Snøhetta’s most recent project was unveiled at South Africa’s globally renowned Design Indaba Conference. In partnership with South African office, Local Studio, and Design Indaba, Snohetta has designed a memorial arch for human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Once completed, the Arch will be situated at the intersection of Adderley Street and Wale Street at the northern end of Cape Town’s cultural precinct known as The Company’s Garden, between St. George’s Cathedral, where Tutu served as Archbishop, and the National Parliament.
Following Craig Dykers’ closing keynote at Design Indaba, the first prototype of the Arch design was revealed. To the surprise of the audience, Archbishop Tutu joined the celebration, making his first public appearance in nearly two years for the announcement of the memorial. Archbishop Tutu,affectionately known as The Arch to South Africans, was accompanied by the Mayor of Cape Town, Patricia de Lille, Archbishop Ndungane, Archbishop Makgoba and Bishop Vertue for the celebration. The celebration was concluded by a chorus sang by the 48-person choir.
In late 2017, the first Arch revealed at Design Indaba will take its permanent location in Johannesburg at South Africa’s highest judicial court, The Constitutional Court. The second Arch will take its place in Cape Town, symbolically linking the sites of Parliament and the Constitutional Court with sister Arches of 14 intertwined strands of bent wood, representing the 14 chapters of the South African constitution. Snohetta and Local Studio will also design the improvements and seating to the surrounding plaza behind St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town.
An Arch for The Arch
The recent landmark case in the Constitutional Court in South Africa, its apex court, found that the President has failed to uphold the Constitution of the country. It has been a salutary lesson that the country’s hard won democracy cannot be taken for granted. Delivering the judgment, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng said that the National Assembly “is the voice of all South Africans, especially the poor, the voiceless and the least remembered. It is the watchdog of state resources, the enforcer of fiscal discipline and cost effectiveness….”
A critical assumption in the architecture of the constitution is that Parliament shall always be in a position to hold the executive to account. This assumption is no longer true, and the adverse finding by the court should cause all of us to ask how that legitimacy can be regained. Renewing the covenant of trust between government and the governed is of critical importance now more than ever, and Archbishop Tutu’s Arch will stand as a testament to that need.
In a collaborative workshop with Snøhetta, the structural properties of an Arch emerged as the core concept for the design. An arch is supported by opposing forces pushing against one another and held together by a keystone. As a metaphor for the integrity of the country’s democracy, the Arch’s conceptual keystone is the Constitution of South Africa. The form embodies the importance of the Constitution to the legitimacy of our democracy.
The Arch’s significant location astride Parliament will stand as a constant reminder to lawmakers. Situated next to St George’s Cathedral, which is the seat of the Archbishop of Cape Town, the Arch will also frame the public entrance to the Company’s Garden, that has been in existence since 1652, and is the most popular walk for citizens accessing the cultural precinct of Cape Town.
An Arch for The Arch is more than a memorial for Archbishop Tutu. it leverages of the legacy of South Africa’s foremost campaigner for democracy to create a platform for public participation in upholding the Constitution. The Arch will stand as a permanent tribute to what was sacrificed in the pursuit of democracy, and the vital necessity of protecting these rights for generations to come.