Architecture as a Means of Fulfillment in South Africa, post-apartheid Introduction The end of Apartheid allowed for “new ways of describing public institutions” according to Joy Nero, in an interview for the Small Scale, Big Change exhibition. And as a result, architecture can be seen as a means of cultural fulfillment in post- apartheid South Africa. So the question is, how does architecture affect social change and identity in this country? This a two-fold question.Order now
This essay will look to address this question, in an analysis and comparison of Joy Onerous Red Location Museum in Port Elizabeth, and the Alexandra Heritage Centre in Johannesburg. We will start with a brief history of apartheid, and the sites, to put the buildings into context. Followed by a look at the purposes and concepts of the afore mentioned buildings. From there, we will address the structure and materials and go into an analysis and comparison of the buildings, ending off with the buildings in the present day.
History South Africans entire history is plagued with issues and tensions over ethnicity. This is evident all the way back to the early asses when the Dutch and English used the Cape as their stopover point, and began to colonies, forcing the native people (such as the San and Koki) from their homes, and claimed the land for themselves. Battling for land and ownership between the Dutch and the English went on for many, many years, resulting in events such as the Boer War. In 1910, South Africa became a member of the British Commonwealth, with both parties sharing power.
By the asses, the Nationalist Party grew in strength resulting in them finally coming into power, and the start of apartheid in 1948. Apartheid resulted in many things, but the cost important factor was that of segregation of races, and classification. Different races were given different social areas, occupations and areas to live. The years to follow were full of unhappiness, and protest- both peaceful and not. Jumping ahead to 1990, we see the beginning of change- laws lifted, and constitutions redrawn.
In 1994, South Africa saw the election of their first black president and the legal end to apartheid. New Brighton, Port Elizabeth is one of the oldest black townships in South Africa, with the Red Location- so named after the old red corrugated barracks there- being the EAI o t. It was here, in 1 , where much anti-apartheid political activity occurred. Much peaceful, non-violent protest happened, and it was here, in 1952 that a group of local NC members marched through the “Europeans Only’ entrance at the New Brighton Train Station. This was the start of many more acts of defiance.
After forty- six years, apartheid ended, and the Red Location was chosen to be a site where history and the location itself, would be preserved. Alexandra Township, in Johannesburg was named a township in 1912. It was one of the few townships that was not demolished as a result of the Group Areas Act- the nonstop was too much of an important place for people in the northern suburbs to find labor. However, the government found that Alex was over-populated, and so sought to forcedly remove people. This led to many boycotts and protests in the area.
Alex is an important part of the apartheid history, as important NC members lived there at one time or another- such as Nelson Mandela. Alexandra Township today is a bustling and vibrant area, with an ongoing project to develop and preserve it. Purpose and Concept In 1998, a national competition was held to design a precinct in the Red Location that loud bring tourists into the area firstly, as well as to preserve the history of the area. It was to include new housing, a library, art centre, gallery and market hall, a conference centre, and obviously, the centre piece- a museum centered on apartheid.
The winner of the competition was the Cape Town based, Nero Wolff Architects. Their scheme would formalize a public space- something that was lacking in Red Location. This “plaza” would be at the centre of the precinct- the intersection between the two roads created in the design. As well as this, there were a few factors hat put it above the other entries: firstly, great care and thought was put into the scale of the design- not only does it blend in with the industrial buildings in the area, but it is considerate of the scale of the township itself.
The second point is its aesthetic- the language is straightforward, and the buildings celebrate the ordinary materials- like concrete and corrugated iron. This overall scheme does however, have a slight industrial feel to it- which is deliberate in tying the building into its site. And the last thing was that the building had a unique approach to preserving the history, ND crating whatever exhibits it would house- all of which creates a memory revolving around the struggle for freedom, rather than apartheid itself.
In 2001 , the Alexandra Tourism Development Project (ADAPT) was founded, by the Sautéing Tourism Authority, in the hopes to develop a number of tourism facilities and infrastructure with emphasis on the heritage of the area, and to bring in tourism. Time, effort and money were also put into upgrading the housing in the area- and this has been a hugely successful project, major improving the lives of the people that live there.
And this was a big stimulant when it came to the Heritage Centre- it “must serve primarily as a resource for the community – they must be conceived of as essential and integral parts of the urban and social fabric of Alexandra – rather than simply as an attraction for visitors”. Anyone Duggan, project manager ADAPT, Alex, as told by its residents, September 2 ) And this is delicately something that Peter Rich took into account, in his design- which we will discuss later. The Alexandra Heritage Site serves mainly as a venue space- where meetings, exhibitions and classes can be held.
There will also be a permanent exhibition, showing the history, and stories of the area, as well as artworks and photographs. But according to Peter Rich, the most important feature is that it is a place where the older generations can tell their stories and record their memories. (Interview in Coney, online magazine, 2011-1) Structure, Materials and the Building Process For the purpose of this essay, I will focus mainly on the Museum itself, rather than the entire Museum of Struggle Precinct.
In the Red Location Museum, the building itself only serves to house and protect the exhibits- the twelve corrugated “memory exes” (more later) hold all the significance and meaning. The building is designed to evoke little emotion, which goes to strengthen ones experience of the interior. This building is an example of a massive concrete structure- built from pre-cast concrete elements, and in-situ elements, such as the columns- which bring a sense of permanence to the building. Other than its sheer volume, perhaps the most important structural feature is the roof.
