The Interpretation Center celebrates Nelson Mandela in the township that was his first home in Johannesburg, when he moved to the city from the Eastern Cape in the 1940s. In the heart of Alexandra, settlement established as early as 1912 and currently one of the poorest urban areas in the country, the one room house and yard are diagonally across the street from Peter Rich’s new design on Hofmeyer Street and 7th Avenue.
The new Interpretation Centre is a mixed used 3 floor structure, conceived as bridge spanning over the animated and loud streets of Alexandra. The program contains an exhibition space to tell the story of the place, a jazz archive for the rich musical history born here, a library, training facilities, shops and restaurants. Through the design the building also generates two urban squares, places to be taken over to the resident’s liking, envisioned for both organized events like movie projections and the informality of street life. On a sunny day you might find someone getting a haircut or having a birthday party, or both, in the same place.
A major part in the construction of this project was played by the relationship based on respect with the immediate surrounding and people of Alexandra. The centre is taking over elements from the context through the collage like qualities of the faade, the juxtapositions of spaces and playful, labyrinth-like circulation. In parallel, a big part of the budget is focused on the impact on residents through training and skills development initiatives, building up a heritage team and overall retail opportunities. The Alexandra Interpretation Centre is a platform for Alexandra’s people to take on new opportunities while cherishing its culture.