Transformation of museum architecture in South Africa : towards the design of a children's musuem for the city of Durban.
For the most part learning in museums was by inert looking and listening and not by doing. For a long time traditional ideas of museums were conceptualized on an adult audience and children were expected to enjoy the museum going experience like they were adults. Museum architecture and planning responded more to grown-ups whilst children's needs and their engagement at a museum experience were never considered (see Macdonald, 1996: 2; Fyfe, 2006:5). Museums are at a very exciting juncture in their history and this study has examined these intricate relationships both internationally and locally. The findings is that museums, especially in some developing nations like South Africa have been rather slow to keep abreast with new emerging trends which focus on child education and how children learn in and from museums. This study puts forward the notion of a new museum archetype for Durban, a Children's Museum, re-interpreting conventional ideas of museums to one which places children and the community at the centre instead of the artifacts. In other words "museums are about somebody rather than about something" (Cleaver, 1992:21). Without a doubt children learn through play (Harris et al, 2003). Children view their spatial and social environments as a playground of knowledge, a place to see, touch, feel, taste, listen to, socialize with and learn from. They see the big world very differently as compared to adults and attach and take different meanings and experiences from and to people, to forms, places, spaces and things. Very important is the symbiotic relationship between children and the natural environment. Nature provides children with countless of natural toys interesting textures in the form of stones, leaves and twigs and sensory stimuli in sounds and sensations. This means that the way children learn through play the methods of facilitating this process and the built and natural environments where learning may take place needs to be interconnected. The position taken in responding through design is that there needs to be a holistic approach in responding to the social, cognitive and multi-intelligences in the development of children. This then suggests that the architecture and the landscape need to be integrated. Considering the close knit relationship children have with nature, the concept for the design of the museum draws from traditional African culture and spatial planning. The concept is based on the idea of PALAVER which in African culture is a traditional place of gathering in the shade of a prominent tree canopy somewhere in the village where villagers get to be heard, where they are able to express themselves freely without prejudice on life and on village problems. The design concept builds on this idea drawing from context interpreting this idea of a Palaver Tree to mean a roof of a building under which freedom of expression and exchange of ideas can take place. Hence the form of the building draws on clues from the majestic baobab of Africa, the elegance of the tenere tree and the qualities of a forest canopy. Considering the close link between children and nature and the ways in which children learn from the environment, teaching children about saving the planet, the symbolic imagery and qualities of a tree is an appropriate response in creating a place meant for kids. Moreover, the changing qualities of light through the leaves of trees are a subtle but most effective sensory experience which the design of the new children's museum tries to emulate. In parts of Africa, unlike western ideologies the museum is richly connected to the people and to the communities in which they exist. In fact it’s safe to say that the museum experience was part of everyday life.