FUTURE CAPE TOWN | 3 ideas to expand the South African National Art Gallery in Cape Town

“how to add onto an important historic building such as the National Gallery in a contemporary manner”

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Young architects at the University of Cape Town present design concepts for expansion of the South African National Gallery in Cape Town.

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An elective studio in the first semester of 2015 saw the students of the Honors Program in the School of Architecture and Planning at the University of Cape Town (UCT), focus on the Iziko South African National Art Gallery.  The students explored the ways in which the current accommodation could be radically upgraded and increased in size to offer up more gallery spaces to house contemporary South African Art.

The National Gallery is of huge importance to the country which is underlined by the pending opening of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (MoCAA) at the V&A Waterfront in 2016. According to the class, “commercially driven art galleries tend to drown out the voices of the serious art critic and citizen. Commercial galleries need to sell art to survive – in an increasingly competitive art market commercial galleries tend to support those artists who are signed up to the gallery. This has a number of unfortunate aspects including the drowning out of other voices and talents and the stifling of debate outside of commercial interest”.

They add that “the National Gallery has an important role to play in this context – yet it is curiously silent. This is not good – we need a strong well funded National Gallery of Art gallery to represent all artists in SA set well outside of the commercial wrangling that often accompany exhibitions of art in SA”.

The students work is directed towards looking at ways to bring the National Gallery’s accommodation up to date and to look at ways of adding new spaces and to to address a challenge: namely “how to add onto an important historic building such as the National Gallery in a contemporary manner”. This issue can be expanded to offer up the challenge of “how to describe a contemporary architectural style in South Africa which can, with ease, speak to all people”.

As written by Javiera Cadiz Bedini in ARTsouthAFRICA, “it is not impossible to extend the National Gallery, despite the fact that it appears to be an unattainable reality. The proposal to extend it is an ideal that houses hope.

The proposals, plans and models envisioned by these future architects interweaved architectural concepts to formulate an amicable understanding between the past (represented by the exiting building) and the future envisioned by the models. The creative processes were guided by ideas around museological and architectural theories. But more than the aesthetic functions of a building that would serve to house contemporary art in Africa, the students were challenged to structure their thinking around the needs and the role of the institution as a public space. The young architects also had to consider facilities such as storage space, restaurants and cafés. Something as simple as a shop for instance – which has been closed down at the present gallery – is a fundamental asset that has the potential not only to generate income, but also to inspire interest, invoke remembrance (a souvenir) and nurture intellectual growth through literature (books for sale). In international art establishments these are taken for granted as a necessity in an art space of social significance. Yet these basic requirements appear to be too excessive for the place that showcases some of South Africa’s most important treasures. – Javiera Cadiz Bedini

The exhibition of the work comprised 12 honors students who presented different ways of imagining how to change and enlarge the gallery. The aim was to open up a discussion in Cape Town about the future of the Art Gallery. Here are our three favourite proposals as selected by the Future Cape Town team.

Georgia Came – Elements Transformed

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Jaco Forrer – Dynamic Integration

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Rebecca Looringh van Beeck – Below Ground

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  1. Text and Visuals: UCT Honors Program (School of Architecture)
  2. Additional sourceArt South Africa