“The boundary between science fiction and social reality is an optical illusion. The cyborg is our anthology; it gives us our politics. The cyborg is a condensed image of both imagination and material reality, the two joined centres structuring any possibility of historical transformation??” DONNA HARAWAY
The Memory Vault is a piece of science fiction, set in Johannesburg, year 2043. Drawing on the 1913 Land Act, the project embodies and narrates the spaces and conditions brought about by the Act, through sci-fi landscape- and character-configurations, which are formed through the logics, spatial rules and algorithms of these historical policies. In the final piece, these witty, often idiosyncratic (but darkly erudite) characters allude to the current condition of the city, articulating the authour’s critique and reflection on a spatially untransformed Johannesburg.
‘From oral history to body art, the body is simply another surface, much like any other, into which culture is carved, sculpted, cut, patterned and tattooed. In this context, skin acquires depth, becoming a “thick space” in which memory, history, tradition and testimony are literally inscribed.’ LESLEY LOKKO
The major design project, Volatile Landscapes, is an attempt to ‘un-do’ the architecture of the Kimberley mining landscape and its subsequent toxic geologies.
Imagined as a mythology of the landscape, the project unravels as a narrative played out in 4 key ‘anti-architecture’ interventions, each of which uses seasonalshifts – veld fire, rain, flood and germination – to activate the interventions and in so doing, un-do the toxic effects of the industrial landscape.
John Vorster Blue
“When violence takes place in cities, people die in buildings, and buildings become evidence. The evidence for us is not within any single image. It is only through the architectural model that we are able to see the relation between images.”
- EYAL WEIZMAN ON THE SUBJECT OF FORENSIC ARCHITECTURE
The reflexive relationship that exists between a society and its architecture means that architecture can not only function as a document of oppression, it is also an agent in oppression. Since the cultural production of architecture is selective, it can give permanent form to (and thus worsen) problematic conditions. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a series of public hearings and confessions, which took place between 1996 and 1998, was intended to purge institutions of their Apartheid heritage. While it is possible for institutions to reform, the procedures for the reform, or transformation, of architectural structures are significantly less established.
Using autopsy reports, victim’s accounts and news clippings, Kerry’s project takes the form of a series of spatial expressions, sited in relation to the often ambiguous and contradictory happenings within John Vorster prison during Apartheid.
The final series of drawings is a new set of proposed interventions that unsettle and disrupt the day-to-day functioning of the building in its current form, by inserting key moments of pause, reflection and recollection. Beyond this, the project is a brave attempt at spatialising a murky and often undealt-with moment in our national conscious.
A Mausoleum for Pan-Africanism
Aisha Balde’s project, A Mausoleum for Pan-Africanism, is located on the borderline between South Africa and Zimbabwe — a significant point of entry into South Africa. The borderline itself is a 600mm wide, several-thousand-kilometre- long piece of ‘no-man’s land’. The Mausoleum is effectively a border wall with one significant departure from the type — it does not separate one side from the other. The wall is full of generous openings and is made primarily of very thin elements which, while having a substantial visual presence in the elevation is almost non-existent in the cross section.
The project, by presenting us with a wall which does not perform its primary function, encourages us to be inventive in developing new rationales for its raison d’être. The wall takes the form of an allegorical wedding chapel, where a South African citizen and a Zimbabwean citizen marry, from either side of the borderline. One such alternative function is that The Mausoleum for Pan-Africanism prevents separation since it stands, metonymically, in the place of a functional wall. It is a mausoleum to the national border since the idea of a functional wall separating one nation from another is buried alive by its presence. With this gesture, the project stakes a claim for a non-nationalist conception of Africa.
The Serpent’s Skin
“All cultures are involved in one another. None is single and pure all are hybrid, heterogeneous.” EDWARD SAID
In Chinese mythology, serpents, such as Fuxi, Nüwa and Gong Gong are often depicted as hybrid – half human, half snake; part dragon, part serpent – and have shape-shifting abilities. Using the shape-shifting serpent as a device for mediating Afro-Chinese enmeshing, the project proposes a new census data collection centre which seeks to expose and reveal the problematics of racial stereotyping. The project derives from the allegory of a serpent undergoing several genetic codifications and mutations giving rise to new hybrid creatures and landscapes, which acknowledge and embody African-China relations.
