Tim Hewitt-Coleman | Dynamite the only option for Red Location Museum
There was beautiful rain on the farm on Saturday night.
It’s been very dry, so the sound of rain on the tin roof as we huddled in front of Netflix was even more pleasant and com- forting than usual. Except of course that the tiny cottage we live in is located in a little patch of third world where, for some reason, the internet goes down every time there is the smallest drop of rain.
With no connectivity, activity in the cottage quickly gravitates to reading, playing chess or trying to teach our enormous Great Dane Tank to add “lie down” to his small repertoire of tricks.
My grown son Litha was slouched behind the Weekend Post. “Dad, what can we do to get it opened?” he asked, referring to the headlines talking about the “Disgrace” that the beautiful Red Location Museum remains closed to the public for more than five years. “It’s not that simple,” I mutter vaguely as I try for the third time to reset the Wi-Fi router.
His question interests me though and we end up debating it well into the rainy night. The exchange got me thinking about the issue and wondering if this whole matter has been thought through properly.
Don’t get me wrong. I think that the buildings that make up the Red Location Museum precinct are the best collection of contemporary buildings in the province.
The buildings were lovingly designed by Jo Noero, an architect deserving of the highest levels of respect.
I suppose, though, the question still remains: “Why does the museum remain closed?” Perhaps there’s more to this than the lawlessness of the local neighbourhood.
Perhaps there is more to this than the fumbling incompetence of the three spheres of government that have sway here.
I’m beginning to think the real problem is that Red Location Museum was way ahead of its time. But not in a good way.
I have visited Berlin. There is a Holocaust museum there (as there are in many other parts of the world). While these museums are all different, they have one thing in common.
They were built after the holocaust was over. Just like the Vietnam War memorial was built after the Americans lost the Vietnam War.
Just like the little memorial I visited in Buenos Aires was built after the Falklands War. I suppose it’s a matter of timing. Mayor Nceba Faku was the best mayor PE has ever had, but perhaps he got this wrong.
Perhaps he declared victory in the struggle for liberation against apartheid too soon.
Perhaps the people struggling in desperate poverty to this day in Red Location and hundreds of other places like it may say that it is even now, 25 years after 1994, still too soon to celebrate or to memorialise victory. After all, our World War 2 hero, Winston Churchill, did not declare victory on “D-Day” when the Allies stormed the beaches of Normandy. No.
They pushed on, did the dirty work and cleared Europe of every last Nazi Pantzer, released every last Jew, gypsy, gay and Slav from the concentration camps and then, only then, declared victory on Armistice Day.
I guess that the city’s great thinkers, like the erudite and well-spoken Rory Riordan, who worked tirelessly to ensure the Red Location Museum received funding, got built and became more than a mayor’s pipe dream, will argue that I am misguided.
He will point to the projected economic impact and how the tourists could flock there, spend their euros and pounds and Zim dollars and thereby stimulate the economy and create a better future for the poor and destitute of Blawa, Ndokwenza and Katanga.
Well friends, I am afraid the jury is out on this one. In the 13 years since the museum was opened in 2006, it could not even generate enough tourist spend to keep its own little museum restaurant running, let alone stimulate the rest of the region’s tourist economy! I am afraid, colleagues, this project is a failure. It is a failure despite the good work of Noero, Faku and Riordan.
It is a failure by the ancient measure of that most famous of roman architects, Vitruvius. Even before the time of Jesus, Vitruvius helped us under- stand that for architecture to be enduring and cared for, it must prove itself against the age-old tests of “firmness, commodity and delight”. Yes, Red location Museum is “firm” (it hasn’t fallen down).
Yes, it is delightful. But no, it does not offer “commodity”. It is not used. It has no function in this particular time, in this particular economy and under these particular social conditions. By the measure of the great Vitruvius, therefore, the Red Location Museum is failed architecture.
Of course, we are concerned as taxpayers that we have spent so much money on these buildings.
We feel, therefore, that something productive must be forced upon them. This mistaken thinking, friends, is the “sunken cost fallacy”, also known as “throwing good money after bad”.
Even the Berlin Wall and the Sardinia Bay Surf Lifesaving Club were demolished when we reached consensus that building them was a mistake.
Perhaps then, if anyone ever resuscitates Mayor Faku’s plan to demolish the freeways that devastated the once bustling Strand Street, they may also be so wise as to add the Red Location Museum to the list of structures to be dynamited!
Tim Hewitt-Coleman is an award-winning Port Elizabeth architect in private practice...