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centre for the book | a library and garden for the post-apartheid city

Part 2 Project 2000
Susan Beningfield
University of the Witwatersrand Johannesburg South Africa
Centre for Language
- a library and garden for the post-apartheid city.

The project works in response to South Africa’s history of erasure,
control and manipulation of identity through language. It seeks to promote
understandings of diverse languages and the cultures integral to them
by proposing a public project reflecting a change in political attitude – from
absolute authority to the possibility of choice.

The complex aims to break with past associations attached to innately
hierarchical public buildings of the colonial and apartheid eras. It
privileges the horizontal over the vertical and displaces the focus
from the architecture to the garden. Solidity is replaced by openness in the
range of interior and exterior spaces that allow for debate and learning.

The dense trees create a softness, a vulnerability, a place for
contemplation. Away from the constant racing influx of visual images
and sound, a place of silence is formed in the city. Within the sheltered
floors of the library, oral histories, unacknowledged under apartheid,
are recorded and written records gathered.

From the city through into the garden there is a gradual progression
from surface to thickness, from speed towards slowness.

susan beningfield, johannesburg 1999.

Susan Beningfield

body building|re-writing type; framed the discourse for the 1999 THESIS Bachelor of Architecture program. Although ‘design discourse' in the Department of Architecture is directed at independent inquiry, current investigations by thesis candidates have tended to reflect the events and concerns in the contemporary SA city. The city, as perhaps the highest form of built human expression, therefore, becomes a natural locus for speculation and thinking topically. Despite a predominance of the Inner-City inquiries, individual Topics have been specifically identified through a process of research around issues of transformation in relation to emerging political processes, as well as to contemporary architectural theory. In particular, the critique of ‘type' and its associative limitations in relation to the possible ‘false truths' of apartheid and the predominance of certainty associated with the western construct. The discretionary influence of both precedent and the linear ‘date/place/building' method until recently promoted by the departments conception of architectural history demanded direct confrontation. Positions have been topically constructed by research and argument, uncovering ‘Issue|Siting|Programming' as core activitiesd for design generation. These subjectivities have been translated and interpreted through a ‘narrative research process' whereby interactive exercises have sought to provoke difference and effect new sets of social arrangements. Consequently, process has been privileged above that of final product, in an attempt to overturn architecture's other hegemony, that of material culture, seemingly the predominant global value. Phenomenal experience and temporal possibility have become checks for developing a thoughtful and resilient material culture within the architectural inquiry.

In responding to these situations, Susan Beningfield has offered a provocative new builidng to the city of johannesburg. Whilst building type relies on physical arrangements, the material culture trasnscends that of the overtly formal. Situations of Living, Working, Recreating, Learning, Interacting, and etc. persist, and it has been possible to re- write type through attention to both memory and the common concerns of the rituals of everyday and celebratory life of the 'book'.

Iain Low - Thesis Director | November 1999

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