Engaging with public space

The container outside the Zeitz MOCAA at the Silo District will be used as a space to host conversations around free space.

A bright yellow container placed outside the Zeitz MOCAA marks the start of a month-long conversation around public space in the city.

The event, called #FREESPACE, was launched last week, and will consist of a number of panel discussions, talks, workshops and performances around public space.

It will be hosted at the Zeitz MOCAA and the V&A Waterfront’s Silo District until Sunday February 17.

#FREESPACE is a project of London-based international architecture-led interdisciplinary design practice INSTINCT.

It was undertaken for the V&A Waterfront in partnership with Zeitz MOCAA and the African Centre for Cities at UCT.

The event offers the opportunity to discuss and engage with the concept of space as a binding medium between people from a cultural, architectural, urban and personal perspective. There is also an online gallery and forum.

The CEO of the Waterfront and board member of the Zeitz MOCAA, David Green, said there were hardly any cities not feeling the effects of densification.

The number of people moving to the city is relentless and because of this, all cities are grappling with how to work with public space.

“Much of people’s quality of life happens in public spaces. Our vision is the use and activation of spaces for the public. With the V&A Waterfront, our main aim is to connect people to the sea.

“And while people fight for the privatisation of space, we can argue that it is people that provide a space with security, not tall gates and guards.”

He said through the event, people will get to learn about space and the concept of free space as a space of humanity.

The co-creator of the event, Caroline Sohie, said the installation of the container represents a unit which travelled around the world. She said the container, which had travelled 200 000km, and has been reused and repurposed and ended up in the Waterfront, is a symbol of collaboration.

Ms Sohie said: “It’s a symbol of free space and the reuse of space and buildings for other purposes. Maybe our container can be an inspiration for what the future of space might be.”

She said INSTINCT believes the conversation around public space is important because space reflects the history and soul of its citizens.

“It is essential to our livelihood but often uncared for. The physical translation of a temporary #FREESPACE territory in Cape Town will create a powerful statement, a symbolic narrative of memory, inscribed in the city fabric.

“Ultimately, the project intends to lead to thought-provoking expression, uncovering disrupting narratives, leading to a propositional debate about human space and imaginary futures.”

She said the container was a symbolic reference to this and will act as a meeting space where citizens can engage.

Luyanda Mpahlwa, president of the South African Institute of Architects (SAIA), said in
the city, there is no good experience when it comes to public space.

“Inclusivity and diversity remains key in defining this city, and of the estimated 500 000 people who live in Cape Town, only 52 00 of those live in the inner city which begs the question – who really owns the inner city, and how do you make a city accessible to all?”

He said while we are fortunate that the inner city has maintained itself as an economic hub, there has been no inner city rejuvenation since apartheid.

“We need to make a conscious effort to create neighbourhoods – our city doesn’t have neighbourhoods. Where do people who live in the city and Bo-Kaap go to congregate freely? “We should all take ownership of the city. We need to find a space in the city for everyone and for this, we need partnerships such as the ones we are building now – the governments, professionals, forums and the public.”

He said the discussions around free space is a starting point for the discussion around public space to proceed.

“If our cities don’t transform and we are not active in city making, then incidents such as the one on Clifton Beach will be common.”

Azu Nwagbogu, chief curator of the Zeitz MOCAA, said #FREESPACE is a step in the right direction and encourages people to access public space.

“At Zeitz MOCAA, this conversation is important. We encourage free access to the public. We have free programmes, tours and free entry every Wednesday and we can see the growing interest of the general public.”

Events will be held every week until Sunday February 17.

The programme and a full list of speakers can be found online at www.freespace.events

All events are free to attend, but booking is required.

The public are also invited to share images into the online forum answering the question: What does free space mean to you?

The posts will appear as part of the sculptural installation outside the Zeitz MOCAA at the V&A Waterfront Silo District.