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Archiving and Exhibiting South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Part 2 Project 2001
Danny Fritz
Rod Heyes
University of Cape Town Cape Town South Africa
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established as a means of achieving reconciliation for ‘the world’s most unequal society.’ The Commission felt that in order for reconciliation to begin there had to be a conscious understanding of the past. In response, this project attempts to contest or make reference to a historical landscape of radical exclusion and exploitation – the Grand Parade, Cape Town’s main public space. Where the Truth and Reconciliation Commission so often relied heavily on memory for recalling the truth of the atrocities of the past, those who question the role of architecture in the construction of apartheid have at their disposal the many physical remnants thereof.

 The Grand Parade offers enormous archaeological potential for unearthing the past. This was one of the first site’s that stamped white domination in southern Africa, where Jan van Riebeek built the Fort in 1652. Over the years numerous buildings strengthening the military and municipal authority of white South Africans emerged around this heart of the city.

 Through the mapping of a timeline and the appropriation of space around the Grand Parade, certain key themes were uncovered: erasure, emergence, traces, layering, rift, resistance, amputation and assertion.

 The most striking and relevant to the inquiry was the sense of amputation, an idea that evolved conceptually, but seemed appropriate to the context within a contemporary understanding of site, city and nation.

 The primary response developed not as a building, but in the production of a social platform in an attempt to minimize the sense of amputation and mediate between formerly disjointed elements; the train station, taxi rank and Grand Parade.

 Further investigation of this strategy resulted in a series of complimentary social trajectories across the site, producing various spatial thematics for architectural exploration and interpretation: transformation from line to zone (slide 7 & 8), creation of platforms of surveillance (slide 8 & 9), manipulation of physical and visual access (slide 8), use of the ground as a container. (slide 9)

 The resultant organization of program evolved in response to ‘social dialogues of everyday’ transcribed above ground and to the historical recording and layering of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission submerged below.

The task to understand the kind of public processes that encourage the making of successful public spaces unaffected by the past is an arduous one. By recognizing the forces that have shaped our past we are able to contribute to ‘beginning a dialogue to make possible the writing of new stories over the landscape of a new country’

1. K. Asmal, L. Asmal, R.S. Roberts, Reconciliation Through truth: A Reckoning of Apartheid’s Criminal Governance, pg2.
2. Njabulo S. Ndebele, cited in opening remarks at the exhibition blank__architecture, apartheid and after. (unpublished)

Danny Fritz
Rod Heyes

TOPICAL THINKING - framed the discourse for the 2000 THESIS Bachelor of Architecture program. Although ‘design discourse' in the School of Architecture and Planning 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. 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 assumptions and certainty associated with the <western|apartheid|colonial> position have predominated. The discretionary influence of both precedent and the linear <date|place|building> method promoted by the previous conception of architectural history demands direct confrontation. Site and Program have been interpreted as verbs demanding a researched and argued uncovering of ‘siting and programming' as core design generators. These issues have been re-interpreted through a ‘narrative process' whereby interactive exercises 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 that other hegemony; material culture, which seems to be the predominant global value. Phenomenal experience and temporal possibility have become checks for developing a thoughtful and resilient material culture within the architectural inquiry.

Danny's scheme was selected for its provocative and meaningful contribution to debate surrounding the post-apartheid city. ‘Archiving and Exhibiting the Truth and Reconciliation Commission evolved an intelligent response to conditions of change in the inner city of Cape Town. Through in-depth readings of cultural constructs in the emerging city, her project has set new spatial relations for addressing the condition of the transforming city. With this submission, it has been the topic and thinking process, rather than purely formal resolution that premiated selection.

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