Award-winning Witsies design Wits Art Museum

By Deborah Minors

30 March 2012

Wits architectural alumni won a national design competition to design the Wits Art Museum (WAM), which opens to the public on 19 May.

Design team Nina Cohen (BArch 1991), Fiona Garson (BArch 1998) and William Martinson (BArch 1987, March 1989) won the architecture category in the Absolut VISI Designer of the Year Award for transforming a former petrol station into an iconic, interactive and original space for the Wits Art Museum.

The architecture of the building makes a major contribution to the renaissance of the Braamfontein area, with the dark brick ‘skin’ forming the container that houses the more than 5 000 pieces of priceless African art. A striking aspect of the museum is the huge transparent walls around the periphery that allow for views into the exhibition spaces from the street.

WAM is situated on the corner of Jan Smuts Avenue and Jorissen Street in Braamfontein. Its glassy front looks out onto the Mandela Bridge and the Newtown Cultural Precinct beyond, a pivotal link between Wits University and the City of Johannesburg.

The chosen location has its own history of humble beginnings. Once a corner petrol station, it has been transformed into 5000 m² of exhibition areas, research, teaching and administrative facilities as well as state-of-the-art, climate-controlled storage amenities built to international standards.

A coffee bar in the forecourt of the museum is destined to become a popular meeting place for museum visitors, Braamfontein shoppers, residents and Witsies.

“The launch of WAM is such an exciting moment marking the end of one long journey and the start of another wonderful voyage,” says senior curator, Julia Charlton (BA FA 1984). “It is fantastic that our dreams have been so magnificently realised,” adds special projects curator, Fiona Rankin-Smith.

Source: Wits Communications from Wits News, published 14 March 2012

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