“questions and confronts the uneven social fabric of Cape Town and contributes to the national debate on inclusive spaces”
A young architect confronts the social and spatial inequality that still plagues the city by proposing an evocative experience through design of the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation.
by Brittany Morris
Violence is central to the South African body politic, as is clearly reflected in its pervasiveness. This is a complex phenomenon with multidimensional causes and consequences, which has invaded all parts of public life, undermining the moral, interpersonal and social fabric of society.
Jaun van Wyk, a young South African architect, with his proposed project for the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) in Cape Town seeks to “advocate the awareness of such ferocious and inhumane realities in an effort to encourage violence prevention and ultimately embrace reconciliation”. The project and subsequent approach embraces the reality that violence, like a virus, envelopes communities through its various interrelated forms, cultivating an increasing culture of violence. It furthermore draws on the spatial implications of violence occurring in Cape Town and its subsequent urban narrative, “considering the socio-economic development of the city and its subsequent hand in the further segregation of communities”. Through the aestheticisation of violence, the project places space, individual and program in a symmetrical relationship, arguing the importance of violence and the aestheticisation thereof as “a means of creating an emotional dialogue between architecture and user”.
The Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation is a South African non-governmental organisation concerned with policy and education on issues of political, criminal and domestic violence. Adopting a multi-disciplinary approach, the CSVR is dedicated towards understanding and preventing violence, healing its effects and building sustainable peace and reconciliation. By accommodating the CSVR the proposed centre successfully generates a symbiosis between the research and methodology of the CSVR and the public. This careful integration of public accessible information significantly benefits the community, as the centre becomes a source of knowledge. Such knowledge empowers communities and educates younger generations on the ramifications of a country enveloped by violence.
It is no new notion that with the advent of democracy there have been many serious -minded attempts to reorganise and redefine urban spaces with the aim of promoting regeneration, spatial integration and hybridity in Cape Town. However, 20 years later spatial segregation and dysfunctionality still hounds the city. Van Wyk argues, “those politically victimised in the past arguably still remain at risk of further victimisation within the current context”. Consequently the project adopts a bold architectural language, both in its morphology and strategic insertion.
The proposed site of the new CSVR building is situated on the periphery of the Foreshore area between Cape Town’s CBD and the V&A Waterfront. The site, and subsequently the greater Foreshore area has become “a manicured inner city enclave, an authoritarian and urban landscape characterised by social exclusion”. Van Wyk continues by stating that “due to the transformation of urban political priorities from municipal to developers’ utopias, this area has subsequently become the glittering face of Cape Town whilst the reality of communities such as the Cape Flats and its sprawling violence have been shunned from the public façade.” Thus leaving these communities voiceless and disempowered once again. By its acute positioning, the proposed centre “enables voiceless communities to lay claim to lost space and in doing so begin a process by which they contribute to the making of the city”. The centre creates a foothold for the disadvantaged and promotes resilience and general awareness towards a delinquent problem.
The building was developed as a linear sequence of repetitive spaces, primarily as a contextual response. The linear organisation essentially consists of a series of exhibition spaces which are directly related to one another and linked through a distinct linear element. A suspended bridge leads the user to the entrance of the building. This not only creates suspense and anticipation but enhances the effect of perspective on the front facade of the building. Circulation is the primary organising element within the building and the configuration of its exhibition spaces. The user is forced on a linear path signified as the narrative. The circulation path passes through the spaces instead of passing by the spaces. This forces the user to experience the building as a whole, thereby concluding the narrative from introduction to end. In cutting through these spaces, the path allows for rest and movement. The building and subsequently the narrative terminates with the climax.
Ultimately this space culminates as a “sensorium of violence, a ritualised space through which an individual senses, perceives and interprets his/her environment. A spatial narrative, where the ritualised exposure to information and image communicates the current violent state of South Africa and its continued culture of violence and segregation”. It furthermore questions and confronts the uneven social fabric of Cape Town and contributes to the national debate on inclusive spaces, let alone initiate dialogue on the realities of violence and its contribution to social and spatial divides in Cape Town.
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