Memorial to Absence: District Six, CT, Published in 10+ Years x 100 Projects

A full 12 years after it was first presented, my BArch Thesis is being published on 10+ Years x 100 Projects - Architecture in a Democratic South Africa (Ora Joubert, Bell-Roberts Publishing) as one of the selected 100  “most meritorious design dissertations from the eight South African universities offering architectural tuition at a post-graduate level, including the submissions of the national winners of the Corobrik Student of the Year Award from 2002 to 20017. The work has not previously been assembled and the information is gradually being lost. (…) This book is intended to serve as a reference for South African students of architecture, and also for professionals. (…) It moreover provides an extraordinary range of highly relevant and exceptionally innovative architectural interpretations, which would also find appeal to everyone associated with the building industry.” 

Memorial do Absence: District Six (UCT, 2006) was the regional finalist (Western Cape) for the national Corobrik Student of the Year Award (2007).

Memorial to Absence: District Six, Cape Town (2006)

Thesis Statement:

District Six as a site of collective memory 

District Six is emotionally charged for those who inhabited it or experienced it prior to the forced removals and demolitions of 1968-1982, or to those who, not having known it, are outraged by the totalitarianism of the Apartheid state - which decided the fate of the people of this country according to the colour of their skin. 

The site today reveals no trace of the fine fabric it once possessed. None, except for remnants of former streets, today trails covered in grass. Memory, without evidence, is doomed to fade with time from the public/collective consciousness, even though interpretations are present in historical treatises, records, archaeological data, museums. 

I am convinced that once the original residents pass away, then their children and finally their grandchildren –sixty, one hundred years after Apartheid – the power of their testimonies (the original: of the body) will fade, especially if replaced with a different built environment as is intended. 

Creating a future memory 

For an outsider or foreigner, someone displaced in space and time, the emptiness of the present site would be devoid of meaning if not for the records of the District Six Museum – photographs, illustrations, mappings, music and individual narratives, which contribute greatly to the understanding of the human dimension – the tragedy – of the forced removals, demolitions and their traumatic consequences. However, this emptiness – the absence – cannot be engaged at a physical level, since not even ruins are present. 

I believe that the site of what was District Six – the actual ground – is the only physical remnant of the settlement, and thus holds more authority – or authenticity – for engaging with interpretative and/or
interactive buildings/ memorials that actively explain and engage with the past. The absence of District Six is a powerful (if not physically experienced) evidence of the history of Cape Town – of this country – that attests for the power of a political ideology of state and must be remembered in the future. 

The role of architecture: Accessing the memory of loss 

A memorial is built so one can never forget.
The absence (forced removal) of District Six from Cape Town’s urban life and fabric is a loss which must be experienced by future generations as proof – one of many – of the excesses of Apartheid. 

But what is the capacity of architecture to capture the memory of loss? 

As urban intervention, the memorial suggests a presence which is no longer, a walk-in sculpture that partially re-creates the experience of walking along sections of the former Richmond and Hanover streets, a cut into the ground that gradually digs deeper into the earth, recovering the characteristic steepness of the uphill streets of the District and gradually absorbing the visitor from the rest of the city, whose sounds fade to a complete silence. 

The sculpture reproduces the District’s characteristic street morphology to the original scale in an abstracted and uncanny way that speaks of its lifelessness and gives it an otherworldly character. It lends itself to daily use as a thoroughfare, to be built prior to the area’s future re-development; a wound from which the new settlement would grow. 

Using Format