26 June 2024

‘Inverted monument’ to SA’s nuclear legacy wins Grand Prize at 37th Corobrik Student Architecture Awards

Contributing to the historic record of South Africa’s nuclear weapons programme in a small way and highlight forgotten history was the main aim of his thesis, says Arran Wood from the University of the Free State, winner of the R70 000 Grand Prize at the 37th annual Student Architecture Awards at a gala event on 10 May in Kramerville, Johannesburg.

The judging panel commented that Arran’s thesis, ‘Spectral Flesh – Remembrance’, made an invaluable contribution to an unrecorded and forgotten, yet incredibly important part, of South Africa’s history. “It was the goal that the thesis would be able to become a small part of history by documenting the buildings of nuclear development,” said Arran.

Judge Somers Govender from Artek 4 Architects said that Arran had put the panel through “the most incredible history lesson about an unrecorded narrative.” The project centres on a so-called ‘inverted monument’ and foundry at the decommissioned Pelindaba nuclear weapons site.

“The project is the unpacking of the memory of war in the recorded narrative versus personal experience. There is a specific feel or aura about this project. It is a well scripted narrative that unravels the idea and nuances of memory, which is reinforced in the tectonics of the architecture. The essence of the inverted monument is to make the unseen seen. The author has designed a participatory process to re-engage with the experience and memory of the Angola-South Africa war,” highlighted Somers.

He added that while the fundamental crux of Arran’s thesis was “the memory of something very controversial,” it is balanced by the concept of an eyewitness account versus a living witness. Arran explained that this was critical as his project revolved around remembrance.

“What is so interesting about memory is that it is not history. One person’s experience differs from that of another, even when the events are the same. This is especially prevalent in warfare and conflict. What we call this experience is the ‘flesh’ witness, who finds it very difficult to share their experiences, unlike eyewitness accounts which are much more factual and relatable.”

Arran went on: “In the architecture of built memory, we see that typically the monument and memorial exist for people’s memories. I felt that this does not represent the essence of what people really experience. A monument can sometimes focus too much on one idea and not the experiences that people go through. I tried to fit my thesis into a place where I thought it would better represent and bring people with different experiences together, and that is  it is titled the ‘inverted monument’.”

The design proposed by Arran reveals the ‘forgotten and censored’., The architecture of ‘spectral remembrance’ attempts to explore the role the built environment can play as a mediator and reminder of forgotten conflicts.

As to what inspired Arran to become an architect, he commented: “The possibility of art between people and place is what is truly inspiring about architecture. Creating forms that can be the expression between people, concepts and landscapes is fascinating to me. I am very passionate about my home country, and I hope to contribute to the built environment of South Africa.”

The Corobrik Student Architecture Awards highlight the hard work students put into their thesis projects. “It can possibly spark interesting topics of conversation around architectural ideas.” Arran also paid tribute to all the people who supported him along his journey, from his lecturers to his classmates, parents, and wife.

Corobrik has a long legacy of assisting architects achieve their design dreams in the built environment. Part of that legacy lies in its sponsorship of the Student Architecture Awards, which it curates in conjunction with those universities that have a Master of Architecture programme. “We are really privileged to be part of this journey. Many architects over the years have gone on from these awards to make significant contributions to their societies,” said Corobrik CEO Nick Booth.

Arran’s winning entry and those of all the finalists’ entries can be viewed here, plus a livestream of the event.

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