Architecture as a Means of Upliftment in South Africa, post-apartheid

Topics: Building, Fire protection, House Pages: 8 (2441 words) Published: May 25, 2014
October 2011

Architecture as a Means of Upliftment in South Africa, post-apartheid


The end of Apartheid allowed for “new ways of describing public institutions” according to Jo Noero, in an interview for the Small Scale, Big Change exhibition. And as a result, architecture can be seen as a means of cultural upliftment 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. This essay will look to address this question, in an analysis and comparison of Jo Noero’s 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.


South Africa’s entire history is plagued with issues and tensions over ethnicity. This is evident all the way back to the early 1620s when the Dutch and English used the Cape as their stopover point, and began to colonise, forcing the native people (such as the San and Khoikoi) 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 1920s, 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 most 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 heart of it. It was here, in 1948, where much anti-apartheid political activity occurred. Much peaceful, non-violent protest happened, and it was here, in 1952 that a group of local ANC 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 township was too much of an important place for people in the northern suburbs to find labour. 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 ANC 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 would 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 centred on apartheid. The winner of the competition was the Cape Town based, Noero Wolff Architects. Their scheme...

References: Red Location
Findley, L (2005) Building Change: Architecture, Politics and Cultural Agency, London, Routledge
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