Freedom Park

PHOTOS: Adriaan Louw | PRODUCTION: Klara van Wyngaarden | WORDS: Nia Magoulianiti-McGregor

A new exhibition space in Pretoria’s Freedom Park is all set to bring South Africa’s cultural, historical and spiritual past to life.

It isn’t often that traditional healers, African academics and a contemporary architect with offices on Joburg’s Jan Smuts Avenue get together to discuss the design of a 21st-century building.

For the design of //Hapo (pronounced “Klapo” with aKhoisan click), an interactive, interpretative exhibition space, this is exactly what happened. Its genesis was all about consultation. But then //Hapo means “dream” and, according to a Khoi proverb, a dream cannot be realized unless it is shared by a whole community.

This area of Freedom Park, a memorial site for those who gave their lives to the struggle, is ready to tell the story of Southern Africa in narrative and visual form when it opens to the public on 1 April 2011. The building was therefore always going to be “uniquely African” says principal design architect, Jeremy Rose of Mashabane Rose Associates.

The project – a joint venture with MMA Architects and GAPP Architects and Urban Designers – started with the idea of creating boulder shapes that blended in with the landscape. This concept was solidified following a chat with an academic and a visit to the rocky healing garden of renowned sangoma Dr Credo Mutwa in Kuruman.

“The building comprises interconnected smaller boulders that expand and contract,” Jeremy explains. “These natural shapes resonate with other memorials on the site, including a space called Isivivane, where boulders surround a final resting place.”

Jeremy says his team decided on an envelope of copper around the building for the roof and walls. “Copper ages slowly and will finally go green to merge with the colour of the hill.” 

Cave-like interiors

The interior is cave-like, featuring windows at different levels and with irregular shapes to resemble the fissures in natural boulders. “We found that many indigenous religious practices take place in caves,” says Jeremy. “This design creates individual character and makes the building work well as a museum.”

The interior spaces are based on seven epochs in which South Africa’s history unfolded, including The Earth, Colonisation and Resistance, and Nation and Continent Building. The structure swoops and rises from the low to high spaces that define a period. “The moments of compression are where the story changes, where ideas are formed. The moments, say, before the apartheid struggle,” says Jeremy.

Around the buildings, traditional healers who chose plants with healing properties advised landscapers about what should grow where. According to Jeremy, “The design of this building took place by finding images through conversations about indigenous ideas – a process that resulted in a truly unique structure.”

• Mashabane Rose Associates: 011 486 1057,
• Freedom Park: