Thursday, June 19, 2014

Building of the Month: NASSCORP Multi-Purpose Complex

 ©Matthew Jones

Although the NASSCORP Building has been featured on the M2M Architectural Tour for many years, as it has been under construction since April 2009 (and thus almost as long as I have been going to Monrovia), it made the front pages this month as the technicolor behemoth was officially opened by President Sirleaf just two weeks ago, over five years after groundbreaking. Although construction does take a much slower pace in the developing world, it is still astonishing just how slow the progress can be.

 ©Matthew Jones

Not to repeat too heavily on what I've already written on the Architectural Tour about the landmark building, I just want to emphasize that this tremendous and unusual building has a warm spot in my heart for several reasons. Firstly, the architect, Sylvanus O'Connor, is someone I consider to be a personal friend, having worked with him professionally during my first stint in Liberia in 2008-2009, when the NASSCORP building had only just taken shape on the drawing boards of O'Connor's firm, AEP Consultants, which is located on Front Street in Monrovia.

An early computer rendering. 
Most of the major elements remained intact throughout construction.

Sylvanus is a talented and increasingly prolific designer. NASSCORP embodies much of what is prominent in O'Connor's singular style: the ebullience of its arrangements, and the flamboyance of its post-modern costuming. Like O'Connor's earlier landmark, the LBDI headquarters at 9th Street and Tubman Boulevard, the NASSCORP employs semi-classical elements but articulates a thoroughly contemporary form and finish.

Reposted from the excellent Liberian journalist blog from
his article about the dedication.

These gestures are only more pronounced in the NASSCORP, which is a larger building, much more prominently situated on one of Liberia's most important road crossings, ELWA Junction. It could only be unmissable if it was another standard commercial building seen thrown up in this city: hulking, heavy, and hardly windowed.  Instead, it literally glistens in a bold employment of multi-colored Alubond panels, which sparkle in a rainbow of fluorescence not unlike the oil-slicked puddles arrayed on the road out front. The effect is luminous, and a still-rare but increasingly-common option to present a shimmering, glass-covered façade more like a curtain-wall of an office tower than another darkened edifice of crude cement.

The candyland effect of all this color greatly softens the substantial dimensions of the structure, which is further assisted by three major formal gestures: a pair of bulbous round turrets, bridged by a soaring lobby space, which together form the tower section of the complex, and a concave curtain which connects to a thin, missile-like clock tower, all planted on a colonnaded base meeting the street, providing a transformationally urban front to what is, after all, one the country's primary traffic crossings.

Nasscorp Building in early construction, March 2010 ©Matthew Jones

This setting is a chief reason to celebrate the complex. Monrovia, stretched out over a ten-mile-long peninsula, suffers desperately from traffic congestion, as thousands of workers drive from the expansive eastern suburbs into the Central business district daily, at the western end of the Mesurado landmass. The ELWA section of Paynesville, already the gateway to Tubman Boulevard, would be a natural second commercial center for the metropolitan area. This building is the most significant step toward formally establishing that as a planning goal to date.

©Matthew Jones

Remarkable as the architecture is, its significance is not limited to the design. That a government agency raised the $11 million in project funds from its own reserves, and used almost exclusively Liberian firms, for a commercial project that aims to safeguard public pension funds, is itself remarkable.  Quoting from the remarks of NASSCORP director van Ballmoos during the dedication ceremony:

This edifice is symbolic not only because of the potential to generate revenue; not because of its attractiveness and picturesque appearance from any section of Paynesville; not only because it transforms the landscape of the city; not because of its magnificence or its towering façade over other businesses in the area, but because it signals another achievement in the reconstruction and development of the nation.

Regardless of the appeal of its appearance, few buildings have the visual, commercial, spatial, social, political, and patriotic impact of the NASSCORP building, and for those reasons, it deserves note, respect, and even acclaim.

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