The National Heritage Project
Location: Soweto, South Africa
Competition Entry 2013
Winner: Undecided

Client Brief: This project proposal was done in response to a client’s competition brief to several local landscape architects. The brief called for the design of a park that narrates the history of the South African democracy in the last 100years. It had to be a place to remember and celebrate heroines and heroes that contributed to the struggle for democracy as well as a place to enjoy on a day-to-day basis. The first phase of the project was the placement of one hundred commissioned statues of the contributors. The client’s vision extended outwards to allow for foreign countries to contribute to developing the park through the introduction of vignette gardens.

Project description: At first, when GREENinc received the brief, we were concerned that there was so much content duplication and overlapping with similar projects planned and built in South Africa. Amongst them are Freedom Park, June 16 Memorial Acre, and Sharpeville massacre site, which our practice has been involved with for the past 8 years. It was imperative to develop a language that was both commemorative as well as well as generative.

The site

The site (image 1) did not offer many clues apart from its location adjacent to the National Stadium (Soccer City), its connectivity with the BRT, as well as good city viewing opportunities to the east. A severely disturbed site overgrown with gum trees and black wattle was to become a major destination for tourist and citizens alike. Therein we found the origin of the concept.

Commemorative response as a generator for a vibrant human ecology

A disturbed landscape shows the scars of human impact and the subsequent neglect that accelerated the unravelling of a vibrant ecology. The reversal of this process is costly and would need substantial capital investment through projects that are economically viable. Our team realised that commemorative requirements of the brief alone would not attract the numbers to ensure this viability and sustainability. Without compromising the gravitas required for designing a place of memory, we set out to develop a scheme that was complex, mixed, multi-functional and robust. We needed to tap into the energy generated by events at the stadium by decanting the fans/spectators after large events into the park. During these events the potential inflow, which could be as high as ten thousand visitors, would be exposed to the functions of the park. The feasibility of Freedom Park was based on two hundred and fifty thousand visitors per annum which we felt could comfortably achieved in this park proposal.

High density mixed used development was proposed along the Nasrec road as well as the future extension of Rand Show road. This spatially frames the site and shelters the park from these two busy arterial roads. A large arrival square (image 6 – no 1&2) interrupts the dense bank of mixed-use development along Nasrec road opening up a view corridor to the Johannesburg CBD. This square is connected to the Stadium ground with a pedestrian link over Nasrec road. A two thousand-seat auditorium is deliberately place off axis to allow free movement and view lines from the square towards the amphitheatre. A processional route envelops the amphitheatre where the visitor encounters the randomly placed life-size statues envisioned by the client. Almost like bumping into an acquaintance while on a walk in the neighbourhood.

The pilgrimage route ties back to the arrival square from where the visitor can access all the amenities that the park offers. This includes the vignette gardens, festival gardens, picnic spaces, and wetland gardens.

Conclusion: The National Heritage Project seeks to reverse the negative environmental impacts that humans have had on the identified site through capital investment, and projects that are economically viable. By developing a scheme that was complex, mixed, multi-functional and robust, the scheme aims to tap into the energy generated by events at the neighbouring stadium and expose the fans/spectators to a park narrating the history of 100 years of democracy in South Africa

The merits of design competitions are questionable. Landscape Architects often test the sharpness of their design skills by entering and often do their best work in this process. This proposal was no different. Even though we knew that the project was politically and economically over-ambitious, we enjoyed the opportunity to gauge how our office would handle a project of this scale and complexity without the assistance of architects, urban designers and engineers.

While working on The National Heritage Project, we realised that given the scope and responsibility, we as landscape architects can play a much more profound and visionary role in the planning and building of projects. Furthermore, we believe that a ‘landscape’ scheme of this scale and nature can be designed to be an economically viable scheme, while at the same time, providing a place for society to come together and celebrate 100 years of South Africa’s democracy.

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