The Red Location Museum in South Africa

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[1]“To many South Africans, the end of apartheid, in 1994, was almost unbelievable” (web source 3). Although apartheid came to an end in the year 1994 legally and politically, change has not been a simple undo as it has been extensively effected due to its policies spatial as well as social and economic aspects of the past. There are places in South Africa that are still struggling and have not yet advanced to modern ethnicities and customs all due to the racial oppression of over long periods of decades. The country how ever does try to develop the international modern architecture “As the new political and spatial freedoms sank in, the nation began the important process of formulating how to commemorate and curate an era that will define all that came before and after” A gold and red tale… (Findley 2011).And parts of the country is successfully achieving against the gap that still remains for civilisation or modern architecture. A place like Red location inNew Brighton, near the coastal city of Port Elizabeth is a clear and definite example of a place in South Africa that struggled and still struggles to improve in modern terms. The essay will be a critical evaluation of how the building Red Location Museum which is placed in an area where culture has become so relevant can apply to Frampton’s ideas around critical regionalism as “a study of contemporary South African Architecture especially in the light of a rising global identity and a certain eroding of localised considerations.” (GDC 2014)

Red location is an old black township in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. It derives its name from a series of corrugated iron barrack buildings, which are rusted a deep colour red. “The red of the iron oxide paint, now peeling and rusting, inspired the area's poetic name” (Findley 2011) and continues to describe that the building materials for these sheds stem from structures derived from the first South African War which started in 1899 and ended in 1902 named the concentration camp at Uitenhage as well as the Imperial Yeomanry Hospital at De Aar. It was a site of struggle during the years of Apartheid. “One of the country's most established black townships… over the decades it remained an active centre of anti-apartheid activism” A gold and red tale…(Findlay 2011). Manny prominent and cultural leaders were either born or lived in Red Location “New Brighton was the scene of early ANC civil disobedience” (Findley 2011) which makes it even more significant as it records the significant struggle events to South Africa. Red location offers to strand the struggle that mark the attempts by different groups in South Africa to free themselves “In striking contrast to the Gold Reef Museum…”A gold and red tale… (Findley 2011). It is quite ironic that the activists of Red Location occupied the same set of space that their ‘enemy’ the boers, occupied as a space of incarceration during the first South African war as Red and Gold Tale… Findley(2011) had mentioned that the remains of barracks constructed by the English to house Boer women and children imprisoned during the Boer War.

The Red Location Museum which was designed by Jo Noero “was designed to be both a monument to South Africa's struggle against apartheid and an integral part of community life in a township that acted as a crucible for the struggle.” (Museum that brings… 2007) it was constructed for more than just memorial but an economic uplift to improve the site. However the Red location museum is a primary development of the Red Location Cultural Precinct which is a not for commercial urban renewal development, “The museum's design draws on notions of memory to show both the horrors of institutionalised racism and the heroic efforts of the anti-apartheid movement in sharp relief.” (Museum that brings… 2007) there for renewing it would be defeating the purpose it stands for.

“The museum, which opened to the public in November 2006, has won three major international awards” (Museum that brings… 2007) It is a contemporary building as the building was only constructed and opened just a few years back and was successful enough to enter and run up against other international architectural competitions, also making it globally relatable and up to measures. This is important because it indicates that the building is successfully able to please the viewer’s cultural aspect and be globally compatible.

“Critical regionalism is not simply regionalism in the sense of vernacular architecture. It is a progressive approach to design that seeks to mediate between the global and t[2]he local language of architecture.” (Museum that brings… 2007) A museum is normally constructed for in reminiscence of a significant occurrence of the site in which in the case of the Red Location Museum, was constructed in memory of the apartheid era where they natives built their homes using local found materials as they were at a disadvantage due to the struggle of the oppression and no access to any superior methods, as Heath(2009: 73) states

…the invincible structures of power that defined the social experience of apartheid and the promise of regained cultural identity that the very premise of a post-apartheid heritage museum presents.

