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[un]defining the Edge

A critical exploration into the realms of heritage,
culture and the in-between...

George F. Pieterse /// 26025303

RFS 730


12 April 2010

Word Count: 3780

With most contemporary cities in South Africa, and in fact the World, consisting of a vast
urban fabric dating back decades, in some cases even centuries, it is inevitable for us as
designers to try and ignore the significance and impact that heritage and cultural
landscapes have on our urban environments. We as designers need to understand these
landscapes, come to terms with their heritage and interpret their significance.

In this paper I will investigate the cultural significance of the Pretoria Art Museum precinct
according to well established international heritage legislation. I will also thoroughly
analise the concept of the ‘in-between’ seeing as this was my conceptual point of
departure when it came to my design proposal for the site. A comprehensive enquiry
into the idea of threshold and boundary together with that of cultural significance will be
done so as to investigate a possible association between these two concepts. This
knowledge and understanding will then be applied to the heritage analysis of the existing
building as well as the proposed new intervention[s].

...understanding Heritage
...the Burra Charter
”Do as much as necessary to care for the place and to make it useable, but otherwise change it as little as
possible so that its cultural significance is retained.”(Burra Charter)

When assessing the cultural significance of the Pretoria Art Museum Precinct, I employed the
ICOMOS Burra Charter in an attempt to better understand and asses the heritage of the site. The
Burra Charter has a stringent process that is followed – that process is outlined below:

- Identify Place and Associations.

 The Pretoria Art Museum is identified, together with Arcadia Park as both having
cultural significance in terms of heritage, as mentioned in the Statement of
 The intangible heritage of the site is not that significant in my opinion as it offers
more of a negative connotation to the past, and I feel it is because of this
intangible heritage of exclusion that the precinct is not functioning successfully.

- Gather and Record Information – Understand Significance. [Documentary, Oral & Physical]
 Oral interviews were conducted on site in order to establish the perceived
significance of the site. It was found that many individuals did not necessarily
regard the site as significant. The main conclusion was that people made use of

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the precinct mainly because of the green space provided and that the Museum
was not perceived as being significant by the everyday user.
 Individual site visits were also conducted to assess the physical significance and
state of affairs on site.
 The site was also extensively documented by means of historical and present-day
research on the immediate surroundings (Arcadia) and the museum itself,
through observation of pedestrian movement across the site and overall site
utilisation by the various users.

- Assess Significance
 The museum building is a historic remnant and an impeccable example of the
International Style prevalent during the 1960’s, when the museum was built.
 I believe the building doesn’t carry any intangible or associative significance.
 The Park carries significance because it has historically provided much needed
green space in the densely built up residential area of Arcadia.

- Prepare a Statement of Significance

 The Pretoria Art Museum building in it’s totally is very significant due to the fact
that it is such an exemplary example of the International Style. I believe that if any
additions are proposed, they must not radically alter the building’s aesthetic
either physically or visually. It can however also be argued for the building to be
reinstated to its previous built form. The building’s beauty and integrity is
wonderfully observed in the view of the Southern Elevation/Facade, the building
thus needs to retain its facade expression towards Park Street.
 The park surrounding the building is very significant in terms of providing green
space to the Arcadia area. The possibility to add to the park in terms of new
functions or areas must be explored.

- Identify Obligations Arising from Significance

 The main challenge concerning the whole precinct was to reactivate it in terms
of public use and accessibility. I believe that the museum building is very
inaccessible due to its lack of communication about the happenings that are
taking place inside the actual building. I believe its dissociation with the park is
also a substantial contributing factor towards its disuse. With my design proposal I
attempted to address these issues by re-evaluating the museum’s interior spatial

