Public Works: South Africa’s New Cultural Projects

South Africa’s architecture is defined by a multicultural history. Located at the southernmost tip of the continent, the county has built upon past traditions and building techniques in a range of modern architecture and cultural projects. These structures showcase new design approaches in South Africa and experiment with diverse formal and spatial strategies.

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© Iwan Baan

South Africa’s landscape stretches along the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans and borders five countries to the north and east. While a majority of South Africans are of Bantu ancestry, the country is home to a range of ethnic groups, languages and communities. With 11 official languages, there is diverse representation in the country's democracy between a parliamentary republic and nine provinces. South Africa’s multiethnic and pluralistic cultural landscape is reflected in the built environment itself.

© Iwan Baan

As ArchDaily’s Managing Editor Vanessa Quirk asked back in 2014, how do you overturn an inequality so ingrained in a culture that it manifests itself physically - in the architecture of its homes and in the misshapen nature of its cities? The National Party in South Africa imposed apartheid in 1948 and institutionalized previous racial segregation. This was a defining moment, and the majority of black South Africans were not enfranchised until 1994. While South Africa continues to struggle with the question of inequality in the built environment post-apartheid, a series of new projects begin to paint a picture of the county’s development over the last five years.

Bosjes Chapel / Steyn Studio

© Adam Letch

This new chapel, set within a vineyard in South Africa, is designed by South-African born Coetzee Steyn of London based Steyn Studio. Its sculptural form emulates the silhouette of surrounding mountain ranges, paying tribute to the historic Cape Dutch gables dotting the rural landscapes of the Western Cape. Constructed from a slim concrete cast shell, the roof supports itself as each undulation dramatically falls to meet the ground. Where each wave of the roof structure rises to a peak, expanses of glazing adjoined centrally by a crucifix adorn the façade. The crisp white form is conceived as a lightweight, and dynamic structure which appears to float within the valley.

Denis Hurley Centre / Ruben Reddy Architects

© Angela Buckland

Located in the vibrant city centre of Durban, South Africa, a few steps from Warwick Triangle and close to several liberation heritage sites such as the Juma Musjid (Mosque) the Denis Hurley Centre was conceived as a contemporary facility to uplift and serve the community. Utilising the nature of the triangular site to create interconnected spaces around a centralised atrium, the design of the building reinforces the Denis Hurley Centre’s aim for an integrated community space, open to all.

Social Development Project / Indalo + Collectif Saga

© Joubert Loots

This project takes place in Joe Slovo Township, located on the outskirts of Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Love Story, a local NGO that has been involved in this particular community for a while, decided to launch a project to rebuild a local crèche but also to uplift it by adding new facilities such as a skill center, a community center and vegetables garden. The project intends to fully integrate the community into the process, the idea being to make sure the improvements are sustainable and continue to bring a new dynamic throughout the community.

Port Elizabeth Opera House Renovation / The Matrix... Urban Designers and Architects

© Rob Duker

The Port Elizabeth Opera House was originally designed by local architect George William Smith and opened its doors on 1 December 1892. Four additions followed - the first in 1911, followed by extensions in 1927, 1934 and 1985. The current Opera House is thus made up of five distinct parts which throughout the years have merged into a single building of a distinct neo-classical style. At present the Opera House is the oldest theatre in Africa and also the oldest operating theatre in the Southern hemisphere. The design approach taken for the renovation was based on three main principles: contrast, background, and green.

Norval Foundation / dhk Architects

© Dave Southwood

Norval Foundation is located in the Steenberg area on the slopes of the Constantiaberg Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa, and is surrounded by vineyards. The project provided a unique opportunity for architecture studio dhk; a client brief with the aspiration to create a world-class art and cultural center in an exceptional location that is be open to the public. Norval Foundation was envisioned as a modern pavilion for art, set against a dramatic mountain and vineyard landscape. It is a pure expression of form; a bold rectangular mass, delineating its heavy walled enclosure and light over-sailing roof.

Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa / Heatherwick Studio

© Iwan Baan

The Zeitz is the world’s largest museum dedicated to contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora. The museum is housed in 9,500 sq metres of custom designed space, spread over nine floors, carved out of the monumental structure of the historic Grain Silo Complex. The silo, disused since 1990, stands as a monument to the industrial past of Cape Town, at one time the tallest building in South Africa, now given new life through the transformation by Heatherwick Studio. The galleries and the atrium space at the centre of the museum have been carved from the silos’ dense cellular structure of forty-two tubes that pack the building.

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Cite: Eric Baldwin. "Public Works: South Africa’s New Cultural Projects" 24 Oct 2019. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

© Iwan Baan


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