peter rich architects: mapungubwe interpretation center, south africa
peter rich architects: mapungubwe interpretation center, south africa peter rich architects: mapungubwe interpretation center, south africa
nov 05, 2009

peter rich architects: mapungubwe interpretation center, south africa

‘mapungubwe interpretation center’ by peter rich architects, south africa all images courtesy WAF

south african firm peter rich architects have been named winner for the category of culture (completed buildings) at the 2009 world architecture festival.

mapungubwe interpretation centre is situated at the confluence of the limpopo and shashe rivers. the mapungubwe national park celebrates the site of an ancient civilization linked to the great zimbabwe trading culture in the context of a natural setting that re-establishes the indigenous fauna and flora of this region. the interpretation centre is set on the side of a mesa, formed from the dramatic geological events that resulted in the limpopo river changing its course from flowing into the atlantic ocean to discharging into the indian ocean. the ceremonial centre of this civilization is located on a sister mesa, one kilometre away from the site, is the visual climax of the architectural experience orchestrated in the design of the centre. this is a poverty relief project using ecological methods and materials.

the complex landscape was both the inspiration for the design and the source of most of the materials for its construction. this resulted in a composition of structures that are authentically rooted to their location. the equilateral triangle provides the primary ordering, set out from a line running parallel to the contours. secondary elements are fixed in position by this geometrical system, significant because of its reference to triangular motifs etched on stones uncovered on mapungubwe hill. the heart of the interpretation centre is visually contained by two hollow cairns that evoke the route-markers found in southern african cultures. timbrel vaulting is used to construct the billowing forms that expose the arched edges of their thin shells, an analogy of the archaeological revelation of past cultures.

exterior and interior of the centre

the domical language is contrasted by the delicate walkways that create a zigzagging ramped route through the complex. the visitor’s first view, across a seasonal stream, is of the principal vaults springing directly from the land on robust buttresses. volumes are linked by terraced seating, contrasting the structured horizontality of the contours with the diaphanous domes and arches. the surfacing of all of the masonry in local rubble stone creates a timeless quality. it is as if they had erupted from the earth in a geological event similar to that which created the mesas of the site and mapungubwe hill.

the route provides the visitor with a multiplicity of experiences, evoking the complex social interactions of the many cultures that have traversed the site. the strong southern light is tempered by rusted steel screens that echo the network of branches of indigenous trees; horizontally slatted natural timber evokes traditional shade structures. the arrival point is marked by the first of the hollow cairns, lit by an oculus that tracks the path of the sun. the experience of the internal exhibition space is cavernous, articulated by the exposed tiles made from the local soil. light is filtered through fused coloured glass, with dappled patterns reflected from the ponds that cool the air that naturally ventilates the buildings. the termination of this central space is a second cairn, representing the sunset and housing the golden rhinoceros that has become a southern african icon. visitors have a choice of route: ramp and stair, internal and external, to move into the upper parts of the vaults and appreciate the privileged view of the lower volume, as did the ancestors from their elevated position on the plateau of the hill. the route continues outside the covered spaces, leading to the highest part of the site and affording a view across a flat expanse to mapungubwe hill in the distance, with its backdrop of the limpopo.

the dome shaped roof is made from tiles that have been constructed with local soil

view of site

site plan cross section view

drawing of theatre

cross section view

workers construct the roof using local soil, adding masonry to the surface

  • big fan!

    gustyn says:
  • fantastic

    sam says:
  • A kind of mix between Eladio Dieste and Hans Isler?

    elelvis says:
  • Wow

    gigelceluratel says:
  • are the local folk living in these structures? if not? when?

    jewlz says:
  • Brillant!

    mandril says:
  • I always liked curved brick roof structures standing for ages along the road to sun city (on your right) afer the main right turn coming from the main road after the African flea market a little after the Hartepoortbees dam.
    So it’s not 100% new in RSA but the way its interpreted its very airy and light and sure a good addition to RSA.

    Vic Stapel says:

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