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Workers' Museum in Newtown, Johannesburg, South Africa

Monday 21 Jun 2010

A new line of work

Henry Paine 
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Award Entry

Historic workers' compound adapted into a museum with a new entrance pavilion 

Industrial heritage has enormous cultural significance for a city like Johannesburg where the markers of mining and industrial heritage are often regarded as inconvenient and ugly. The workers’ museum has value, not only by adaptively re-using an historical / industrial structure, but by commemorating its past use through its new functioning as a museum reflecting the lives of oppressed working people.

The compound typology was introduced by the diamond mines in the 1870’s as a means to control their workers. The Newtown compound was built in 1913 and continued to house municipal workers up until the 1980’s. Traditional and sustainable building materials in Johannesburg are steel, concrete and brick. They are all locally available. The additions to the building are completely reversible; a tennet of the Burra Charter. The historic buildings have been recycled making their carbon footprint as small as it could be. Insulation has been used in the ceilings and natural ventilation provided by the inherent shape of the building makes air conditioning unnecessary.

The new building has been constructed from steel glass concrete and brick in such a way as to avoid any competition with the existing building but to make a clear entrance marker. By using old photographs, the architects were able to restore a few of the rooms to reflect what they would have looked like historically. Adaption is facilitated by the insertion of mezzanine levels and staircases serving as exhibition areas for museum artefacts. ‘Old’ and ‘new’ are legibly distinct and different. Light steel sections contrast with the existing. The courtyard acts as a shady city refuge.

The new entrance pavilion is a small contemporary structure. With the integrated fence, it helps to protect the compound against recurrent vandalism and also directs the visitor from the surrounding open areas into the museum courtyard. Sited on axis with the museum with a slightly lower floor level and exterior ramps to connect, it has a flat roof, so as not to interfere with sightlines of the historic building, while thin steel detailing, cantilevering corners and frameless glass walls are devices which contrast the new building with the old. The shiny red perimeter shelving and red glazing recall elements of the surrounding building and the socialist disposition of the workers represented.

Key Facts

Status Completed
Value 0(m€)
Were you involved in this scheme?
Henry Paine + Barry Gould

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