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Profile: Noeleen Murray

- By Wits University

Professor Noëleen Murray joined Wits in March 2015 to take up the position as the first Director of the Wits City Institute and the A.W. Mellon Foundation Chair of Critical Architecture and Urbanism. The Institute is funded by the A.W. Mellon Foundation, and Wits University is the only institution outside of the UK and the US to receive this prestigious award in the Foundation’s Humanities Architecture and Urbanism grant category.

The City Institute is the last of the six 21st Century Research Institutes to be established by Wits.

The purpose of establishing a City Institute at Wits is to strengthen the research environment around an identified common focus: the city and its complexities, especially in the conditions of democratic, middle income countries in the Twenty-First Century. The A.W. Mellon Foundation’s Chair of Critical Architecture and Urbanism, within the Institute, aims to develop the University’s contribution to the growing dialogue and collaboration at the intersection of the humanities, architecture and urbanism. As Director of the Wits City Institute, Murray oversees the development of the Institute as a substantive presence in the intellectual landscape of city research in South Africa and elsewhere.

The core intellectual and research contribution of the Chair of Critical Architecture and Urbanism is to bring humanities disciplines into a working relationship around debates on the city and the role played by architecture in particular. In her capacity as Chair, Murray is initiating a multidisciplinary research programme on the city, both in local and in broader comparative terms with a focus on the history and practice of architecture, critical spatial practice and urbanism in the city, creating strong linkages between humanities and architecture and involving creative scholars in relevant disciplines.

Born and bred in Johannesburg, Murray is an architect and academic with 20 years’ experience. She obtained her qualifications at the University of Cape Town (UCT). Her PhD offered a reading of architecture under and after apartheid in which a key conjunction has been between architectural modernism and apartheid modernity.

She joins Wits from the University of the Western Cape (UWC) where she has been immersed in humanities debates for the last five years, first as a Faculty of Arts Fellow in the Centre for Humanities Research and later as an academic in the department of Geography in the Faculty of Arts at UWC. In this capacity she taught courses in Urban Geography and the Contemporary South/African City as well as being the postgraduate coordinator of the masters and PhD Programmes and the lead researcher for the Arts Faculty's research project called Cities in Transition.

Through her research, writing and creative work Murray considers spaces as diverse as the migrant labour compound, the suburban shopping centre, housing developments and the shaping of the university and city relationships. Amongst her key projects are: working as a regional researcher with the blank_ Architecture, apartheid and after project in 1997; she was the principal editor for the Routledge book Desire Lines – Space, Memory and Identity in the Post-Apartheid City which appeared in 2007; she was co-curator for the GIPCA/UCT exhibition Third Worlds / Model Cities; as well as being co-editor of the book Becoming UWC (2012), Reflections, pathways and the unmaking of apartheid’s legacy produced during her time as a Centre for Humanities Research Fellow.

A major focus of her recent research work has been  with deepening the intellectual project of the Lwandle Migrant Labour Museum near Cape Town, with the specific task of overseeing the restoration of the museum’s key artefact, Hostel 33  and the production of a book co-authored with Leslie Witz entitled Hostels, Homes, Museum: Memorialising migrant labour pasts in Lwandle, South Africa, published by UCT Press in 2014, which received the prestigious American Association of Anthropology’s  Michael M. Ames Award for Museum Anthropology in Washington last year.

Previously she has taught the Curatorship course component for the African Programme in Museum and Heritage Studies for UWC and the Robben Island Museum, held positions in the School of Architecture and Planning and the Centre for African Studies at UCT, as well as being an associate architect in practice at Design Matters Architects. She regularly acts as an external examiner for institutions across South Africa and beyond in the fields of humanities, arts, design, heritage and architecture.

Scholars across the University who work on urban related research are welcome to contact Professor Murray at


Seminar: From Eviction to Commission in Lwandle: Stories of Museums, Design and Urban Development

 Speakers are Noëleen Murray (Wits) and Leslie Witz (University of the Western Cape).

Date: 24 July 2015

Time: 13:00 – 14:30

Venue: Wits Anthropology Museum Seminar Room, Central Block, Braamfontein Campus East

For enquiries and copies of the paper:  



UCT Press, Cambridge University Press and the Wits City Institute in collaboration with the Lwandle Migrant Labour Museum and the Workers Museum invite you to join Noëleen Murray, along with Leslie Witz and Ciraj Rassool from the Department of History, University of the Western Cape for the Johannesburg Launch of their new books.

Hostels, homes,  museum: Memorialising migrant labour pasts in Lwandle, South Africa by Noeleen Murray and Leslie Witz (UCT Press).

The Politics of Heritage in Africa Economics, Histories, and Infrastructures edited by Derek. R. Peterson, Kodzo Gavua and Ciraj Rassool (Cambridge University Press Africa Edition).

Keynote Speaker: Masa Soko, Museum Manager Lwandle Migrant Labour Museum.

Date: 24 July 2015

Time: 15:00 – 17:30

Venue: Workers Museum, 52 Jeppe Street, Newtown, Johannesburg

 RSVP Patricia Hadebe Copies of the books will be on sale at the launch.