Lilian Ngoyi Urban Square
Project: Lillian Ngoyi Square
Location: Pretoria CBD
Design Node was asked to transform Strijdom Square within the Pretoria CBD into a ‘Living Woman’s Memorial’ christened Lillian Ngoyi Square after the anti-apartheid activist.
Lillian accomplished many things within her lifetime which is worthy of recognition; within a year of joining the ANC she was elected as president of the ANC Women's League.
When the Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW) was formed in 1954, she became one of its national vice-presidents, and in 1956 she was elected president.
On the 9th of August 1956, she led the women's anti-pass march to the Union Buildings in Pretoria, one of the largest demonstrations staged in South African history. Holding thousands of petitions in one hand, Ngoyi was the one who knocked on Prime Minister Strijdom’s door to hand over the petitions.
This demonstration included many strong woman figures including Helen Joseph, Albertina Sisulu, Sophia Williams-De Bruyn; whose likenesses are depicted within the square along with Lillian’s.
One of the many challenges faced by the design team was the heavy presence of history and heritage which needed to be preserved and highlighted while still creating a comfortable and multi-functional space.
One tool used to overcome this challenge was a heritage analysis carried out on the site, which allowed the team to identify which existing elements carried symbolic value and which could be altered and transformed. There are a number of elements within the site which are specifically designed and placed to pay homage to the heritage it is built for. These includes all granite removed from the site, reused in a dry river bed which becomes symbolic of the flow of memory and history throughout the site.
The existing granite wall which defines the square to the west of the site was kept intact as far as possible, with only specific places demolished so as to allow for movement. The baobab tree which had to be removed from site for construction to take place was replanted and has become symbolic of the layers of history present within the site. The wood from the trees which had to be completely removed from site, are to be re-incorporated through the use of public art work.
The project was initiated in 2013 with a due date set for 9 August 2017, National Woman’s Day. Within the square, the concept of ‘reflection’ is defined by various methods, including history, narrative, materiality and public art. It is not sufficient to provide the tools with which to stimulate reflection; one also needs to ensure that there are contemplative quiet spaces, poetic spaces and inspirational spaces in which reflective ideas can blossom. Urban public squares, should allow and encourage encounters, interactions, connections and opportunities. These spaces must become ‘places’ for people. Along with the public square, the project includes a museum dedicated to art and women.