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organisation, proposing several changes and alterations. The new proposed
intervention will, formalistically, function separately from the existing museum but
will compliment it with its intended function and program, whilst also addressing
the concerns mentioned and implementing the various theories of the ‘in-
between’ as discussed later. The proposed addition will also provide much
needed supplementary gallery spaces, an auditorium, leasable workshop
spaces, a restaurant and artist’s residences.
 In my opinion Arcadia Park is too small to function as a large scale urban park;
and yet it is too big for people to take ownership of the space. The Park space
‘bleeds’ onto the urban site edge – here the space seems to ‘congeal’,
becoming stagnant. For the park to become an intimate usable space the
edges and thresholds need to be readdressed and redefined. I have addressed
this seeming lack of defined thresholds, by introducing ‘planar fissures’ into the
park, subtly dissecting the landscape, reconfiguring space and place. These
fissures are in the form of informal steps also functioning as seating as well as
exhibition space. The introduction of an informal hard landscaped space also
serves to better organise the spaces in the park, even if only through the
exploitation of surface.

- Gather Information About Other Factors Affecting the Future of the Place.
 I believe the main factor that will potentially affect the success of the proposed
new precinct is the ever expanding rate at which sub-urban sprawl is continuing.
If the precinct becomes a destination and not merely a space of transition this
obstacle will be overcome.
 The increased flow and volumes of traffic in the general urban framework of
Pretoria and especially around the site itself can also prove to be a delineating
factor in terms of ‘cutting’ the site off from its surroundings, inhibiting free and
unrestricted access and pedestrian flow to the site.
 The stigma that clings to the building because of the effects of apartheid on our
society may also prove to be an obstacle, but I believe that this can easily be
overcome by making the site and building more accessible.
 People’s unawareness of art and the allied creative industries may also prove a
disadvantage, but I believe through education and spreading of awareness this
will prove negligible in the bigger scheme of things.

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- Develop a Policy. [Identify and Consider Options]
 The main built intervention is proposed for the north-west corner of the site on
the western side of the existing museum. The new addition wil comprise 3 floors
and will be significantly higher than the existing museum in an attempt to create
a deliberate tension and threshold between the two. Within the existing building
I propose that the Albert Werth Hall be excavated so as to create a vast double
volume space allowing for the exhibition of installation art pieces; a
subterranean extension towards the north of the site will also expand the existing
exhibition space. This extension will also facilitate a better understanding of the
functioning of the existing museum as the southern facade will better
communicate with the exterior, allowing visitors to gaze into the double volume
space from the outside. The existing building will be repaired to a vast extent,
with maintenance playing a vital role in its upkeep. Landscaped interventions
will also be employed as discussed earlier with various forms of boundary
creation and articulation either through employment of surface or discreet built
 The various new additions to the site will offer diverse and varied opportunities
for the public to interact with the site and its buildings through art workshops,
exhibitions, educational opportunities, job creation etc. becoming more aware
of the cultural significance through exposure and experience.

- Prepare a Statement of Policy.

 I believe that the importance of both the precinct and that of the arts within our
society must be highlighted. I believe the significance of the precinct within its
urban context must be conserved and underlined. I believe that through a
successful intervention I can re-introduce the ‘in-between’ the ‘slow space’ into
societies’ frame of reference both consciously and subconsciously.

- Manage Place in Accordance of Policy. [Develop and Implement Strategies.]

 Better management of the exhibitions on display in both the existing museum
and the new proposed addition so as to assure an appreciation and interest in
the arts.
 Management in the correlation of workshops offered and the types of
exhibitions on display.

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 The newly added exterior event spaces will also need an excellent
management policy in place, to guarantee effective utilisation of the spaces.
 A management system will be put in place that will investigate the opportunities
offered by incorporating the immediate urban environment by way of
workforce, by way of event expansion or by way of extended space utilisation.
 The image of the museum precinct will also be rebranded and advertising will
be implemented on a large urban scale to maximise exposure and mould a
new accessible and contemporary museum image.

