Founded in 1902 and designated for occupation by black workers, Red Location is one of the oldest townships in South Africa. Beginning in 1948 Red Location developed into one of the centers of the antiapartheid movement, and it was the source of a number of historic protest actions. Following the abolition of apartheid, in 1994, the city of Port Elizabeth—which incorporates Red Location—decided to locate a museum memorializing the apartheid era right in the township, where the site of resistance could be an integral part of the experience and the museum a central element in a large urban redevelopment project. In 1998 Noero Wolff Architects won the national competition for a Red Location master plan, including the new museum.
From the outset a main issue in its planning was the future acceptance of the institution in its immediate community, which has generally been skeptical about outside attempts to introduce structural change. As the museum was being built, a community-based committee assembled weekly to ensure that the needs of Red Location citizens were being met. Unskilled workers from the neighborhood were hired for construction, providing training and employment and integrating the community into the project. The museum building has a functional, utilitarian appearance that engages harmoniously with its industrial surroundings, and it is constructed out of ordinary materials, mainly concrete and steel. Inside the museum a series of multipurpose “memory boxes”—galleries constructed of the rusted corrugated iron that gave the township its name—house a rotating variety of small installations that visitors are encouraged to explore on their own. Noero Wolff’s overall plan for Red Location, including housing, a library, a city archive, and other communal spaces, aims to reverse the segregation that has so long characterized the site. The goal is that the township, formerly cut off from public amenities, will become a center for new urban development, infrastructure, and culture.