Competition entry
Location Bhisho, Eastern Cape
Size 17 000m2
Architects Activate Architects in Joint Venture with Nick Plewman Architects
Proffessional team
Insite Landscape Architects, Turner and Townsend Quantity Surveyors, WSP Green by design, Pure Consulting structural engineers, Elshove-Pryce mechanical engineers

architecture - Bhisho Premier's Office Complex “The first big idea, which goes back to the start of the Enlightenment, is that the right to the city is a basic human right. The second, flowing from the first, is the right to be part of the city spectacle. The spectacle is as old and as modern, as the city itself… It gives people ideas, new ideas about how to look and how to move, ideas about being free and being oneself and being with each other.” Marshall Berman

The opportunity to develop the Premier’s office on the given site responds to the brief by identifying the following critical design imperatives:

  • Redress and re-integrate the historical separation of King Williams Town and Bhisho
  • Make a regionally symbolic statement that resonates with the country
  • Define an engaged relationship between the electorate and their elected officials
  • Set a vigorous example of energy conservation and environmental sustainability
  • A building fabric that ties symbolic reflection of Eastern Cape culture with materials of local origin to optimal climatic performance

The implication for this project is that it be contextualised within a proposition for the wider urban plan and that the ensuing urban design be threaded into the Premier's complex with the inclusion of public places that engender social interaction and, specifically, mediation between the public and the provincial authorities.

Site development follows on from the urban plan by responding to the same imperatives: the definition of the public/private interface, prioritisation of pedestrian over vehicular access, climatic response and symbolic rooting of the historical, cultural and political landscape. The form of our built space – The Premier’s Complex - was shaped by the un-built space through the creation of a public plaza at the intersection of urban axes on Independence Avenue.

Here the building complex steps back to welcome and ‘hear’ the vox populi. Our newly established green, pedestrian cross-axis encourages people into the public plaza from province and city alike, by bridging the two routes and suggesting a link beyond the city - from the Amatola Mountains to the west and the Indian ocean to the east.

Symbol of Development Through Unity

The physical heart of the design: the symbolic crucible building, housing the auditorium, serves as an inspirational symbol of the new democracy in which divergent views are entertained. The crucible building represents the melting pot in which the previously separate histories and identities of all people – but specifically the peoples of the Eastern Cape – are alchemically refined into something more beautiful and meaningful than the sum of their parts.

The precinct unshackles itself from adherence to a rigid geometry as not only a poetic unshackling from past bonds, but an inference that democracy is fluid and transparent by definition.

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