It might not be quite in the mould of the Empire State Building in New York or the Gherkin in London, but the majestic Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe building has no less prominence on Harare’s skyline.
Designed by architects Clinton and Evans and constructed by Costain (Africa) Limited, the key features of the building are based on characteristics of other established central banks such as the Dutch Bundesbank in Federal Republic of Germany, the Swiss National Bank and the Bank of Hong Kong: security, a friendly environment and accessibility.
For inspiration, the architects looked to the local environment for a design that would capture the role of the Reserve Bank as the custodian and administrator of the nation’s financial wealth. The traditional grain silo, or hozi as it is known in Shona, sandanga and ispala in Ndebele, was chosen as an appropriate symbol, a symbol easily identifiable by Zimbabweans.
A carved frieze at ground level depicts various economic activities such as the growing of crops, harvesting and storage of people’s surplus grain, and mining – all in a pictorial progression towards the main entrance of the building. The artwork, as well as the bronze casting of Mbuya Nehanda and the Zimbabwe bird, which dominate the entrance to the bank, was executed by David Mutasa of the Art Village.
Designed for optimum space utilisation and future growth, the building meets the existing and future space requirements of the Bank. The complex, split into three visible distinct sections, is made up the Tower block, the Podium block and the Services building. The podium block houses vaults, currency handling areas, offices, plant rooms, conference and auditorium facilities, a library and museum, the banking hall, a waterfall fountain, atrium and scenic lifts. The tower comprises 12 typical floors of open office space and four executive levels.
The basement excavation of 18.7 metres was the deepest ever constructed in Zimbabwe for a high-rise structure. The Reserve Bank superstructure at 120 metres above ground level is also the tallest building in Zimbabwe.
The main building covers an area of 42,000 square metres plus 11,700 square metres taken up by the services building which offers covered car parking, workshops, diesel stand-by generators and other amenities.
The construction of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Headquarters complex began in 1989 and was completed in April 1996. The Bank itself was initially located in what was Vincent Building, now the Mapondera building, in 1954, the building which now houses the High Court of Zimbabwe. In 1957 the Bank moved to 76 Samora Machel Avenue.
If you find yourself downtown, don’t forget to look up if you’re walking along Samora Machel. It’s a sight worth seeing.
Photo: Graham van de Ruit