Although much larger and more imposing than the shacks and concrete-block houses nearby, the museum reaches out to its neighbors with a large entry terrace shaded by a trellis (above). A glassed-in restaurant on the west portion of the terrace and an adjacent beer garden (not seen) welcome the community and make the building more accessible. Because blacks and "coloreds" were barred from visiting cultural facilities during apartheid, local residents had little or no experience with these institutions.
This history and context meant that the architects confronted two exceptional problems in the design of the museum—finding an appropriate architectural language and a way of choreographing multiple stories.
Under apartheid, black and "colored" people were forbidden to visit museums, libraries, and other cultural buildings, except as employees, entering through the back door. As a result, such buildings have little positive resonance with the people of New Brighton. So Jo Noero and Heinrich Wolff had to invent a different kind of architecture, one that would be approachable and meaningful to people with no direct experience of museums. They developed a robust, though refined, industrial aesthetic for the museum, creating a huge, singular volume enclosed by a concrete frame in-filled with concrete block. A sawtooth roof echoes the forms found in the manufacturing zone across the train tracks while also honoring the antiapartheid movement's history of organizing in factory settings. The resulting architecture is simultaneously familiar and fresh.
To create the Red Location Museum, Noero Wolff reconceived common factory construction, then made sure the structure was elegantly built. The fine detailing of the concrete block, corrugated-iron sheeting, and plaster panels elevates and celebrates the ordinary materials the people of the township have always salvaged for use in their houses. At the community's insistence, the contractor employed a closely supervised and carefully trained rotating labor pool drawn from the township.
Designing such a massive building in the midst of the township's domestic scale was a bold move. While the museum's size and blank walls could easily have overwhelmed daily life in the neighborhood, Noero Wolff carefully stepped down the scale and humanized the two edges of the building that meet pedestrians and the street.
At the entry, a generous terrace sits a few steps above the sidewalk, welcoming people with a wooden trellis supported on a grid of columns made of telephone poles bundled together with heavy wire. This
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