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WAM (Wits Art Museum), Johannesburg, SA



The project started as a competition held by Wits which was won by Nina Cohen, Fiona Garson and William Martinson in 2005. The brief was to design a new 5000msq museum for Wits that would have extensive gallery space and specialised storage facilities for the vast African and South African collection. The new museum was also to accommodate curators and related academic facilities and the necessary back of house functions. The site was specific allocated space in three adjacent buildings on the south east corner of Wits campus where it abuts Braamfontein. The challenge was to seamlessly link these different buildings with individual characters and structural systems. The exiting location of the new Wits Art Museum (WAM) on the threshold of Wits and housing of the precious, collection of the museum were the central focus of the design.

The key concepts were porosity at ground level and, in contrast, the solidity of the art stores above. Our intention was to create an inclusive, accessible museum while not compromising the security of Wits. Its unique location at the edge of Wits campus allowed us the opportunity to create real links with Wits and Braamfontein by extending the pavement into the ‘Forecourt’ and creating public engagement with the gallery spaces and artworks through the large glass facades.


The notion of connectivity extends beyond the museums relation to the city, to includes links within the museum itself. The 5 gallery spaces, each with different spatial natures, are all linked to facilitate smooth flow and circulation and easy disabled access. Ramps are located within the exhibition spaces rather than on the periphery, thereby placing the museum visitor within the exhibits. A long flight of ‘flat’ steps slow the walker down as they move from one gallery space to another.

While the gallery or exhibition spaces are characterised by transparency and connectivity, the stores are expressed as solid brick containers that ‘hover’ above the glass base of the building. The valuable collection has stringent climate controlled storage requirements. Temperature, humidity and uv control determined the nature of these spaces. The woven brick skin visible from the outside is the outer layer of a cavity wall. Inside the store walls are raw stock brick, a material useful for absorbing excess humidity.

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