A Magistrates' Law Court In Korsten, Port Elizabeth; a postcolonial exploration of hybridity and place-making
Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University - South Africa
Drawings, plans, elevations
This treatise proposes the design of a Magistrates’ Law Court in the civic core of the historically multi-cultural suburb of Korsten, in Port Elizabeth. It presents an architecture which becomes an extension of the urban realm, reinforcing the notion of a democratic, accessible and transparent justice system. It places the focus on communal spaces, in which people of all backgrounds, races and creeds may gather and meet. Although it presents a contemporary architecture, it integrates various precolonial African architectural material and tectonic references, becoming a multi-narrative of South Africa’s hybrid cultural society. Central to this investigation were the following notions: 1) Culture is constructed. 2) Architecture can be used as a mechanism within this construction. 3) Hybridity can offer a counter-narrative to the segregation of culture. 4) Architecture, like music or art, can reinforce a hybrid identity and culture. 5) The mode in which the early post-modernists approached architecture is the most appropriate, but has taken on new meaning, as has become more political in nature. Physical Quality Physically the building is structured on a grid, which gives it a sense of order and rhythm that is appropriate to the Law Court Typology. A Courthouse must uphold the authority of the law, conversely the large transparent facade provides a sense of accessibility. The form is also largely derived through the definition of the public square. The contours of the land form stairs on which the public may sit. The stairs wrap around the building from the square into the commemorative park adjacent to the courthouse, which is envisioned to be used by the residents of Korsten. The building becomes a continuation of the square and the square of the park, or vice versa. The cone-like sculptural elements are used in a post-modernist way, as a reference to the indigenous architecture of South Africa, They are a contemporary interpretation, as an attempt to engage with the silenced histories of the past. Spatial Quality Grand space, which allows for an experience, is utilized as opposed to a definitive, autonomous form. The cone-like sculptural elements create a series of moments in which people from all backgrounds may gather. People will often spend hours waiting for their trial to take place; why not make that space appealing, with simple architectural tools such as seating, natural light and ventilation. Spatial continuity becomes an important theme. The main facade is permeable, composed of glass. A pergola reaches out into the square to provide shade, but also serves to blur the thresholds between interior and exterior. The courtrooms are separated from the columns, giving the space a loose-fit and “open” feel. The first floor is composed of mezzanine platforms to allow for visual interaction between levels. The cone-like sculptural forms present a figurative archetype of African architecture. They can be interpreted and mean different things to different people, appealing to diverse subject positions.