The vision of Freedom Park is linked to the phenomenon of the flowing time. It is an attempt to embody in architecture the historical continuum of the nation.
The ascending verticality of the project on the summit of Salvokop Hill outside Pretoria, takes its place amongst other landmarks to the south of the city and balances the horizontal presence of Sir Herbert Read’s Union Buildings to the north. The prominent site, gives Freedom Park the opportunity to transform the skyline of the city as a new landmark, and propose itself as a beacon of the struggle for the ideal of the equality of all peoples throughout the world.
Surrounded by indigenous sugarbush trees at the end of the spiral path, the Witness Memorial crowns the hill. Designed as a hollowed-out tree trunk, it is inspired by the African tradition of carving a grave from within the trunk of a Baobab tree as an honorific grave. Since baobabs leave for hundred of years, these grave-trees, pregnant with corpses of loved people, become living monuments to their memory. The Memorial is 30 meters high, 20 meters in diameter and open to the elements through a 5-meter wide oculus.
The wall of the Memorial is punctured with openings containing portrait-like etched-glass likenesses of the martyrs of the struggle against Apartheid. During the day, sunlight projects a moving array of martyr’s faces onto the wall surfaces of the interior. At night, the memorial, illuminated from within, becomes a glowing beacon on the skyline. Constructed with local brick masonry and whitewashed on the interior, the Memorial aims to give presence to the sacrifice made by the martyrs by way of simple architectural form and the nobility of elementary materials.
The first three levels of the Museum operate relatively independently of the rest of the building, allowing for open and flexible use of these facilities during Museum off hours. A ramp connects the Auditorium and Museum Lobbies and continues on the third level to the Temporary Exhibition Gallery providing flexibility of programmatic use to accommodate exhibitions, cultural, and fundraising events.
A terrace at the lower entry level provides a platform for outdoor dining or can be used as exterior Performance Space. At the Museum Lobby level, space has been allocated for a Museum Shop and Bookstore, the Museum Library and Archive, and a South African Arts and Crafts Store.
The Freedom Park Museum aspires to create an educational experience brought about by a “summoning of all the senses.” The chiaroscuro of light played out on the plastered walls of the galleries, the ramps reminding bodies of their weight as they move through space, and the curved surface of the cavernous interior, subtly invoke a spiritual transcendence only understood with the whole body.
The building is configured as four soaring “trunks” containing ten galleries organized in chronologically, from South Africa’s prehistory on the fourth level of the museum to the moment of liberation from Apartheid in the Freedom Gallery on the top floor.
The height of each level is determined by the development of the ramps that connect them, unfolding at the perimeter of the galleries. One of the “trunks” is dedicated to stairs and elevators, while the other three contain the galleries. As one moves from a gallery in “truck A,” let’s say, to a gallery in “trunk B,” the ramp used unfolds in the space of a gallery in “trunk C,” seen as “inaccessible” below. This organization in three defines a spatial rhythm that gives structure to the movement though galleries in an experience of expectation, memory and desire.
The thermal mass of the masonry building and the high diurnal temperature swing in Pretoria make a good combination for the use of passive cooling in the Freedom Park Museum. Daily temperature swings of up to 23ºF are typical of the summer months, and this swing allows the "coolth" from the night to be stored in the building’s mass and distributed throughout the building the next day moving in the cavity of the double wall that encloses the entire building.
The structure of the Freedom Park Museum is a double wall of masonry and concrete. The inner conical wall is a made of reinforced concrete and load-bearing brick masonry. The outer wall is self-supporting and is made of two wythes of brick sandwiching a 10 cm wide lightly-reinforced concrete-filled cavity.