The building is constructed using the local materials and also incorporates ‘global international’ materials and form in order to meet the international language of architecture.

The rise and fall of the Avant Garde is working towards Modernization and a facilitating process of modernization, which is a progressive, liberate form but is also opposed to the positivism of middle class / consumer class culture where (GDC 2014) states that global political and economic crisis which turns into war, economic depression, revolution, rise of nationalism and dire need for psycho social stability results in a division between state capitalism and liberative cultural modernization. South Africans apartheid era might have ended legally and politically but yet the extensive effects of its policies spatial as well as social and economic have not been a simple undo. The disadvantage was a little too large in scale for the whole economy to catch up on developing the entire country and having it all modernised, The Red Location Museum nevertheless tries to incorporate a sort of modernization in the design as it contains properly structured parts of the building which use modern material and for as seen in figure 1 which enable people that aren’t just from the township to feel attracted seeing or visiting the site “with the goal of attracting tourists and their dollars to the still isolated township.” A gold and red tale… (Findley 2011) Jo Noero, the Architect, although did not just design a the museum that would be aesthetically pleasing for the tourist to bring in money but ensured to meet the natives who are still living in struggle in the area to also feel welcome and enjoy and engage in the site “The museum complex, designed not only as a tourist attraction but also as an integral part of the surrounding community” (Museum that brings… 2007) its also meant to grow the c[3]ommunity as a whole as the architect assured a design of a town centre precinct which would comprise restored iron houses, new housing, a library, art centre, gallery/market hall, conference centre and, as a centrepiece, an apartheid museum states by (web 3) and so this building has been used both as a form of resistance and later a transformative practice that manages to empower and to provide hope in a context where buildings and urban design have been put to oppressive use and thus proving that he successfully enabled civilization into culture. Although “The phenomenon of universalization, while being a development of mankind, forms to some extent a subtle destruction, not only towards traditional cultures, but also towards the creative basis of great civilizations and culture (Frampton, 2007).

Critical Regionalism and world culture. Culture is when materials or the theme addresses the specifics that are expressed, an idea or concept for the nature & evolution of joint psycho-social reality.

Regionalism is to uphold individual and local architectonic features rather than Universalist approach, although it could also be ambiguous as its association with reform or liberation but also commonly has powerful repression and chauvinism which are limitations of regionalism. Importantly, new architecture is a new kind of relation between the architect and user hence humanist approach needs to be emphasised (GDC 2014)

Architecture today needs to at some point distance itself equally from the enlighten myth of progress which is the optimism of advanced tech and as well as the reactionary and the unrealistic impulses of the avant-garde to return to the architectonic forms of a preindustrial past that include the regressive, nostalgic historicism or glib decorativeness( GDC 2014) so that it does not completely loose its cultural identity as enlightened myth of progression could when over powering create a completely new form which has significance of the purpose that was embodied lost.

[4]arrière-garde, only means to cultivate resistant, identity-giving culture” (GDC 2014) this does not support vernacular architecture and its materials because it resists to norms of the ways the natives would construct.

“To create quality architecture, particularly social architecture within complex communities, you need time to properly understand the process and relationships”Noreo. In order for Jo Noero to successfully construct a building that would be of great quality to the global or international standards but simultaneously meet a community’s cultural relevance he needs to correctly understand the relationship of the area primarily and its background to ensure that important significance are not lost.

