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Mapungubwe Interpretation Centre, South Africa (shortlisted 2011–2013)

Mapungubwe National Park celebrates the ancient trading civilisation of Mapungubwe, a kingdom that flourished between the 11th and 14th centuries and that produced such artefacts as the famed Golden Rhino (Mosta- favi, 2013a). The site was discovered in 1933, and it was listed as a Cultural Landscape World Heritage Site in 2003. This provided the impetus for developing the Mapungubwe Interpretation Centre, which would give visitors a rich understanding of the importance of Mapungubwe in the region (Tall, 2013). The Centre stands in the rocky landscape of the Mapungubwe National Park located in the remote and isolated Limpopo Valley, found in the north of South Africa at the point where South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Botswana meet. It is situated alongside a flat-topped, steep-sided hill, or mesa, that the ceremonial centre of the Mapungubwe civilisation, or one kilometre away from the mesa (Mostafavi, 2013a). The landscape is characteristic of a savannah with mopane trees, huge baobabs, and thorny trees forming the vegetal cover (Tall, 2013).

The building is perfectly integrated within the stone hills landscape, and at no point does it look like a ‘building’ (Figure 4.9). In designing the Centre,

Mapungubwe Interpretation Centre, Limpopo, South Africa, by Peter Rich Architects

Figure 4.9 Mapungubwe Interpretation Centre, Limpopo, South Africa, by Peter Rich Architects

Source: © Aga Khan Trust for Culture/Cemal Emden (photographer)

architect Peter Rich was inspired by the spectacular semi-arid scenery of the sandstone outcrops dotted with huge baobab and mopane trees in the surrounding hilly savannah. These elements of nature inform the series of vaulted forms, laid in a triangular arrangement up the hillside and linked by outside areas and bridges in a combination of ‘ins and outs’ that make up a complex of structures that are authentically rooted to their location (Tall, 2013; Mostafavi, 2013a). Accordingly, the building had to consider the climate of the region and the arid conditions to follow sustainable design principles.

The pre-existence of traditional African states and kingdoms was always a controversial issue in South Africa during the time of apartheid. However, when that regime ended, the South African government decided to emphasise the legacy of those kingdoms. Research that had been halted - or simply ignored - resumed, and the government decided to revive these studies. Therefore, complying with sustainability principles, in the general programme the architect had to devote much attention to the social and political environment. No traditional decorative motifs were used (Tall, 2013) to avoid local tribal reference. Peter Rich has designed a 1500-square- metre visitor’s centre that includes spaces to tell the stories of the place and to house artefacts, along with tourist facilities and offices. The complex is a collection of stone-cladded vaults balancing on the sloped site, against the backdrop of sandstone formations and mopane woodlands (Baan, 2010).

Apartment No. 1, Iran (shortlisted 2011–2013)

Mahallat is an ancient town in Markazi province in central Iran that has benefited over the centuries from an abundance of thermal springs and surrounding mountains boasting a multitude of stone deposits. Today, 50% of the local economy is in the form of stonecutting factories and stone export. However, more than 50% of the stones worked, totalling some 365,000 tons per year, are discarded during the process (Mostafavi, 2013b). The project aimed to successfully demonstrate - locally and abroad - that the recycling of discarded stone is cost-effective, energy saving, and environmentally friendly but can also be aesthetically pleasing and innovative (iMostafavi, 2013b). On completing his architectural studies in New York, the architect returned to Mahallat, his hometown, and decided to use local materials in his design, especially during the country’s economic crisis. He explored and researched how stones are excavated in the local quarries and how they are processed in the stone factories. He soon appreciated the possibilities offered by stonecutting as well as the architecture of the quarry itself that resembles a townscape. This investigation inspired the architect to emulate the quarry in designing both the volume and the massing of the building, as well as its surfacing (Radoine, 2013).

Despite scepticism of locals with respect to the use of stone remains, the architect provided an architectural solution that preserves precious natural resources in a creative way and significantly reduced the cost of the project. The five-storey mixed-use building presents innovative faqades of recycled stones, which are very durable, need minor maintenance, facilitate insulation and temperature control, protect the building against rain, and allow it to breathe (Figure 4.10). The pierced perimeter walls of the communal courtyard and some freestanding interior walls are also made of these discarded stones, which are variable in shape, size, and colour but have a distinctive uniform thickness (Mostafavi, 2013b). Triangular stone protrusions, on the two shorter fronts, overcoming the restrictions of the irregular shape of the lot, ingeniously creates rectangular rooms inside the apartments while sheltering windows below them and animating the facades.

Inspired by old Mahallati doors, larger windows have wooden shutters that allow residents to control light, temperature, and privacy levels. Mahallat is in a relatively high-altitude area surrounded by mountains. The town has a general slope from north to south; some areas are steep and others are almost flat. The project is located on a relatively flat site and in a higher position than the centre of the city, which makes it visible from afar. The climate of Mahallat tends to be more moderate and greener than other towns in the region. The abundance of springs in Mahallat has made it a centre for different settlements throughout history and a locus of a sustainable

Apartment No. 1, Mahallat, Iran, by AbCT - Architecture by Collective Terrain

Figure 4.10 Apartment No. 1, Mahallat, Iran, by AbCT - Architecture by Collective Terrain

Source: Photographer: Omid Khodapanahi/Archnet community (Radoine, 2013). The surrounding houses are architecturally insignificant as they represent the contemporary shift to the random use of concrete by a local community that has abandoned its masonry tradition in building (Radoine, 2013). This insignificant surrounding highlights the meaning of this traditionally inspired, environmentally friendly project.

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