Challenging and thought-provoking, subtle and striking, memorable and sensitive – a tribute commission is nothing if not intimidating to design. In the case of the recently unveiled ‘Arch for Arch’, a wooden framework dedicated to Nobel Peace laureate Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu in the Company’s Garden in Cape Town, it was about paying homage to a hero, but also about creating a public space that signifies human rights and freedom.
‘It’s so important to have these symbols and metaphors for what it is to be a South African,’ says founder of Design Indaba Ravi Naidoo, one of three key contributors to this piece. ‘[The Arch] is really a metaphor for the Constitution – it comprises 14 arches of wood for 14 chapters of the Constitution.’
After Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille asked Naidoo to create a structure that would recognise Tutu’s legacy, he recruited the best in the business to articulate the design. First on board: Norway-based firm Snøhetta. ‘We didn’t want to create a monument, but instead use location to form a public space,’ says the firm’s director Thomas Fagernes.
Next Naidoo drafted Local Studio, an architecture practice well versed in South Africa’s contentious urban environment. ‘It had to be more than just a tribute piece,’ Local Studio architect Daniel Trollip says. ‘And with [the Arch] situated just outside Parliament, we anticipate it as a place for people to gather, protest and hold events.’
The swooping network of chapters sits sturdily yet ever so lightly at the entrance to the Company’s Garden, where squirrels might scurry about its beams and trees grow between its apertures. Snøhetta chose wood as the primary material. ‘Wood has a warmth to it. It is alive and has tactility – and it suits the humour of the archbishop,’ says Fagernes. The design teams worked with arborists and horticulturalists to ensure that the structure would meld effortlessly with its environment.
For Naidoo, conceptualising the design within the context of place was vital. ‘It’s a homage to Archbishop Tutu, it’s a celebration of our democracy and the Constitution, and it’s a place to constantly conscientise us that our work is not yet done.’