- Monitor and Review

 The proposed policy outlined above will be monitored on a continual basis to
ensure effective resource allocation and implementation. A continual heritage
and cultural assessment will run parallel with this monitoring process to make sure
that the cultural significance and heritage of the site is not placed under

The process set out above illustrates the importance of following a set guideline when dealing
with places of cultural significance, in determining the importance of heritage. This specific
methodology highlights the vital role that we as designers have to play in reinforcing the role of
culture and heritage in our society especially when it comes to the design of new built fabric in
relation to the old. This relation between old and new, this deliberately created tension also
opens up possibilities to be explored – possibilities of the threshold, of the in-between...

...the In-between
In Architecture the boundary takes many forms – it is signified by the facade, the wall, the
window, the entrance, the door, the threshold, the perimeter of a site and a building’s footprint
or volume. On a larger scale the boundary takes the form of roads, signs, gates, hedges, canals,
built structures or simply a mountain, forest or plain (Blaisse, 2009, p.85).

Looking at the edge-condition of our contemporary architectural landscape – the interaction

between different factions, different spatial organisations and different spheres of existence –
one can identify great potential for the creation of new space, of slow space. The Modernist
belief that edges needed to be clearly defined and articulated so as to ensure effective and
efficient spatial hierarchies had detrimental consequences on the way people perceived and
experienced spatial constructs and relations. There was a complete separation between spaces

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– utter isolation – a ‘connection’ only through barriers. With the edge condition exploited and
explored architects can start to create edges of transition, deep edges, edges of transmission
and translucence, edges of lasting and lingering space.

...understanding the In-between

In exploring the philosophy and arguments behind the concept of the in-between, of the deep
threshold, of liquid boundaries; many proponents came to the fore. Aldo Van Eyck (1918-1999)
was one of the main protagonists in the formulation of an understanding and a theory of the in-
between in the West. In the East there were also many persons preoccupied with the idea of the
‘gap’, one of the most prominent figures being Kisho Kurokawa (1934-2007). I will mainly focus on
the theories of Van Eyck, whilst touching on some ideas propagated by other thinkers in the

Van Eyck borrowed his philosophical terms of the ‘in-between’ from Martin Buber who states
that “The fundamental condition of being human is man with his fellow man. It is rooted in the
fact that a being considers another as “an other”, so as to be able to communicate with him in
a sphere which is common to both and which transcends the individual spheres of both… I call
the sphere of the in-between. It is a primary category of human reality. It will be the starting point
for the real third (in Farhady & Nam, 2009, p.17)”.

Herman Hertsberger (in Farhady & Nam, 2009, p.17) argues in terms of the transition[s] of space,
making use of the term “threshold”. He states that “The threshold provides the key to the
transition and connection between areas with divergent territorial claims and, as a place in its
own right, it constitutes, essentially, the special condition for the meeting and dialogue between
areas of different orders.”

As mentioned earlier, Modernism’s over-articulation of the edge and the boundary resulted in
fragmented and concretized spaces. In doing so, the indistinct and undifferentiated spaces that
naturally exist between demarcated individually separate areas were ignored – this being very
evident in the internal spatial organisation of the current Museum and the relation between the
museum and that of the surrounding park and urban landscape.

The philosophies of Van Eyck and Kurokawa, the exploration of the possibilities offered by the in-
between, aimed at challenging and reconsidering the principles of Modernism and the

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abandoned aspects of design in the Modernist way of thinking by looking at four (Farhady &
Nam, 2009, p.18) distinct yet interrelated aspects:
- The separation of space according to its function and utility on urban, architectural and
even tectonic levels were challenged into the idea of the amalgamation of space.
- Modernist design was notoriously restricted to the present, a concern that raised the
consideration of time, seeing it as a process from past to present to future allowing for
the flexibility of space.
- Space and time were seen as homogenous entities in modern architecture resulting in
the severance of human activities from each other; this morphed into a reconsideration
of multiple, heterogeneous and integrated human activities according to space and
- The unforgiving living environment created by modern industry, raised the importance of
a harmonious sustainable relationship between construction and environment.

