At the heart of our proposal for the LSE Firoz Lalji Global Hub and Institute for Africa is the Agora. A 300 seat elliptical gathering space for debate, lectures, performances and events occupying the ground floor. A new type of civic auditorium, the Agora represents the highest spatial and technical caliber. The space was designed in collaboration with Alison Brooks Architects and in consultation with AKTII (Structural Engineers), Skelly & Couch (Environmental Engineers), Charcoalblue (Theatre and Acoustics) and others. Studio Contra and ABA were among six finalists chosen to prepare a design from almost 200 international submissions of expressions of interest.
The formal language of the Agora is a delicate synthesis of plan and sectional dynamics. The plan is primarily derived from references to traditional sub-Saharan African vernacular architectures (such as those of the Musgum and Tamberma peoples of West Africa, among others) which use circular modules in clusters and chains to form communities and homesteads. Here, these circles are arrayed to inscribe an elliptical space within which gently descending rows of seating are arranged. Between the circles are vertical structural fins which become primary beams radiating towards the center. Secondary curved beams (two of which define a path for the heavy acoustic curtains which subdivide the space) intersect with the primary beams and, together with these, form a lattice which allows the Agora to act as a transfer structure, mediating loads from the upper stories of the building down to ground and basement levels.
The Agora is clearly visible from the street as a legible object. Within the building it is highly transparent and inviting; glass doors between the concrete fins enable the space to be fully opened up and allow light and views across the ground floor lobby from Portugal Street to Lincoln's Inn Field. In addition, the concrete ribbing terminates in a circular oculus which emerges into the upper courtyard and funnels natural light into the center of the auditorium. The space is capable also of being sealed visually and acoustically with perimeter heavy silk curtains wrapping the entire structure when required.