Freedom Park, //hapo
MASHABANE ROSE and ASSOCIATES: Architect
MMA ARCHITECTS: Architect
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Award of Excellence Citation
This building has been constructed on the southern edge of the old colonial settlement of Pretoria. The older parts of the city of Pretoria/Tshwane are situated on the fertile plains between two roughly parallel ranges of low hills. These hills, to a large degree, contain most of the city centre and this allows nature to have a presence on its northern and southern horizon lines. To an extent, these hills also compartmentalise the city spatially into relatively discreet gestalt units. Over time, these hills have been used to elevate institutions of collective political and social importance. There is a whole series of them - for example, the military forts, the Union Buildings, the Voortrekker Monument, Freedom Park, etc. These institutions, placed in this manner above the city, communicate with each other in a symbolic way - they imbue a special character on the city, while also emphasising it as a place of national importance.
//hapo_Freedom Park Museum is located at the foot of Salvokop, south of Herbert Baker's iconic Pretoria Station building and north of the Freedom Park Garden of Remembrance, situated on top of the hill. Both the Station and the Garden of Remembrance have a visual and symbolic presence in the city, while //hapo_Freedom Park Museum only has a presence in its immediate vicinity.
//hapo_Freedom Park Museum takes its design inspiration from nature. Its overall form and materiality emulates its natural context. As an institution and symbol of national importance, it seems, however, to 'disappear' into its physical context. It also does not visually compete with any of the other national symbols/institutions that are so prominent in the Tshwane environment.
The building is seen as a series of abstract 'boulders'. Using this idea, the architects have assimilated and given form to traditional African ideas of healing and indigenous knowledge systems, while paying homage to an idea of what the typical South African landscape is all about. The design of the building reinterprets the cracks and complex shapes of rocks and other geological formations that have been the result of the forces of nature acting over millennia. It was also the architects' design intention to symbolically recreate man's first shelter or home, namely the cave. The cave, in this way, becomes the metaphor for man's continued presence in this landscape. The cave is also a metaphor for how man has made his presence known visually, how events and observations have been recorded by various means, how human progress has been recorded, how the landscape has been appropriated and used for survival, and how the cave as refuge has been imbued with social and emotional meaning.
The spatial progression through the building is, thus, a movement through a cave-like space. Along this route, the space is manipulated by constricting and opening up the volume, by moving up or down levels, and by punctuating the movement through the largely dimly lit spaces by means of 'cracks and fissures' in the building's envelope to articulate the movement with light and views. The copper-clad exterior and the interior surfaces are faceted to recall natural forms.
These faceted forms, in combination with the exhibition material, become the 'message' of the building. The large bulk of the building could, at first sight, become overpowering and intimidating to the visitor. However, the architects managed to work around this by subtly manipulating the form and experience into manageable spatial and thematic episodes. On the whole, the dimly lit interior spaces are not menacing or disorientating at all, but the play of light and darkness on the exterior and interior of the building are used to convey expertly the narrative of the physical, social and belief-system evolution in this part of the world.
Moving through the building and the beautifully conceived and realised gardens adjacent to them gives meaning to, and reveals the logic of, the //hapo complex. The garden is a worthy counterpart and extension of the building. Its contemplative aura heals and refreshes those who want to see and observe. There is also a wonderfully dense and 'wild' indigenous forest to the back of the building, on the slopes of Salvokop. This forest greatly assists in nestling the //hapo complex further into its site.
This complex building has been thoughtfully detailed and expertly built to the highest standards that can be achieved in South Africa.
Whereas many other social institutions in South Africa and elsewhere create the impression of being finite in their form and message, //hapo_Freedom Park Museum by the Office of Collaborative Architects seems to open up new possibilities and visions, while it simultaneously records and symbolises the complex evolution of South Africa.
(Paul Kotze - 2014)
For a history and explanation of all the symbolism, visit the Freedom Park website.
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