Red Location – Precinct

Name Red Location Cultural Precinct
Client Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan Municipality
Location New Brighton, Port Elizabeth
Status Ongoing

Red Location

Red Location was the first settled black township of Port Elizabeth. It derives its name from a series of corrugated iron barrack buildings, which are rusted a deep red colour. These were part of a Boer concentration camp in Uitenhage and moved in 1900 to Red Location, where the first urban lack families settled. It became a site of struggle during the years of Apartheid. Many prominent political and cultural leaders were either born or lived in Red Location.

Phase 1: The Museum & Housing

It is designed to challenge conventional views of museum design. It draws on the work of Andreas Huyssen, who has written extensively on the concept of memory and history. Visitors are not treated as consumers but active participants. The conventions of representing history as a single story are challenged through the design of the museum spaces. The past is represented as a set of memories that are disconnected yet bound together by themes. The concept of the Memory Box is used to achieve these ends. These boxes are inspired by the boxes that migrant workers used to accommodate their prized possessions when separated from their rural families. These memory boxes were highly treasured.

The Museum comprises a series of 12 unmarked, rusted boxes offering a set of different memories of struggle in South Africa. The boxes are housed in the main exhibition space and each box is 6 meter by 6 meter and 12 meters tall. The contents of the boxes are revealed only on entry – there is no sequence; the contents and themes of the boxes are juxtaposed; the experience in each box is a total one. The spaces between the boxes are spaces of reflection – what Huyssen calls the twilight of memory. The Museum also comprises an auditorium, library, art gallery, offices, a memorial space to commemorate the local heroes of the struggle, and an adjoining tomb where Raymond Mhlaba and Goven Mbeki, national struggle heroes, are buried.

The construction of these buildings will require the relocation of 150 families living in shacks on the site to a site immediately adjacent to this one. The new houses will be built to accommodate the displaced families. The houses must satisfy the housing subsidy requirements of a minimum of 40m² to be built for approximately R40 000. The sites are four metres wide and 20metres long.

Every two houses are joined to form semi-detached houses. The houses are entered in the middle from the side. A stair divides the ground floor and first floor into two rooms of 9m² each. The two joined houses share a common façade, which is designed to represent the idea of one big house rather than two small houses. The roofs pitch away from the street façade – one is presented with a square façade with the proportions of 6m x 6m. It is hoped in this way to present to the public a sense of a house bigger and grander than what is in reality.

Phase 2: The Gallery, Library & Archive

Phase two of the Red Location Precinct comprises an art gallery, library and archive.  The new buildings are clustered at the intersection of Olaf Palme Avenue and Avenue ‘C,’ diagonally opposite the new Red Location Museum. The art gallery will host local exhibitions of township art and will also accommodate a permanent collection of Eastern Cape struggle art, which will be shared with the Nelson Mandela Art Gallery.

Large rectangular south light scoops structure the internal gallery spaces. The gallery makes a “U” shaped entrance courtyard, in which an original corrugated iron bungalow from 1902 is located. The front face of the gallery is inflected at 45º to the corner and a huge shop front window acts as a lens through which the public can view the inside of the gallery. The library comprises a digital library and internet café computer school. The saw tooth roof admits south light and is carefully modulated to exclude any direct light. The floor of the library is landscaped to create a series of rooms within rooms. The archive is attached to the library and will house the archives of the main city library, as well as the library’s collection of struggle literature. The archive will form an important part of the museum’s programme of research. The double-storey archive library has been designed as a timber-box-like form which lies parallel to the adjoining road. The idea is that the building will evoke memories and associations with the ark, timber caskets and treasure chests. The external treatment of the buildings seeks to emphasize these connections.

Phase 3: The Theatres