Red Location Museum of Struggle
JOHN BLAIR ARCHITECTS: Architect
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ECIA Award for Architecture Citation
The Struggle museum is situated at the heart of Red Location, a historically significant site in the struggle for freedom during the apartheid years. The building was acknowledged as a rigorously worked through and well expressed product of strong conceptual ideas developed around notions of museum, apartheid/experiences during struggle times, and context.
Well constructed and detailed, the final product challenges museum typologies and presents an evocative spatial experience that perceptually communicates the conceptual notions outlined above without resorting to figurative reproductions of experience and pastiche, as is the common resort of many museums. This experience is communicated expressly through the architecture without reliance on the exhibition material for effect (the exhibition material was, it might be said, deemed rather dismal, thin and incomplete and obviously outside of the hands of the architect).
A catalytic project in the urban regeneration of the area, the building does much to contribute to the making of good urban space along its southern and eastern edges and suggests that the making of good architecture might be as much about the making of good urban space through the skillful handling of edges that frame space, as the making of iconic artefact. The building is already internationally acclaimed and the jury agrees with previous critiques of its merit.
Award of Merit Citation
The Struggle museum is a rigorous and well expressed product of strong conceptual ideas and context, executed with a firm sense of construction and detailing. It challenges museum as a typology and resolves in an evocative spatial experience that perceptually communicates the concept without resorting to figurative reproductions of experience and pastiche.
This the architecture communicates without reliance on the housed exhibition. As a catalytic project in the urban regeneration of the area, the project does much to contribute to the making of good urban space along its southern and eastern edges and suggests that the making of good architecture might be as much about the making of good urban space through the skilful handling of edges that frame space, as the making of iconic artefact. The building is already internationally acclaimed and is of proven merit.
Award of Excellence Citation
This project derives from a competition, one that has been successfully realised. It has thus passed through a prior process of peer review as paper architecture. While it may seem that there is an inevitability of such a project receiving high recognition when executed, this is not necessarily so. The path from conceptualisation to fruition is fraught with pitfalls. The architects have here, however, managed to maintain the strong underlying conceptual ideas through to the realisation of this in built form.
Red Location was the first settled black township of Port Elizabeth. It derives its name from a series of corrugated iron barrack buildings, which are rusted a deep red colour which were part of a Boer Concentration Camp in Uitenhage and moved in 1900 to Red Location where the first settled urban Black families settled. It became a site of struggle during the years of apartheid. Many prominent political and cultural leaders were either born or lived in Red Location.
It is designed to challenge conventional views of museum design. It draws on the work of Andreas Huyssen who das written extensively on the concept of memory and history. Visitors are not treated as consumers but active participants. The conventions of representing history as a single story are challenged through the design of the museum spaces. The past is represented as a set of memories that are disconnected yet bound together by themes.
The concept of the Memory Box is used to achieve these ends. These boxes are inspired by the boxes that migrant workers used to accommodate their prized possessions when separated from their rural families. These memory boxes were highly treasured.
The museum comprises a series of 12 unmarked, rusted boxes offering a set of different memories of struggle in South Africa. The boxes are housed in the main exhibition space and each box measures six metres by six metres, and 12 metres tall. The contents of the boxes are revealed only on entry - there is no sequence - the contents and themes of the boxes are juxtaposed - the experience in each box is a total one. The spaces between the boxes are spaces of reflection - what Huyssen calls the twilight of memory. The Museum also comprises an auditorium, library, art gallery, offices, a memorial space to commemorate the local heroes of the struggle and an adjoining tomb where Raymond Mhlaba and Goven Mbeki, national struggle heroes, are buried.
Red Location offers the opportunity to draw together the strands of struggle that mark the attempts by different groups in South Africa to free themselves. It is ironic that the activists of Red Location should occupy the same sets of spaces that their so-called enemy, the Boers, occupied as spaces of incarceration for their women and children in the concentration camps of the Boer War. South Africa is a country with a tumultuous history marked by the striving of various groups to be free. The lesson of the museum is that freedom should never come at the expense of any other group of people.
All truncated references not fully cited below are those of Joanna Walker's original text and cited in full in the 'Bibliography' entry of the Lexicon.
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