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[urban Sacred Space]

Part 2 Project 2001
Dirk Bahmann
University of the Witwatersrand Johannesburg South Africa
Johannesburg is typically described as a fast paced, violent, and rapidly changing boomtown. Experience of the city within this tumultus vortex of energy is often intense, disorientating and overwhelming, as it tends to inundate the senses and engulf the space of silence of the in-between. When these silences are lost meaningandqualitybecome subsumed by the homogeneity and chaos of profane space. As a result Johannesburg’s unique character is often dismissed and uncelebrated.

This investigation is an attempt to imbue the landscape with value, meaning and comprehension and to generate a sense of belonging through identification with the poetics of place. By exploring an architecture of being which straddles the boundaries between art and architecture it strives to elicit the senses to awaken our subtler perceptions -heightening and intensifying our awareness of the specificity of place and reality.

A space of emptiness | repose | contemplation was established at a perceptual centre, from which one can reflect and connect to the city’s poetics and ones life within it.

This centre is located on the summit of a mine dump at the core of the city’s origins and identity [gold mining city], which reveals contrasting views of natural, suburban, mining, and urban landscapes. In its solitude and quietness it juxtaposes the intensity and flux of the city.

Contained in a park the building consists of an archive in the form of a weathering mobius strip that records the births of the city and suggests a collective identity. Partly contained in this strip is an observatory that articulates and frames the sensual experiences of the city, and spaces pertaining to rituals relating to birth and death.

The materials utilized relate to the specific material identity and quality of Johannesburg. And are expressed as an archive by recording time through weathering [traces from the intensity of the highveld thunderstorms] and markings from the human touch.

Dirk Bahmann

The theme for the thesis investigations year 2000 was `contextualism’ in which the relevance of contextualism would be interpreted through the issue chosen for investigation. The context of Johannesburg is very broad ranging from the impact of globalisation on a developing country; a history which forces us to deal with issues of transformation; a socio-econmic and political context of democracy and poverty alleviation; and the perceptions of a chaotic and crime ridden city. In the midst of this very complex and problematic context, The student chose to search for the sacred in Johannesburg. He embarked on an extraordinary journey and a series of investigations that revealed a Johannesburg that many of us have chosen to ignore. He mapped the city through photographic essays, personal observation and face to face engagements with the people on the streets, unearthing another world and what he termed dwelling poetically in the landscape of the city. The obscure journeys in the end produced a poetic site and programme, and the design of a unique experience of Johannesburg in a landscape in which it is impossible to ignore the realities of the city. The design embraces the painful past and the optimistic future of the city.

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