Massimiliano Fuksas Architects has won the international design competition to design the first campus for The African Institute of Science and Techology (AIST) to be situated in Abuja, Nigeria. The budget for the campus is envisaged to be in the order of USD360 million, although design and construction will be phased over a number of years.
The AIST will ultimately comprise several science and technology higher education campuses and smaller affiliated centres of excellence located throughout Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). The AIST concept has been developed, nurtured and promoted by the Nelson Mandela Institution for Knowledge Building and the Advancement of Science and Technology in Sub-Saharan Africa (NMI). NMI and AIST is supported by the World Bank, African Development Bank, International Finance Corporation, and other world class financial and academic institutions.
Massimiliano Fuksas Architects beat off strong competition from a prestigious field of international practices. The other five teams to participate in the design phase of the project and present their schemes to the assessment panel were – Allies and Morrison Architects (UK); Office for Metropolitan Architecture (Netherlands); Rafael Vinoly Architects PC (USA); Saucier + Perrotte Architects (Canada); and SeARCH b.v. (Netherlands). The panel was impressed by the high level of architectural design shown in all submitted work and the imaginative variation of attitudes underlying masterplanning concepts.
The establishment of AIST will bring significant and tangible benefits to the economies and societies of Africa. Its top-flight scientists and engineers - grounded in business and industry and with skills in leadership, entrepreneurship and the humanities - will help drive Africa's development and contribute to solving the problems that afflict that continent. AIST will also lift Africa's existing education system. Its development will, through competition, force the improvement of its peers in higher education. As students strive for admission into its prestigious programmes, better secondary and, eventually, primary schools will also be demanded. AIST will also help stem the brain drain currently afflicting Africa. The institute will encourage students and faculty to remain on the continent by providing an excellent environment for study, research, and teaching. It will also foster "brain recirculation" by encouraging Africa's great diaspora to return, if only for short periods at a time, to their continent of birth. Finally, through its close cooperation with business and industry, AIST will help close Africa's existing skills gap by ensuring that the globally competitive human capital it produces is equipped with the capabilities employers demand.
The presentation by the winning team revealed the architect's serious personal commitment to Africa and the relaxed quality and modest plan expressed a generic character that members of the jury panel felt spoke meaningfully of Africa – in relation to its roots, but also with a sense of modernity. Massimiliano Fuksas quoted a Nelson Mandela text on the value and significance of education – a moving passage which, he proposed, would be carved into the stone paving of the Nelson Madela Square; an essential element of the water-landscaped open space.
Karl Voltaire, CEO, Nelson Mandela Institute, was delighted with the outcome of the international architectural competition and the appointment of Massimiliano Fuksas Architetto. "The process allowed AIST to be physically conceived by six of the world's best architects. It permitted us the luxury of being able to choose from these six. Two in particular stood out – that designed by Fuksas, of course, but also the design of Allies and Morrison. After extensive discussions with both, Fuksas was deemed to have the edge, but it was a difficult choice". He added "We are indebted to the work of all competing architects and thank them for their efforts. But we especially look forward to working with Massimiliano Fuksas and his team to develop a world-class institution of learning for a new generation of Africans."