The spheres of space, time, human considerations and environment became the main focussing
dimensions in the reconsideration and reassessment of the Modernist ideals, and in the
formulating of the idea of the in-between. It can therefore be useful to take a more detailed
look at the four above mentioned elements (Farhady & Nam, 2009, p.22):
- Space
Space signifies the most significant dimension of the in-between in architectural design.
There are many ways in which this concept can be expressed – through the overlap of
two elements, the continuity of one element into another, creating a gap as a third
space by articulating the different elements, through the fragmentation of elements for a
more integrated understanding and relation, the formulation of a whole through the
repetition of separate units, or the synthesis of different spaces or patterns.
- Environment
Bringing delicacy to design in order to create a sense of ambiguity by making use of
transparency and materials such as light, shadow, greenery and wind is what signifies the
environmental in-between.
- Time
Time is the invisible, but sometimes tangible dimension of the in-between. It makes itself
known through the mobility and temporality of elements and spaces, allowing for the
building to become flexible for functional and spatial changes over time.

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- Human
The overlap of different human activities, multi-functionality and multi-usage of an
individual space in order to produce a metaphysical uncertainty concentrated on the
human usage of space – this is the main expression of this dimension.

I believe that in order for us as designers, for us as human beings, to understand the threshold, to
utilise its limitless resources we have to closely consider the four above mentioned concepts
propagated by Van Eyck. By understanding these concepts and by successfully integrating
them into our designs and proposals we will begin to fundamentally change our built
environments to incorporate these much needed in-betweens, these slow spaces of being. I will
now expand my investigation and look at the concept of the deep threshold on an urban as
well as a more intimate, human scale.

...understanding the [Urban] In-between

In the design I have aimed to explore the idea of offering a transitional moment between
buildings, an in-between space, providing opportunity to mediate and compose a space that
re-engages the dweller. If one can establish a successful mixing of uses, one can assist in making
lively thresholds (Ramaswamy 2005:4). The decision to add an additional extension that is
detached from the current museum thus offers the opportunity to explore this idea of re-
engaging the dweller.

In exploiting the idea of a deliberate and intentional heterogeneity in architecture, where

contrasting objects are placed together, I believe we as designers will be able to create
complex and compelling buildings, buildings with complex and compelling in-between spaces.
An architecture of cross-programming, an architecture of hybrid space; of dwelling. When there
is an urban transition, there is a formation of a threshold able of spanning various urban scales.
When residential, civic and commercial uses coincide and collide, several transitions and
resultant thresholds are formed, both naturally and artificially (Ramaswamy 2005:14).

The Modern idea of city planning signalled a shift in the thinking behind our urban spaces. The
physical and functional aspects of cities and buildings were brought to the forefront during this
time period. Having light, ventilation and air were the main focus of buildings during this time,
with sufficient access to open spaces also being a vital consideration. There seems to have
been a distinct focus on the individual. The open spaces which facilitated play, meeting
possibilities and contact patterns were seen as secondary to the materiality and physically

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orientated planning strategy of cities (Ramaswamy 2005:11). Sub-urban sprawl also started
appearing with large green spaces with no apparent function or use to make them occupied. I
feel that it is with this same mentality and because of this same planning strategy that Arcadia
Park is not functioning as well as it could potentially be – because of its secondary nature
towards the Art Museum and because of its apparent lack of functionality. In my design
intervention, I will address this concern.

Within urban landscapes there are conditions and instances where buildings create planned or
unplanned in-between slow spaces which eventually become part of the everyday civic
landscape. The quality of these spaces is nevertheless directly affected by the way they are
conceptualised, designed, constructed and ultimately used. The way a space is used cannot be
controlled as it is socially, constantly mutating over time – the architecture of the space
however, remains in its elemental form, in its materials and in its tectonics (Ramaswamy 2005:14).
Our built landscapes can have distorted ambiguous contours, vague and random
morphologies, inside and outside forms could merge and innovative elastic thresholds can
occur. These spaces between the built have and will evolve over time, often into an integral
part of the city’s urban tissue. Thresholds on a larger scale, these urban in-betweens, can be
seen as thresholds spanning urban transitions. I believe that Arcadia Park can become one of
these urban in-betweens – a space of opportunity, a space of happening, a space of being.

