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Thursday Dec 13, 2012

Cape Town architect wins global award

A Cape Town architect who designed an art gallery incorporating a 115year-old shack as part of its modern look has won the 2012 Global Building of the Year award at the first Icon awards ceremony for architecture in London.

An art gallery in Port Elizabeth, designed by a Cape Town architect, has won the global Building of the Year 2012

Jo Noero, of Noero Architects, who is also a professor of architecture at UCT, designed the art gallery located in the Port Elizabeth township of New Brighton.

"No one has tried to preserve a shack in the way in which we have chosen... It feels great to have a building that I have designed awarded this kind of honour," Noero said.

"The art gallery is special from the point of view that it is one of the first art galleries to be built in a township in South Africa. Also it will be used mainly to support township artists as well as visiting exhibitions.

"The gallery is entirely naturally ventilated and lit. It wraps around a restored shack, which is over 115 years old, to form the entrance courtyard."

The art gallery was very well built and finished and sought in its design and construction to show that the townships could have buildings of value constructed in their midst, Noero said.

"Also the intention is that it will be the best-equipped gallery in town and will attract people from all walks of life who would not normally travel to a township to view art." Noero said they had decided to incorporate the shack into their design because "it is a historical artefact and represents in its material quality the way in which people lived under apartheid".

"I felt it was absolutely essential that it should be kept," he said. "However I did not want to restore it to its original state - that would have faked it to me. I wanted it to remain in its existing state which is what we have done with the help of Dr Stephen Townsend, a noted heritage architect."

Noero said the shack would be renovated on a regular basis so that its appearance changed over time just as its appearance had changed over the last 115 years.

"In this way it becomes a living monument rather than some kind of fossilised relic from the past which has needed to be carefully restored to its original pristine state," he said.

"I felt that if this was done it would not be able to tell the kinds of stories of occupation that make up its history." Noero explained that the art gallery was part of a larger collection of buildings which formed part of a competition won in 1998.

"The competition was to design a new cultural centre for the city of Port Elizabeth in Red Location, New Brighton," he said.

"In 2005 the first building was completed which was the Red Location Museum of Struggle. This building received a number of international awards including the Lubetkin Prize from the Royal Institute of British Architects in 2006 for the best building in the world outside the EU."

The museum was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Venice architecture Biennale.

"The new art gallery and the library and archive buildings were completed in 2011. The Icon award was for the art gallery. All the buildings are unique in the sense that they make up a collection of buildings in what is essentially a shack settlement that is not found anywhere else in South Africa."

The project is 50 percent complete and 220 subsidy houses will also be built as part of it. They are expected to be completed in 2014.

Cape Argus

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