Stauch Vorster Architects completes rural monument to Mandela
This group of buildings is sited on a hill inset to the Qunu Village, 1,5km from Nelson Mandela’s rural
home. To the north of the site, 50m away, lie the remains of the round clay buildings where he
attended primary school.
The government department of Arts and Culture commissioned the project as a gift to Nelson
Mandela who in turn requested that the building be designed for the enjoyment of all South Africans,
particularly children who could stay there and enjoy the peace of rural life that he holds so dear.
The chiefs and headmen of the surrounding villages were consulted regarding their vision of the
proposed development. All agreed that local vernacular rural architectural language could be drawn
from but not copied in any way and should reflect simple buildings of international appeal.
Traditional huts of the area employ a timber branch post and rafter construction so that the house
frame is erected before cladding the walls with hand placed clay and thatched roofing. The team of
architects (Stauch Vorster, Osmond Lange and Mtetwa & associates) led by Stauch Vorster
Architects employed a similar system of construction, but with robust galvanised steel framing with
soft formed clay brickwork infill and profiled steel roofing.
The site is close to the crest of the Upper Qunu hill, so the building roofs were kept low to prevent the
development from being obtrusive and breaking the skyline.
North East and West facades employed thick masonry enclosure with the soft south valley facing
facades constructed from aluminium framing with glass and timber shiplap infill.
The buildings congregate along an inter village path as a ribbon type of layout. The cultural great
space forms the focus of the development surrounded by a tourist restaurant, a small museum to
display Mr Mandela’s gifts, a community hall and resource centre and offices.
To the west, 6 single and double level buildings with 2 rooms per level are placed along the path, with
a dining hall and kitchen and sports hall at the far end.
To the east, a craft manufacturing building and a caretaker’s home complete the development.
The Qunu community participated intimately in the construction. The contractor was only allowed to
bring 20% skilled labour to the site, the remainder was made up of unskilled local residents (cultural
customs dictate that women carry out most manual labour so women made up much of the
workforce). In order to leave behind new skills in this rural area, the designers focussed on finishes
which could be made on site, i.e. paving flagstones, pebble embedded paving, tinted floors, wattle
screens, carved timber steel post inserts, sheet iron light fittings and cupboard door infill, wall
mosaics, nursery planting, extensive stone walls (stone was collected by residents within a 30km
radius from the site). All of the work involving the community far exceeded the team’s expectations in
quality and character and imbued the project with personality and a sense of community ownership.
The result is a complex of modest, carefully simple buildings which quietly occupy their place
between villages among the rolling Eastern Cape hills.