Saturday, February 25, 2012

Ministry of Health in Congo Town: Completed after Nearly a Quarter-Century (by CNQC)


Images from the M2M Architectural Tour.
©2008-2009 Moved 2 Monrovia

The Moved 2 Monrovia Architectural Tour's 2nd structure is the Ministry of Health building in Congo Town, which during the original slideshow was assembled was a ruin. The Doe-era complex was never completed and was then occupied by squatters, (with the window openings covered in reed mats), who were later evicted.

The Ministry in November 2010:
painted white and cleared of refugees, but otherwise untended.

The building has long been one of several monumental Monrovian edifices that might be characterized as "once and future" --whose construction was abandoned as the country deteriorated, and now joins the ranks of several large buildings finished out over the last several months. The complex was handed over to the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare a month ago, somewhere around 25 years after its construction commenced, in a typically grand ceremony with President Sirleaf as the keynote addressor.

The near-complete Ministry, November 2011. Image Courtesy TLCAfrica

Also a guest of honor was the Ambassador of the People's Republic of China to Liberia, as the financing of the reconstruction project was a gift from the Chinese government to Liberia. The construction work, although coordinated by the Ministry of Public Works, was undertaken by the Qingjian Group (part of the massive and decades-old CNQC) which has won a number of construction contracts here in Monrovia (and is not the only Chinese construction company in operation here), including the Royal Hotel and the new Chinese Embassy nearby on the Congo Town Back Road.
The Ministry in December, as CNQC was completing its work.
Note the Chinese characters on the zinc sheets at the far lower left of the bottom photo.
©2011 Moved 2 Monrovia.

Architecturally speaking, the never-til-now-completed structure did not change radically during is makeover. Looking much more like a hospital or perhaps a motor inn than a government ministry, the building's several unique elements remain intact, including the rounded stairwell tower at its eastern end. This, combined with a set of giant porthole windows at its sides, presents a nautical face, like the prow of an early ocean liner, to motorists entering Congo Town from Paynesville. The elongated body of the main hall, flanked with long overhanging eaves like the balconies of passenger decks, are the distinct characteristics of a cruise ship.

The front entrance, near the opposite end of the building, still recalls the golden era of leisure travel, but land journeys by motorcar instead of sea crossings. Like a roaside Howard Johnson's, an oversized porte-cochere, strangely squared-off, is more of a type of an emergency room entrance or a hotel lobby than a government office. This, along with a small wing at the northwesterly corner of the building, are topped with flared, pagoda-like roofs (although the concrete cube almost completely covers the roofline of the entryway).

The history of these curious elements is a bit confused, and while I have to slide into anecdote to recount what seems to be the background, let the photographic evidence above keep the record clear, that the ("mainland") Chinese diplomats and contractors met this dilapidated pile with this oriental embellishment existent. However, the Far Eastern architectural flourishes seemed to have been themselves introduced by the other China: I have been told that the building commenced under Taiwanese assistance, which was then was halted when the Government of Liberia switched recognition to the People's Republic.

I have no confirmation of this, though, or any information as to whether the celestial ceiling was an intentional detail to recall the building's Asian origins, but see the comments of this FrontPage Africa story which mentions some of this history. Interesting to consider that the governments of Taipei and Beijing collaborated, several decades apart, to give the Government of Liberia a new ministry.

The approach from ELWA junction on the Boulevard.
©2012 Moved 2 Monrovia

Aside from its peach-and-pink paint job, which makes the building look spiffy and somewhat feminine, the only major addition the complex is its most controversial: the property is now surrounded by a high concrete wall, topped by barbed wire, which many residents of the city see as unfitting for a government building which should be open to the public. Overall, the building's pristine fa├žade contrasts negatively with the worn and under-stocked hospitals throughout Liberia, as it is not an ideal architectural metaphor to have a Ministry of Health looking better than the pubic health facilities that it is charged with administering.

A view past the gate and barbed-wire-topped concrete wall.
©2012 Moved 2 Monrovia

Incidentally, during the hand-over ceremony it was announced that the Chinese government would offer to build a US$50m ministerial complex for the Liberian government. So that would presumably include more work for CQNC and other Chinese construction companies in Liberia.

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