The Serpent inhabits four significant sites, of historical, cultural and economic importance to the Chinese heritage in South Africa. The first of these is The Old Chinatown in the inner-city, the earliest cultural and trade foothold of Chinese migrants in Johannesburg. The second, Cyrildene, is symbolically a site of the shift in Chinese economic migrancy patterns in the city. The third site, Zendai Modderfontein, grapples with Chinese economic supremacy on the African continent. The fourth, Langlaagte mine dump, is a place of remembrance, where the unmarked grave of more than 3000 Chinese indentured labourers was recently discovered. Each location concerns a different kind of historical event significant to the people of the Chinese diaspora but to the nature of future relations between the countries of China and South Africa.
Perpetual Monuments: An ‘Other’ Archive
A text is not a text unless it hides from the first corner, from the first glance, the law of its composition and the rules of its game. A text remains, moreover, forever imperceptible. Its laws and rules are not, however, harboured in the inaccessibility of a secret...‘ JACQUES DERRIDA
Jacques Derrida, one of the most influential thinkers on the subject of structural linguistics on several occasions referred to himself as a ‘historian’, but was simultaneously undertaking to dismantle what he saw as the ‘dominant Western historical narrative’. Similarly, in An ‘Other’ Archive, Sabine Waskow explores the dissection and reconstruction of several historically prominent buildings and apartheid-era monuments in Pretoria. Currently, these structures stand unresolved and untransformed. Waskow’s chimerical recompositions point to the possibility of new orders which may emerge from them if they are reconfigured rather than removed.
An ‘Other’ Archive seeks to find new means of expression for suppressed narratives and erased memories through subversive, deconstructive altering techniques such as syntactic re-ordering, altering the surface structure to alter the deep structure, as well as layering and stitching together contrasting narratives. These techniques seek to generate and inscribe new forms and structures which allow for alternative narrative histories to be read and experienced. By altering the placement, materials and hierarchies of elements of the monuments, An ‘Other’ Archive scripts and enables new functions, programmes and events.
The 15-second City
One important aspect of globalisation refers to the procedure of international cultural amalgamation arising from the interchange of values, consumer products, ideas and other spheres of culture. Whilst advances in technology and communication (such as the Internet, pop culture and the relative ease of international travel), have helped spread global cultural consumption, in many respects, it has also resulted in a dilution of cultural specificities. Jeremy Seabrook, in Consuming Culture, describes this condition, saying that “’Western civilisation . . . has standardised itself over most of the globe, and we have been led therefore to accept a belief in the uniformity of human behavior, that under other circumstances would not have arisen’”.
In a material sense, the accelerated production of plastic post World War II is an important component of the dominance of Western material culture. Plastic is the title of a myth in Barthes’ seminal work, Mythologies. Barthes presents Plastic as the protagonist who is the ’every-day material of which ’all things are alike‘.
Carefully analysing and manipulating strategies of branding and consumerism, the project is set in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, and re-imagines leftover spaces and elements of the city into spaces of hyper-consumption. But in these spaces, one does not consume any physical ‘products’, rather, one consumes and is consumed by being in the city. The consumption is of ‘city-ness’.
7 Steps to Re-consecration
An ode to Jewish heritage in inner-city Johannesburg, the project is a series of deconstructions and reconstructions of a historical shul on Mooi Street. Following a series of explorations and expressions of space through sound and aural visualisations. The project took a personal turn where the 7 Steps to Re-consecration were developed from an interview archive with the shul’s last surviving trustee. The resultant project is a series of expressions and embodiments – concrete castings, sound re-constructions, film animations and new architectural configurations - of the shul, based on the interviewee’s memory. The project is, literally, an architecture of memory and a memory of architecture.
’Truth is so hard to tell, it sometimes needs fiction to make it plausible.’
At first reading, parables and fairy-tales may appear to have little to do with architecture, but architecture is as much concerned with communication and story-telling as it is with shelter. The architect Jonathan Hill states that’ . . . architecture is analogous to a landscape, a history and a fiction...‘
The equivocal nature of fiction allows a single narrative to have multiple readings where the fairy tale becomes an arrière-pensée (a concealed thought or intention; an ulterior motive). It is through creative licence that fiction is able to broach the inaccessible, the invisible, and the taboo.