...understanding the [Intimate] In-between

Another idea that I wanted to explore is that of the space between the physical fabric, a
building’s physical tectonic and that of the “lives and experiences enacted within it (Bennett

In “A Topology of Thresholds”, Georges Teyssot (in Bennett 2006:6) proposes that the boundary
might be regarded as a site of exchange, a membrane, porous, alluding to osmosis, that
mysterious process that delimits what transmits and what is withheld. I believe that the facade of
a structure can be explored, exploited and delineated into a mechanism of transmittance, a
membrane of communication, a threshold of visual and physical interaction.

One’s attention needs to be brought to the physical experience of a space. The experience of a
space is visceral and imaginative, an intrinsic relationship to the interior space of the body
(Bennett 2006:7). Patricia Pringle (in Bennett 2006:7) states: “We know space through our

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knowledge of our bodies, but since that knowledge is itself uncertain, space too is uncertain,
subjective and contingent.”

Allison Bennett (Bennett 2006:7) goes on to beautifully illustrate the interdependence of our
experience of space and our bodies. She says: “The physical sensation encompasses the skin like
a breath and transforms at the collision of surfaces, the collapse of the space between, the
touch of a hand on a doorway, the strike of a shin on a step. Touch is the perpetrator of the
trace, the patina of occupation. To live is to leave traces.”

Van Eyck (in Farhady & Nam, 2009, p.19) believed that an architecture aiming to be humane in
its approach, must dedicate special attention to the in-between; specifically to the architectural
places and spaces of transition through which people meet. People need to be invited to stay,
to linger. He believed that this is possible by specifying space into place, by re-introducing soft
boundaries into the ‘human’ architectural realm.

With my proposed intervention I aim to reinstate the tactile experience of space, delaminating
that perceived boundary between the user and that which is utilised, between the body and
the built. The reintroduction of the ‘lived experience’ rather than the ‘perceived happening’ is
what is so desperately needed in our built environments. Conclusion
Through my investigation into the cultural significance of the Pretoria Art Museum precinct and
my in-depth analysis of the concept of threshold I came to the conclusion that in essence these
two concepts are very closely related to one another. The study of heritage constantly deals
with the relation and interactions between ‘that what was’, ‘that what is’ and ‘that what could
be’. These interactions between different facets of time as well as space; these relations
between culture, man and urbanity creates opportunities for the in-between to start inundating
the thinking behind heritage.

Heritage and culture can be seen as that ‘intangible in-between’ that facilitates our
understanding of the urban environment, old or new. Heritage and culture is that threshold, that
connection between us as human beings and us as beings occupying space and time. It is
through our persistent investigation into the meaning and significance of culture that we will
unearth new in-betweens, new thresholds – new traditions of understanding.

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...appendix A
Illustrations showing some of my design considerations.

Figure 1: Section through existing museum illustrating subterranean extension from Albert Werth hall towards Schoeman Street.

Figure 2: Section through proposed new addition – Hierarchy of thresholds.

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Figure 3: Exterior - Land fissures and new proposed extension. Figure 4: Exterior - Proposed new addition - Facade becomes
threshold – Relation between old and new.

Figure 5: Exterior - Proposed new addition - Facade becomes Figure 6: Exterior - Land fissures - seating becomes exhibition
threshold – Tension between old and new. space - definition of thresholds.

Figure 7: Interior – Proposed new addition – Circulation space Figure 8: Interior - Existing building - Albert Werth hall -
becomes deep threshold. Subterranean proposal.

Figure 9: Interior – Proposed new addition – Building becomes Figure 10: Interior -Existing building - New subterranean
threshold. extension.

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