Netherlands Embassy in Mozambique – Description from KAAN Architecten.
The embassy stands on the outskirts of the city centre of the country’s capital, Maputo, in a street named Kwame Nkrumah, Ghanaian president and champion of pan-Africanism.
The embassy is a concrete building with an L-shaped plan. The short arm of the ‘L’ consists of a wall in front of which is a verandah that continues in front of the long section of the ‘L’. It is this longer wing that contains the embassy proper which looks out over a garden designed by Michael van Gessel. The garden is enclosed on two sides by the building and on the other two sides by a high wooden fence.
The embassy is rationally organized. The entrance is situated at the point where the two arms of the ‘L’ meet. It is a cool, double-height space. A large opening in the roof is covered with canvas which serves to keep the sun out while allowing the breeze to penetrate. Behind the entrance the embassy is made up of three zones:
- Directly behind the predominantly closed north elevation is a circulation zone containing two double wooden stairs, one behind the other, which undulate through the space. The double height lends this section of the embassy a monumental expressivity that is surprising in such a relatively small building.
- Both the ground and first floors of the middle zone contain special functions such as a library, conference rooms and registry together with all the building services.
- The cool south side consists of two floors of transparent offices.
Parking is at basement level, partly beneath and partly behind the building.
Despite the fact that the embassy differs from all other buildings in Maputo, the architecture blends easily with the urban landscape. There are a number of reasons for this:
- materials common in Maputo have been used (concrete for the facades, indigenous wood for the fence, sections of the facades and for large areas of the interior),
- architectural exuberance has been eschewed,
- and the garden has been planted with Royal poincianas (Delonix regia), a tree that can be found all over the city. The poincianas reinforce the sense that the building has been spatially absorbed by the city.
The gaps between the slats of the wooden fence allow passers-by a glimpse of the garden and of the transparent facade behind. Together with the large hole in the west elevation and the opening in the roof of the verandah for the flagpole, the open fencing underscores the fact that, notwithstanding the usual rigorous security measures, the embassy does not shut itself away from the city.
The embassy commission was in many respects an ordinary Dutch building project. The client was the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the users are the Dutch ambassador and the embassy personnel. Legally speaking the embassy stands on Dutch soil; Dutch building and health and safety regulations therefore applied with the result that every work space had to meet the same requirements as work spaces in the Netherlands (the use of double glass, for example, was obligatory). Yet the architecture exhibits no typically Dutch characteristics, even though the embassy is the representation of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. At most the transparency of the wooden fence and the glass facade could be seen as symbolic of the proverbial openness on which the Dutch pride themselves.