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Donkin Tower Sculpture - 'Make Your Mark'
Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth), Eastern Cape


Client:Nelson Mandela Bay Development Agency


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33°57'42.78" S 25°37'17.93" E

This is a competition winning entry to a Public Arts open Competition for a site on Chapel Street, Port Elizabeth. The site is at an entrance to the Donkin Reserve, a well-known public open space in the centre of Port Elizabeth and alongside the Port Elizabeth Opera House. This entrance to the Donkin Reserve is at its lower section and is at the beginning of a pedestrian route (known as the Voter's Line) that makes its way up the hill. This art piece is part of the 'Route 67' public art route initiated by the Mandela Bay Development Agency (MDBA). This Route 67 is a significant and important inner city intervention by the MBDA and funded by the National Lottery Distribution Fund (NLDF), launched in 2009 and involves 67 public art pieces strategically placed on a route through the historic centre of the NMBM. This initiative, managed by the Trinity Session who have managed the implementation of a significant amount of Public Art in other centres, has collected works of the provinces' most prominent artists as well as developing the skills of artist collectives and students (such as those of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University). It is intended that this initiative to celebrate the 67 years of public life of Nelson Mandela becomes an important part of the inner city, becomes a driver for economic development and a major tourist attraction.

A tower with moving elements was a starting point for us with early references to markers at the start or end of long and challenging routes over mountain passes in Northern India and Nepal. This helped define the importance of the 'Voter's Line' and made a mark at the start of this walk up the steep eastern edge of the Donkin Reserve. The 'Voter's Line' is a long and winding path that links Chapel Street to the top of the Donkin Reserve and represents the iconic images of queues of voters in the 1994 elections. Conceptually, the Tower itself was intended to be sensed as light and ephemeral but also have sufficient presence and mass to be sensed as a space defining element by the person starting the journey up the route.

The form is derived from the site informers such as the newly constructed retaining walls, the existing lighthouse and tall flagpole. The tower is therefore rounded at its base and attached to the retaining wall and then becomes slimmer as it gets higher to mimic the elegant proportions of the neighboring lighthouse. It is surprisingly regular (but appears more irregular) in its components of horizontal rings that get smaller the higher they get with its more irregular and random nature formed by the spacing of the vertical posts and the slight bending of the top elements and some intermediate rings.

The design of the steelwork was conducted in an iterative fashion using hand drawn sketches and cardboard models. Consultations were held with the Contractor at regular intervals to ensure that the design was practicable and the price would stay within budget. The structure is supported on five of the vertical members, one bolted to a concrete base at ground level and another to the top of the concrete wall that forms part of the Voters' Line on the Donkin Reserve. The other three vertical supports are bolted to the concrete retaining wall with purpose made brackets. These members are 150mm square tube with a wall thickness of 6mm.

An important component of the composition of the tower is the rotating crosses. The crosses act as physical symbols of the voting crosses made by the 1994 voters in South Africa's first free elections. They are reinforced on the Voters' Line pathway, in the form of hundreds of painted crosses, each one representing (symbolically) a South Africa voter who stood so patiently in the queues.

The early reference for these cross elements were the prayer flags at markers to long and challenging routes previously mentioned and how they move in the wind. This links to an interest we have in non static sculptures and the ability for environmental factors such as the wind, sun and viewing position to influence the sculpture and highlight a changing (and so perhaps continuously interesting) nature of the sculpture and the context within which it is situated.

We believe that this project responds to the noble and ambitious intentions of the Route 67 public art route and reinforces its story and clear conceptual framework as set up by the Client and Art Co-ordinator. We believe that there is a consideration for it as more than 'art' and to become 'place' and structure by virtue of its space defining characteristics of marker, threshold and ability to pass under/through it.

(The Workplace Architects - 2014)

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.