The Major Design Project, The Subverse is an architectural device (or series of architectural projects) that attempt to articulate difficult, suppressed narratives of the everyday, colonial, pain, and corruption in South African history, and dismantle grand Apartheid historical narratives. Through mechanisms of diversion, scale manipulations, juxtapositions, and derived nonsensical literary conceits, the project consists of three parts – 6 surreal stage sets, a fictional landscape, and a political subtext. Through a deliberate reconfiguring of historical events, monuments, landmarks and accounts, an uncanny topography of new monuments and confrontations emerges.
In recognition of the severity of South Africa’s struggle history, the project proposition is a series of fictional landscapes – absurd architectural compositions which employ techniques of nonsense literature and symbolism.
The Echo Vault
The word ‘echo’, from the Latin, ‘ēkhē’, meaning ‘a characteristic that is suggestive of something else’ – a trace, vestige or remnant of the original. But an echo also makes us conscious of our place in the landscape through sound and time. The Design Project seeks to find a relevant and appropriate architectural form for the recording and interpretation of weathering; geology; palaeontology and geo-psychology, a new, hybrid discipline that combines cultural psychology and geology, ‘man-made’ and ‘natural’, looking at the relationship between character and place. The Echo Vault is a place of geo- and paleo-scientific reading, of new myth-making.
The instruments designed and placed in the landscape accelerate weather, to create new geological architectures, from the most primordial forms of ‘roof’ (cave), ‘column’ (rock) and suspension (stalactite). The Echo Vault tries to understand surface as ‘vestiges of memory’, onto which meaning can be inscribed, rather seeing memory in the form of memorials or museums.
The Phantom Limbs
A phantom limb is the sensation that an amputated or missing limb is still
attached to the body, indicating the idea that, toxicities, despite their removal,
may still be felt and, in fact may be worsened if simply removed, since the
source of pain can no longer be subject to direct intervention. The Phantom
Limbs are an attempt to reconcile South African utopian ideals, such as the
Rainbow Nation and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, with the indelible
memory of the traumas of the events that brought them into being in the
Adopting Freud’s reading of the ‘unheimliche’ (the unhomely, the familiar unfamiliar,
or a haunting) allows us to relocate the notion of ‘buried’ or concealed
violent events into experience. Treating the site as both body and memory,
the project proposes a reading of the histories and characteristics of Constitution
Hill as a place of incorporeal trauma. In this project, a series of bio-kinetic
architectural mechanisms test, pressurise and unearth past events on the site,
eliciting symbolic eruptions as a reflection of a cathartic need. These ‘ghosts’
bring ‘[that which] should have remained hidden and secret and . . . to light’.
By reifying the phantom limbs, they are brought back from an immaterial realm.
They are no longer ghosts, and as such, they are exorcised, ironically, through
In Nhlakanihpho’s major design project, oral heritage and tradition is given new resonances through performances, events, and activations on 4 chosen sites in Jabavu, Soweto.
His guerrilla guide to interrogating the sites for their experiential, performative potential gives rise to temporary installations that embrace the infrastructure of stage and event design to alter the more generic, sanitised descriptions of the events of the past.
‘Look at all these borders, foaming at the mouth with bodies broken and desperate. I spent days and nights in the stomach of the truck. I do not know where I am going, where I have come from is disappearing, I am unwelcome and my beauty is not beauty here. My body is burning with the shame of not belonging, my body is longing. I am the sin of memory and the absence of memory. The lines, the forms, the people at the desks, the calling cards, the immigration officer, the looks on the street. But, Alhamdulillah, all of this is better than the scent of a woman completely on fire.” WARSAN SHIRE
The project is focused on finding new forms of mobile architecture for the 21st century nomad. With overtures to the current refugee condition globally, Kyle traces the stories, spaces, possessions and rituals of 5 migrants on their journeys into Johannesburg.
The resultant body of research is a series of spatial accounts of the evolution of rituals in new spaces (and the evolution of spaces through ritual appropriation).