For their initial design, Nero Wolff looked to anti-apartheid protest art for clues. In the painting shown, the three seminal building hypes are evident:, the double story school building, the “box-house” and the saw- tooth roofed factory. The saw-tooth is an image strongly associated with the factory, and during the times of apartheid, the factory was associated with civic virtue, as it was the trade unions that helped shape the internal struggle for freedom. Civic buildings at that time were also images of apartheid, so Nero Wolff wanted to create a distinction.
So the Museum was designed with a saw-tooth roof- which also offered good lighting and ventilation opportunities. The Alexandra Heritage Centre primarily used red steel girders, brick and poly- reprobate sheeting, giving it a lighter appearance than the Museum- especially because it also bridges across the road, which creates an observation deck overlooking the township. Peter Rich describes it as having an “ad-hoc aesthetic” (Interview in Coney, online magazine, 2011-1) which is influenced by the surrounding without being patronizing.
It has a civic feel, but still blends into the township- much like the Red Location. Peter Rich also sort ideas out from the people- he spent a great deal of time observing daily routines and such of the area, and used this to influence the design. Both buildings used local labor. Alex not only used local labor in the construction, but also in the smaller details, like the glasswork in the windows. The Red Location used 50% local labor, and every three months, new people were brought in- trained and put to work. This offered much in the line of employment.
Analysis and Comparison The Alexandra Heritage Centre NAS three levels, Witt entry to the upper level space, which houses a library and the exhibition space and offers views of the surrounding houses. The building has many opportunities for transparency- from the entrance, oh can observe below into the public spaces, outside next to the road and in the interior, the planes are interlinking. There are also ambiguous internal spaces- this allows for great flexibility in purpose- they were designed to be able to house political as well as social events. Another dimension is added, under the bridge- this space is now redefined as street.
Because of the polycarbonate sheeting and glasswork, the building gets good daylight- which is important if the space is to be utilized for workshops and such. As one enters the Red Location Museum, one is brought from the large sweeping errand, to the entrance hall- which takes you from the informal exterior to formal interior, with its large volume. The entrance hall serves as a transition space. The entrance also houses the auditorium, which can be accessed from both sides. From here, the movement is directed via a row of tall concrete columns which are the first display- the “walk of heroes”.
These bring you into the main exhibition space- which is initially concealed- this was deliberate, to bring in a sense of “mysteriousness”. The main exhibition space houses twelve towering rusted corrugated structures- the memory boxes” which relate back to the actual memory boxes which were treasured items during apartheid. Through these boxes, the exhibitions could be curates through themes. Each box is different on the inside, housing an exhibit. The memory box, is supposed to represent history, while outside of the museum is the present.
The space inebriate- the twilight zone- is the transitional space, where past is lost to present. And it is in this space, which one moves around in the museum- choosing your own path and therefore creating your own understanding and story. This is achieved through a deliberate lack of hierarchy- the boxes are placed in a grid. The townships share similar histories, so it is only natural that any public buildings within them would have similarities. The obvious difference is their function, but other than that, these buildings share similar approaches, labor strategies, reasons for materiality.
But the biggest similarity is that they both have a positive impact on their locations, and are strong beacons towards a better future and a new identity. The Buildings in Present Day The Alexandra Heritage Centre, after many years of delays and budget problems, is ear to completion. Of course, projects to uplift and rejuvenate the area are still on going. Tours are given of Alexandra regularly (called shoo’ left(s)) which include visits to Mandela’s Yard and the Heritage Centre. From the limited resources available, it is evident that the community think this building is a huge success- which is the most important opinion.
It will take a few years, and more rejuvenation of the area, to bring in the amount of tourism that the ADAPT hope to bring in, however. The Location is still an ongoing project. Some to the housing is complete as well as he museum. Currently, the next phases- the art gallery and the library/archive are completed- with minor interior issues still to be resolved- these are not open to the public yet. Future plans for the site include more, higher density housing, and an arts school- which will include a theatre which can bring in more involvement from the community.
The precinct is very successful- it brings in tourist attention, the community love it and make use of it on a daily basis. On a larger scale, the Museum does much to rejuvenate South Africa, in post-apartheid times. Conclusion When asked, how does architecture affect social change and identity in this country, one needs to look at why it is necessary to uplift the community and why perhaps, is change needed. It is evident that huge change was required after apartheid to begin to heal this country, and one of the biggest tools the apartheid government had to control people, was space.
Through the two public buildings that were compared, we can see how this country, through architecture, has begun to correct itself. These buildings are not patronizing to anyone- not any race or class- and aside from their obvious functions, they bring about new change and identity to their respective communities. We can successfully reach this conclusion now, as we know the background and context, and are well acquainted with the buildings through an understanding of structure, materials, purpose and concept.
As with most things, change is ongoing, and the Red Location Precinct and Alexandra Heritage Centre are testament to this. As a young architect in South Africa, it is clear to me, that to create successful public buildings, a good understanding of the surrounding context, immunity and history is obvious, as well as an understanding that the architects role is to create spaces- and that space can have a huge affect on people, and that it is our duty to shape this space as best to assist the community as possible.