when your every move is monitored, or you are told by security that you cannot sit anywhere.
I believe buildings should provide safety, comfort and warmth.For me, One Airport Square does not prompt these feelings. My first impressions of this building were that I was wowed by its difference from every building I’ve seen in the country but also in terms of its masculine appearance and the unnecessarily bulk. The building’s diagonal, zigzag patten columns give it a diamond-like appearance. I perceive the building as masculine because of its traditional attributes – being bold, straight, lacking in curves, sharp edges and lack of colour. I often associate a building’s bright colors with warmth. The building also didn’t look user friendly for persons with disabilities from afar, however, on closer inspection, I learned that the building has been designed with accessible washrooms.
When I entered One Airport Square, I didn’t feel the building was a safe place. This could be because of my fear of glass, one of the main materials used in this structure, and the lack of rails at the balcony at the building’s various levels. While the structure features numerous windows, they can’t be opened. For me, these features restricted my movement around the building and made it unfriendly to me as a user.
While a few individuals that I consulted considered the building to be beautiful, one male respondent claimed that the building was not “woman-friendly”. When I attended a conference at One Airport Square in the past, a group of women I was with chose to go to the Marina Mall down the street to buy snacks, despite the fact that One Airport Square had two snack bars. I remember that the look of the building convinced them that the cafes at One Airport Square would be expensive.
Why and for whom was One Airport Square designed? It seems that it is aimed at affluent local and international customers. A number of non-Ghanaians own and operate office and commercial spaces in the building, and upper-class Ghanaians are part of the building’s clientele. I imagine that only a limited number of Ghanaians workers can stop in with their laptops or personal organisers and can afford the morning coffees at the building’s eateries with wifi facilities. The cars parked in front also suggest an affluent expatriate and Ghanaian clientele. The building’s location and the expensive commercial institutions in the immediate area do not endear the building to local Ghanaians, few of whom could afford to patronize these businesses and services.
My experience of One Airport Square leaves me with more questions: How do people within this space interact and understand with it? Who was the building really designed for? Finally and most importantly, have the social aims and objectives of this project really been achieved?