Small Scale, Big Change: New Architectures of Social Engagement

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Red Location Museum of Struggle

Noero Wolff Architects. Red Location Museum of Struggle

JO NOERO: My name is Joe Noero and I'm a Professor of Architecture at the University of Cape Town and I'm also a partner in Noero Wolf Architects.

Red Location became the homes of the first settled black urban proletariat in Port Elizabeth. Port Elizabeth is on the east coast of South Africa and it was a place where much of the leadership of the African National Congress in the Eastern Cape came from. When South Africa was liberated in 1994, the new city government of Port Elizabeth, together with the national government decided that they wanted a museum to honor both the people that lived in Red Location, as well as the place itself.

So what we thought is we would give everyone the opportunity to tell a story of what it was like to struggle for freedom, whether you're white, black, woman, man, child, aged person, whatever. And then the question came of how to achieve that in architecture. And we hit upon this idea of building these gigantic corrugated iron memory boxes, the equivalent of about four stories in height, six meters by six meters.

GLENN LOWRY: A memory box is a wooden container local mine workers used to store their keepsakes.

JO NOERO: Twelve of them placed on a regular grid underneath the gigantic big roof with no signage to describe what happened on the inside and no predetermined way of moving from one box to the other so that people would be able to choose their own way of moving through the boxes.

GLENN LOWRY: Red Location Museum is the first of several buildings that will comprise a new cultural district in Port Elizabeth.

JO NOERO: For me it's just wonderful to be involved in a project which has some kind of meaning and I think it's a model for what we should be doing right throughout our country, which is to rebuild the township areas by building these kinds of precincts, where we have many different activities all taking place.