Mapungubwe Interpretation Centre / Peter Rich Architects

© Iwan Baan

Last year, architectural photographer Iwan Baan took a trip to South Africa to visit the Mapungubwe Interpretation Center designed by Peter Rich Architects.

Mapungubwe, located on South Africa’s northern border with Botswana and Zimbabwe, prospered between 1200 and 1300 AD by being one of the first places that produced gold, but after its fall it remained uninhabited for over 700 years, until it’s discovery in 1933. The society living in what today is Unesco World Heritage Site, is thought to have been the most complex in the region, implementing the first class-based social system in southern Africa. And besides the cultural heritage, Mapungubwe is also home to an immensely rich flora and fauna, including over 1000 years old Baobab trees and a big variety of animal life, including elephant, giraffe, white rhino, antelopes and 400 bird species.

You can see the complete photoset over Iwan Baan’s website

© Iwan Baan

In this surreal setting Peter Rich has designed a 1,500 sqm visitor’s center which includes spaces to tell the stories of the place and house artifacts, along with tourist facilities and SANParks offices. The complex is a collection of cladded vaults balancing on the sloped site, against the backdrop of Sandstone formations and mopane woodlands.

© Iwan Baan

The vaults have been designed in collaboration with John Ochsendorf from MIT and Michael Ramage, Univ. of Cambridge, using a 600 years old construction system to achieve a low economical and environmental impact. The traditional timbrel vaulting, using locally made pressed soil cement tiles, allows the design to be materialized with minimal formwork and no steel reinforcement. In addition, the ambition was to also integrate local unskilled labor into a poverty relief program by training them to produce the over 200,000 tiles necessary in the construction of the domes.

© Iwan Baan

The Mapungubwe Interpretive Center was realized using latest developments in structural geometry along with an ancient construction technique, in order to implement a contemporary design, meant to house hundreds of years old artifacts.

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* Location to be used only as a reference. It could indicate city/country but not exact address.
Cite: "Mapungubwe Interpretation Centre / Peter Rich Architects" 21 Apr 2010. ArchDaily. Accessed 21 Sep 2014. <>


  1. Thumb up Thumb down +1

    kind of weird. but really great. especially in context. love the vaulted ceilings makes me think if dieste or lewerentz

  2. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    so refreshing. the sense belonging of the place, sustainability are well captured. Great great job.

  3. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    proud to have actually been taught by peter rich himself, one of the shining lights of african architecture

  4. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    It should be noted that this project won the overall prize at the 2009 World Architecture Festival. A worthy winner, and impressive project. Congrats again.

  5. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Some drawings would be great. I know Peter does beautiful drawings. Exceptional project.

  6. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    I love this project. There’s a strict relationship with the environment around it. It seems it comes from nature. Great job.

    • Thumb up Thumb down 0

      It’s very organic!
      The vaults and the project itself reminds me some works of Antoní Gaudi or other comteporary Cathalan’s Architects.
      Gaudí has a Church in the middle of a Forest that you only notice once you are already inside of it.
      I like the project – really interesting.

  7. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Fabulous contextualism… truly built from the ground it sits on – I would really like to see images whilst the domes were being constructed. Reminds me of boveda ceilings in southern Spain… without formwork – interesting.

  8. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Worked on this building in early design stages, Peter is a great mentor and teacher.

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