Snøhetta Unveils Memorial for Archbishop Desmond Tutu

"The Arch" will serve as a physical reminder of both Tutu's legacy and the ongoing importance of the constitution in South Africa’s democracy.

Images Courtesy Jonx Pillemer, Design Indaba

At the finale of this year’s Design Indaba Festival of Creativity in Cape Town, Snøhetta founding partner Craig Dykers capped off his keynote presentation by bringing a special visitor to the stage—South African Archbishop and human rights icon Desmond Tutu—to introduce the firm’s newest project: a memorial affectionately known as “The Arch” (which is also, appropriately, Tutu’s nickname).

Initiated as a partnership between Design Indaba, Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille, the Nobel Peace Center, Snøhetta, and Thomas Chapman (of Johannesburg-based design firm Local Studios), the new memorial will serve as a physical reminder of both Tutu’s legacy and the ongoing importance of the constitution in South Africa’s democracy. Two iterations of the Arch will permanently sit in both Johannesburg and Cape Town when it opens to the public later this year.

“For all of us at Snøhetta, we’re troubled by the political times that we face.” Dykers explained, ”And we’re all greatly inspired by people who came before us who fought, perhaps in even harsher conditions, to protect the world that we now cherish and enjoy. So to be a part of this project gives us renewed energy to protect our values and diversity and notions of empathy that we seem to be losing.” Indeed Dykers’ firm has been taking Tutu’s work to heart: Since the election, Snøhetta has been actively encouraging its employees to engage in the political process in the U.S. by attending nonviolent marches and protests.

The prototype for the memorial uses 14 strands of bent wood (representing the 14 lines from the preamble of the South African constitution) to form one larger curved structure that will provide shade to visitors while still letting sunlight in. The designers rejected the rectangular shapes found in many memorials for a more spherical, womb-like form. Dykers noted that he wants visitors to feel lovingly embraced and comforted when visiting; he ultimately hopes the finished project “will allow strangers from different backgrounds to meet and talk to one another about what’s really important to them.”

“Then perhaps we’ll really see a difference being made through architecture.”

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