SGBCI's headquarters: The jewel in Abidjan's crown

In the autumn of 1965, Société Générale de Banques en Côte-d'Ivoire (SGBCI) inaugurated its new headquarters in Abidjan, an impressive architectural achievement combining functionality with art and symbols of that country.

SGBCI's headquarters in Abidjan

Following the wave of independence, Societe Generale began transforming its African networks into subsidiaries. On 23 November, 1962, it presided over the creation of Société Générale de Banques en Côte-d'Ivoire (SGBCI), in partnership with the Ivorian authorities and other financial partners. As soon as this new entity was in place, the Bank initiated an unprecedented real-estate project in the business district of Abidjan.

Its intention was to construct a head-office building enabling it not only to establish its presence within the urban fabric, but also to convey the image of a modern and prosperous institution. In association with Air Afrique, it set its sights on 1,500 square metres of land in the centre of the city, on the corner of Avenue Louis Barthe (now Joseph Anoma) and Rue Colomb, in the Plateau district. Construction took two years and involved up to three hundred workers from ten different trades. Designed in accordance with the blueprint drawn up by Henri Chomette, former Societe Generale group architect known for his achievements in Sub-Saharan Africa (notably in Ethiopia, Senegal and Burkina Faso), the building earned much admiration when it was inaugurated on 12 November, 1965 in the presence of Ivorian president Félix Houphouët-Boigny. Praised by the local press, it is one of the most beautiful real-estate complexes ever built by the Group.

Fifty metres wide, the building combines functionality with art and symbols of this country. With its sharp and clean lines, the exterior façade is naturally eye-catching. Great care was taken over the interior décor. The counters are arranged in a circle around a large hall whose high walls are topped with a magnificent 26-metre dome. Its beams converge on a reinforced-concrete circular ring forming a large central oculus. From the inside, the wooden frame that supports the dome is reminiscent of a fleet of dugout canoes gathered into a rosette. The ground is decorated in marble, whilst the walls are adorned with a motif in relief with bricks from the port town of Dabou. A spiral staircase, with star-shaped metalwork in the shape of rose leaves, climbs up to the first floor. The metal gate at the entrance is inspired by the Baoulé weights once used to weigh gold during ceremonies. On the mezzanine's banister are copies of leaves of the palm tree that is an emblem of Côte d'Ivoire. The functional aspect of the building hasn't been overlooked: the dome lets in natural light; air-cooling conduits provide excellent air conditioning. Offices, a data-processing workshop, printing works, a cafeteria and a car park are all available to staff. An idyllic setting in which SGBCI, the leading Ivorian bank for over half a century, can take much pride.

History

Societe Generale in Abidjan

The first sites in sub-Saharan Africa

In 1941, Societe Generale decided to move into Abidjan. In the midst of the Second World War, the Bank was no doubt looking for bases further afield and for new resources. It was probably also part of a more general globalisation trend.

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