From the Series
On the Friday afternoon of Design Indaba Conference 2017, Snøhetta co-founder Craig Dykers and Johannesburg-based Local Studio architect Thomas Chapman revealed the ‘Arch for Arch’: a commission by Design Indaba as a tribute to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, one of South Africa’s most beloved sons. The project was made possible by the generosity of Design Indaba sponsor Liberty.
Arch for Arch celebrates the free South Africa that Tutu and his peers fought to build, and plays on his country’s affectionate nickname for him – ‘The Arch’ – as well as on the architectural attributes of an arch structure. Dykers explained that just as an arch relies on a keystone to avoid collapse, so too does a free South Africa rely on its constitution.
With help and local knowledge from Chapman, the Oslo and New York-based, award-winning architecture studio Snøhetta also brought to the launch of the memorial arch a letter from the Nobel Peace institute endorsing the project that commemorates their 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner.
Made from 14 arching strands of wood, each bearing a quote from one of the 14 lines in the South African Constitution’s preamble, the Arch for Arch will stand next to St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town – where Tutu served as Archbishop and poignantly close to the National Parliament buildings and the Slave Lodge – as a permanent sign of Tutu’s “prophetic voice in protest and as a humble priest.” A prototype of the structure will also be installed permanently in Johannesburg at The Constitutional Court.
Albert “Albie” Sachs, activist and former constitutional court judge, helped choose the 14 lines of the preamble as the words that will remain on the arches.
In his address to the crowd at Design Indaba, Tutu recalled the destruction of Apartheid’s ‘vicious system’, saying, “All that we did was articulate your aspirations and remind you that you are not second hand - you are not a feeble copy but a glorious original.” Tutu was joined on stage by Archbishops Ndungane and Makgoba and Bishop Margaret Virtue.
As our media partner, Ashley Johnson from Pentagram observed, “How resonant that line must have been with the 1500 creatives assembled in Artscape that afternoon. After all, Design Indaba was born in 1995, in part from the upsurge of confidence in South Africa’s post-1994 future with the belief that the creative shall inherit the earth.”
Where the triumphant arches of Europe stand tall and imposing, the Arch for Arch is an experiential piece, allowing anyone to walk through it or seek the shelter it provides. It is not a confrontational structure, although its very presence will serve as a strong reminder of the importance of the Constitution and the freedom of the people.
Here, where something beautiful is born at the intersection of design and art and activism, when design invokes empathy, and when the urgency to create something new reflects the hopes and aspirations of many, then we have something to truly celebrate. In a world where borders are increasingly being fortified and walls – both literally and metaphorical – are being built between peoples, the Arch for Arch project is a radiant example of work that is made possible by international collaboration and openness. The wooden arches were bent by a Croatian boat builder Dario Farcic in Johannesburg. The very process of creation speaks to Tutu’s all-accepting attitude. No matter what faith, colour, nationality, all are equal.
14 lines to honour The Arch by Katie de Klee on the presentation of the prototype:
To ArchBishop Desmond Emeritus Tutu, our Arch
To the man who speaks truth to power
Who stood always at the heart of the fight
But shows the power of peace and calm.
To our laughing Bishop – sometimes strident, often tender
Man of god and grandfather of the people
Whose broad shoulders comfort the nation
We honour you, our Arch and thank you.
14 lines before 14 chapters, now written on 14 arcs of wood
The bowing wooden arches, at once strong and yielding,
Create a space of sanctuary and stillness for all,
Providing shelter but never blocking the view of the sky
Archbishop Tutu, much loved, we honour you
Accept this as our tribute to you today
Images by Jonx Pillimer