IN FOCUS: Arch for Arch a reminder of how far we've come

2017-10-03 13:14
The Arch for Arch being constructed next to St. George's Cathedral in Cape Town. (Picture: Supplied)

The Arch for Arch being constructed next to St. George's Cathedral in Cape Town. (Picture: Supplied)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories


Giant arch to honour Tutu in Cape Town

2017-09-28 17:03

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu will be honoured with a specially designed monument, celebrating his legacy in upholding the Constitution. WATCH

When Kjetil Thorsen, founding partner of the world renowned Norwegian architecture firm Snøhetta, met Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu a few years ago in Stockholm he had no idea how invested he would one day become in his legacy.

What he did know was that the speech the Arch made that day was unforgettable: his warmth, softness and humour have left a lasting impression on the architect.

If you walk past the recently constructed Arch for Arch at the top of Adderley Street  - at the entrance to the Company Gardens in central Cape Town - you will see this very impression in the features of this remarkable new sculpture.

The arch was designed by Snøhetta, in collaboration with Thomas Chapman from Local Studio and the team from Design Indaba.

It was an easy decision for Thorsen and co-founding partner Craig Dykers to say yes when approached by Design Indaba’s managing director Ravi Naidoo.

Norway and South Africa have a longstanding relationship, with the ANC establishing an office in Oslo in 1986 to inform the international community about apartheid and advocate for sanctions. 

'We’re extremely honoured just to be part of it'

Having worked on other memorable projects like the reconstruction of New York’s Times Square, the Arch for Arch was a fitting coalition.

"What person that wasn’t completely insane would say no to getting involved in something as beautiful as this? We were extremely flattered on the one hand, extremely challenged on the other hand, and also frightened and uncertain about how to represent ourselves in the community," says Thorsen. 

"It’s been such an easy process, working with Thomas Chapman from Local Studio and Ravi Naidoo and his team from Design Indaba," says Thomas Fagernes, partner and designer on the project.

"We really came up with some ideas and they made it happen. It’s a collaboration of ideas and we’re extremely honoured just to be part of it."

And what good fortune it was that Snøhetta was part of the conceptualisation of the arch, as their partners seem to fully grasp the importance of national symbols in a country where there is an ongoing debate about how the legacy of colonialism and apartheid is perpetuated by the symbols in our public spaces. 

According to Thorsen, the intimate relationship between the public and any monument or symbol needs to be real.

"The symbolic value of something is deeply embedded in the need for creating that symbol in the first place. The way it’s presented to the public needs to trigger some sensitivity in something you believe in or something that you think is important. Every symbol needs to have a deeper understanding and a deeper meaning and it needs to be quite direct."

Each strand of wood represents chapter of Constitution

The 9-metre high Arch for Arch is made up of 14 strands of wood and is located next to St George’s Cathedral, from where Tutu led countless marches and campaigns during apartheid. The cathedral was a common meeting point for activists and women’s rights groups, and it is fitting that the arch was constructed right next door.

According to Thorsen, the structure is meant to serve as a reminder of what South Africans have sacrificed to get where they are, and the hope is that it will become a placemaker and a space where people might stop for a moment to reflect on the country, the Constitution, or whatever it is that is influencing their lives at that particular point.

"People should be able to go there and just be there and maybe remember that they forgot to buy milk or do shopping. The design of the arch is such that you’re not suppressed by the content continuously, so it also needs another human level of interaction," says Thorsen.

Each strand of wood represents a chapter of the Constitution and phrases from the respective chapters are carved into the wood. 

According to Fagernes, the concept of an arch started with the idea of creating a globe that showed South Africa’s place in the world.  

"It’s a sphere, but not a full sphere; not a real globe. You still have the openings and the inclusion of the tree… the tree isn’t chopped off to encompass the place. You can fill in the surfaces missing in the structure in your own mind," he explains. 

'It can be symbolic and it also just be a place'

It’s also meant to be a gate, something to pass through, and a bridge from one place to another, holding up something bigger than ourselves.

"In architectural design, you always have to leave something open to interpretation to avoid becoming banal. That’s why it’s not a solid globe or a gate or simply a half circle; it tapers in near the ground," Thorsen says.

The architects chose wood to build the arch, instead of a more synthetic material such as concrete or steel, going for a softer, tactile look and feel. The weather and the touch of people passing through the arch will likely change its appearance over years, until it blends in seamlessly with its surrounds and the other trees in the Company's Garden.

"This fits Tutu’s legacy also… there’s a daily humour and daily openness. There is a bottom-up understanding of things. The structure couldn’t be too abstract. It had to be fairly specific and concrete. The structure we have can be both. It can be symbolic and it also just be a place."

Coming up with a name was easy, as Tutu is, of course, fondly referred to as the Arch.

The Arch for Arch will be unveiled on October 7 to coincide with Tutu’s 86th birthday.

A second, smaller arch will be constructed on Constitution Hill in Johannesburg and be unveiled in December, on the 21st birthday of the Constitution.


Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.