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Museum and neighbourhood centre for a township in Johannesburg
One of the typical courtyards in the township. The architects analysed these organically grown, bordered open spaces and their social hierarchies and processes.
Corner café near the “Alexandra heritage Centre”: a collage of varying, sometimes quality, sometimes cheap material similar to that found all over the township.
The marble piece mosaics created by the residents give the open space a special accent.
Even before the opening, the children rush to pick their places.
Sitting steps as a public meeting place.
A board by the access ramp welcomes all residents in their own languages.
“Mandela’s Yard” is a small area in the heart of the township close to the “Alexandra Heritage Centre”. This is where “Mandela’s Room” is located, a now protected one-room house where Nelson Mandela lived in 1942 after his arrival in Johannesburg.
Acrylic glass plates between the clay bricks of the toilet wall.
Under the lead of the architects, the residents create a mosaic from the marble pieces.
A curved wall closes off the toilet area. For lighting, sunken acrylic glass plates are placed between the clay bricks of the toilet walls.
Both abstraction and reality can be viewed through the window.
The windows let the sounds of the township flow up through the building.
The exhibition room creates a light atmosphere with soft light that is filtered from the translucent façade. The clay bricks for the wall are produced locally with a hydraulic press from earth 10 km around the construction.
The multipurpose clay bricks can also be used as children’s furniture (at a »Heritage Party« before the opening).
The coloured glass panes, painted by the residents, illustrate pictures of the township.
Small windows are enhanced by the facades’ angled steel.
Layered aluminium strips give the horizontal polycarbonate bands a vertical contrast.
Detailed view of the ramp railing.
A long ramp, traditionally designed with stones, leads to a common area on the first floor.
The exhibition hall spans and reflects the street, literally raising the history of this location.
A view from the Alexandra Heritage Centre (under construction) over the roofs of the township.
The architecture of the building characterises the contrast between the apparently coincidental aesthetic of the crowded, colourful township and its clearly organised, considered spatial order. The building is conceptualised as a steel chain, giving the feeling of a collage with varying material that is inspired by the lively colours and textures that are created by the surroundings. The coming together of clay bricks, steel profiles and polycarbonate plates is lovingly described by the locals as “jazz architecture”.
In the densely populated township the centre takes up two corner plots as well as the connecting space above.
Peter Rich Architects, Johannesburg
The simple and robustly constructed, clear but at the same time many sided “Alexandra Heritage Centre” shows how architecture can encourage social processes – underprivileged residents take part in the concept, drafting and construction of a museum and a new centre for their township.
Since the 1970s the South African architect Peter Rich has studied and documented the black townships as a reaction to the destruction of villages through the Apartheid regime. Working together with local organisations he positioned himself as a promoter and activist. Involving and encouraging the residents as well as respecting the cultural context took an ever-growing role.
Further in-depth documentation and impressions of the project can be found in the German/English anniversary issue DETAIL 4/2011.
This colourfully painted brick wall from the surroundings also served as inspiration for the poly carbonate façades “Jazz Partitur”.
Wall paintings in the township (across from the fitness room supported by Richard Branson in the neighbouring courtyard of the Heritage Centre).
A view from the neighbouring courtyard over the “Alexandra Heritage Centre”.