Equilibrium Studio Architects and its partners will build the Nelson Mandela Freedom Statue in Port Elizabeth, which developers hope to have completed no later than 2010.
The statue, which has been mandated to reflect and capture umoya we nkululeko (the spirit of freedom), will rise into the Port Elizabeth skyline, standing tall at 122 m.
Called the Tower by the Equil-ibrium consortium, the statue will comprise 17 tiers of layered hollow blocks arranged into a spiral.
By taking the estimated 370 steps to the top of the tower, visitors will engage in a symbolic and literal walk to freedom.
Each tier will have a thematic focus – visitors ascending the tower will be able to trace the steps of Nelson Mandela’s life, from early childhood to his days on Robben Island and release from prison, until they reach the 17th floor that commemorates the country’s first free elections.
The floors will also contextualise Mandela’s journey, with re- ferences to South Africa’s historic quest for freedom, ongoing challenges to equality in South Africa as well as past and present strug-gles for freedom in the interna- tional community.
Since the monument is also meant to celebrate the contribution of ordinary South Africans to the struggle, the interior of the tower will be decorated with exhibits telling the struggle stories of ordinary people.
In delivering the decision of the judges, judging panel chairperson Albie Sachs stressed the importance of honouring the brave efforts of people from the Eastern Cape and Port Elizabeth in opposing apartheid. While the statue will provide the canvas for expressing freedom and hope, it is intended that ordinary people will provide the content for celebrating this hope and freedom. Although the main criticism from the judges was that the monument might not be immediately identifiable with the struggle for freedom, Equilibrium consortium designer Sue Clark and believes that a tower is a universal symbol for striving upwards.
The idea of a journey from bondage and inequality to freedom is also mirrored in the architecture of the tower. While the base of the structure comprises rough off-shutter concrete to blend in with the heavy concrete of the surrounding harbour, the surface of the concrete will gradually take on a smoother and lighter finish, eventually finishing in steel to signify openness.
There will also be a progressive increase in the number of viewing holes towards the top of the structure to signify light and freedom.
A visitor making the journey to the top of the tower will be rewarded with views in all directions from the ‘freedom platform’ on the 17th level. The twist in the structure of the tower is also symbolic of movement and life, says Clark. Movement and symbolism also lift the statue out of simply being a novelty or curiosity to be photographed.
“It has a strong sense of connection with the marine environment and marks the point of intersection or confluence between the beach and sand dunes to the south, the sea to the east, the working harbour to the north and the city to the west,” says Sachs.
The Mandela Bay Development Agency (MBDA), the development arm of the Nelson Mandela Metropoltian Municipality and organiser of the project, will oversee its implementation, while the municipality will be responsible for raising funds. The project has been given a strong mandate to include, as far as possible, thematic contributions from the Eastern Cape and Port Elizabeth. A preference for local skills, partnerships and expertise in construction of the statue will also be a feature of the project. The Endecon-Ubuntu engineering consultancy, based in Port Elizabeth, has been partnered by Equilibrium for the civil and structural engineering work on the R50-million project.
It is also hoped that the architecture department at the University of Port Elizabeth will be able to contribute ideas towards the implementation and construction of the statue.
Work on the statue will start as soon as the manganese-ore and petroleum facilities currently occupying the land near the site are relocated to Coega.
Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Municipality executive mayor Nceba Faku notes that the first phase of the project will be to obtain funding for the statue.
The next phase will be to engage with the National Ports Authority to integrate planning between the city and the harbour.