The architect of The Red Location museum has tried to keep culturally relevant to the Red location culture precinct yet also have a modern appearance to the building as he reinforces the areas connection to its social context by mixing informally and formally constructed housing as seen in Figure 3 while raging from shacks to subsided units, and so rather than following the typical typology of a museum architectural traditional style Jo Norero uses the different types of buildings and materials from the struggle even though he does keep the some sort of modern tradition. As seen in figure 4 the museum has tried to integrate into the existing neighborhood of former victims of apartheid as a seamless part of their daily life. "In this way, the horror of apartheid becomes more apparent simply by its calm presence in the museum side by side with a functioning community," says architect Jo Noero. So for “the fundamental strategy of Critical Regionalisation is to meditate the impact of universal civilisation with elements derived directly from the peculiarities of a particular place” meaning for a building to be critical regionalism it has to consider global or international civilisation elements but have customs of the particular place. And Red Location Museum has established to conglomerate civilisation with elements derived from peculiarities of a particular place. "To build a museum of the apartheid era in the midst of the township that acted as a crucible for the struggle is an extraordinary achievement," (Museum that brings… 2007) so Noreo has achieved self-conscious syntheses between universal civilisation and world culture.


Resistance of place – form is when the building is bounded by its place form. If the building fits well with its surroundings and is placed seamlessly that it wouldn’t appear right elsewhere. “The strength of provincial culture resides in its capacity to condense the artistic and critical potential of the region while assimilating and reinterpreting outside influences” (Frampton 2007: 323). Figure 5 shows the aerial view photography of the sight, Red Location Museum where by it shows the buildings surroundings and where it’s been placed “The museum is located in a shack settlement that had been a prominent site of resistance” The Museum is in a township where the apartheid struggle was crude and“The oldest part of New Brighton is a grid of unusual shacks made of thick, corrugated iron, rusted red with age” it has been built due to its surroundings and its past heritage. Its name foreshadows the context that shaped the project. It is a community based initiative framed by the radical rethinking of the project of memorializing. “The striking, industrial warehouse-styled complex uses space, oxidised corrugated iron, wood and steel to echo its shanty town surrounds - the Red Location shacks for resettled blacks, originally constructed out of material recycled from defunct Anglo-Boer War concentration camps.” Its name ‘Red Location’ originates from the area which is a township where the buildings or settlements were not always renewed or even improved and so the shacks would rust in a red colour. The designed was mostly an industrial form to incorporate the rusted corrugated iron - the Red Location - and the theme of the surrounding settlement, the museum houses steel containers tipped on end to make individual memory boxes, giving its curators a blank canvas in which to exhibit memories, responses and ideas. (Museum that brings… 2007) a way in which the building did not entirely achieve its place form was with height of the buildings which is way too high compared to the shack homes surrounding the site as seen in figure 5 and the use of modern materials but overall the building fits into its place form and this context of this architecture carries intensified meaning and symbolism. All of which underscores the narrative and referential power of buildings and could not be placed elsewhere as it wouldn’t make sense as it is bounded by the Red location

In conclusion the Red location Museum embodies Critical Regionalism as it has successfully met the requirement to please its local and international viewers and site visitors for the reason that it caters for both international and local design. The design of the building is architecture of resistance as it cannot be placed anywhere else in the world because its significance is predominant to Red Location in Eastern Cape South Africa “The architects have deployed a straightforward, slightly industrial aesthetic, which recalls the [6]ordinary materials that local people scrounged over the years to keep out the rain and hold their shacks together, and also the factories across the railroad tracks, where the ANC first organized among autoworkers.” A gold and red tale… (Findley 2011) and Frampton clearly stated that Regionalism of Liberation is said to be “...The manifestation of a region that is especially in tune with the emerging thought of the time” (Frampton 2007: 320), where it is labelled as ‘regional’ “because it hasn’t emerged elsewhere”. And Paul Ricour has said that “The main problem of critical regionalism is to seek answers” to question: “How to be modern and to continue the tradition, how to revive an old dormant civilization as part of universal civilization” and Jo Noero answered by stating that “To create quality architecture, particularly social architecture within complex communities, you need time to properly understand the process and relationships

Kenneth Frampton 2007. Modern architecture: a critical history. Ch 5- Critical regionalism: modern architecture and cultural identity

Kingston Wim Heath.2009.Vernacular Architecture and Regional design.Routedge

www. Jastor .org/stable/142574