BACKGROUND TO THE MUSEUM: "Rising above the ragtag roofs of nearby shacks and concrete-block houses, the imposing Red Location Museum provides a vivid contrast to the bleak landscape of the former black township of New Brighton, South Africa. Located 400 miles east of Cape Town, just outside Port Elizabeth, New Brighton sits in the shadow of factories and a giant power plant and pushes hard against the multiple tracks of a busy railway line. Since the dismantling of apartheid in 1994, the community has struggled to make the transition from a 100-year-old segregated township for underpaid laborers into a real town with previously unthinkable assets, such as decent housing, modern infrastructure, a wide array of businesses, diversified transportation options, and civic institutions. The museum is a vital part of this transformation.
The Red Location Museum emerged from a national competition in 1998 for the design of a civic precinct. Each entrant prepared a master plan that included a museum dedicated to the struggle against apartheid, an arts center and gallery, a market, a library, a community hall, and some housing—in the township’s oldest neighborhood, called Red Location for the color of the corrugated-iron siding used on its oldest houses.
Noero Wolff Architects, a small, Cape Town–based firm with a record of inventive projects in the townships, won the competition with a scheme that was both dignified and lively. The 31,500-square-foot museum, with its adjacent outdoor amphitheater, is the first major building from the master plan to be completed, with the others to be done by 2010. The museum serves as the soul of the new precinct. In the drawn-out struggle against racism and apartheid, the citizens of New Brighton were early and dedicated participants in civil disobedience, boycotts, and even antiapartheid violence, and much of this activity took place in Red Location. The museum honors the people involved in this struggle by telling their stories to visitors from the community and around the world.
Under apartheid, black and “colored” people were forbidden to visit museums, libraries, and other cultural buildings, except as employees, entering through the back door. As a result, such buildings have little positive resonance with the people of New Brighton. So Jo Noero and Heinrich Wolff had to invent a different kind of architecture, one that would be approachable and meaningful to people with no direct experience of museums. They developed a robust, though refined, industrial aesthetic for the museum, creating a huge, singular volume enclosed by a concrete frame in-filled with concrete block. A sawtooth roof echoes the forms found in the manufacturing zone across the train tracks while also honoring the antiapartheid movement’s history of organizing in factory settings. The resulting architecture is simultaneously familiar and free". Quote Lisa Finley
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