Established in Johannesburg in 1985 as Jo Noero Architects, the practice was named Noero Wolff Architects in 1998 when Heinrich Wolff joined; it is currently based in Cape Town. Their work has always reflected the belief that grass-roots projects involving the local population have the ability to transform lives. In the early 1980s, Noero, a long-time ANC member and anti-apartheid activist, worked in Soweto and other townships surrounding Johannesburg, having been appointed diocesan architect by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Working alongside black community activists, Noero was involved in training local people to build their own homes using cheap and readily available materials. SInce then, Noero Wolff have built projects that span the full range of buildings types, whilst sticking to their principles of not working for clients whose political views they disagree with.
Their projects in the townships always strive to expand the remit of the brief, as they point out opportunities to build there are so few that each project must do several things at once. They also involve local people in the design process as much as possible. Thus, in one of their most challenging and successful projects, the Red Location Museum of Struggle in Port Elizabeth, Noero Wolff set up an advisory group from the local area to oversee the project, which eventually led to the setting up of an oral history project. Conceived as a new kind of museum for people who had historically been prohibited from visiting such cultural institutions, it is located in a shack settlement that had been a prominent site of resistance. Rather than following the typology of museum architecture, it borrows from the visual language of factories, places that acted as organisational hubs in the struggle against apartheid. In Noero Wolff's practice architecture has been used both as a form of resistance and later as a transformative practice that manages to empower and to provide hope in a context where buildings and urban design have been put to such oppressive use.
Jo Noero, 'Architecture and Memory', in Global Cities: Cinema, Architecture, and Urbanism in a Digital Age, ed. by Linda Krause and Patrice Petro (Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2003).
Lisa Findley, 'Building Memory: The Museum of Struggle', in Building Change: Architecture, Politics and Cultural Agency (Abingdon: Routledge, 2005), pp. 122-160.
---, 'Project Portfolio: The Red Location Museum', Architectural Record, 2006, http://archrecord.construction.com/projects/portfolio/archives/0603apartheidMuseum.asp [accessed 12 April 2010].
Alta Steenkamp, 'Apartheid to Democracy: Representation and Politics in the Voortrekker Monument and Red Location Museum', Arq: Architectural Research Quarterly, 10 (2006), 249-254.
'The Everyday and the Extraordinary: Three decades of architectural design by Jo Noero', Iziko Museums of Cape Town, 2009, http://www.iziko.org.za/iziko/press/20090820.html [accessed 13 April 2010].
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