memory and public buildings -- case study: architecture as monument: the south african constitutional court
Architecture as Monument: The South African Constitutional Court
A central element of the 1993 South African Interim Constitution was the formation of a Constitutional Court
. In 1994, the court came into being, and began its first session in February, 1995. Eleven judges sit on the Constitutional Court and they may serve for a one-time term of 12 years.
Once the Court was selected, the judges were each given particular jobs to take on to prepare the court for business. Albie Sachs, a white activist who risked his life opposing apartheid, is now a judge on the Constitutional Court. In the following passage, Sachs reflects on his task, finding a new symbol for the court:
The idea [of choosing a symbol] was to emphasise that this was a new court, functioning in a new way, with new values. We could not operate under the old official coat of arms of apartheid South Africa.
Different members of the Court were given different tasks, always reporting back to the remaining 10 judges. One worked on the Rules, another on computers, a third on the gown, and so on. I was asked to develop ideas on the logo. I was also put in touch with a young designer who was known to a friend of one of the judges! Immediately I met her, I knew she would be right, she was not only skilful with a good warm artistic heart, strong eye and creative hand, and she was enthusiastic about our new Constitution and the role of the Court.
Eventually after a number of visits she produced a series of drawings based on two separate themes. The one used the tree as a symbol. Historically, justice in Africa took place in the open air under a tree. It was transparent and participatory. The other theme was the dignity of the human person.
I took a cluster of drawings to Arthur Chaskalson [currently the Chief Justice]. He and his wife Lorraine...were holidaying in Cape Town at the time. A psychiatrist friend of theirs was visiting from London. After I had displayed all the drawings on the table, the psychiatrist said 'why don't you put the people together with the tree,' and thereby solved the problem, and we had our logo. I went back to the designer, Ms Carolyn Parton (of Hippocampus in Cape Town), and asked her to integrate the people and the tree. We then showed her proposed drawing to all the members of the Court, they were delighted and we had the logo made for the plaque inaugurated by Nelson Mandela, as well as for our stationery.
...I attach some notes towards a description of the symbolism contained in the logo. They are not official, but convey something of the spirit of the logo.
CONSTITUTIONAL COURT LOGO
The Constitutional Court Logo has the following features:
- The Tree: Represents the justice system which, historically, in the African tradition, was conducted in the open air under a tree. This symbolizes transparency. Any man passing by could join in and participate in the proceedings. Today men and women take part as equals. This symbolizes accessibility for all.
- The Branches: The solid trunk and overarching branches of the tree protect the people.
- The People under the Tree: The diverse and inter-dependent people are looking after the tree which shelters them.
- The Flag: In the middle of the tree are evocations of the South African flag. This symbolizes the ownership by the people of the Constitution as protected by the Constitutional Court.
- The Outlines of South Africa: The outlines of South Africa can be discerned in the upper sections of the branches, highlighting the fact that South Africa is one, sovereign, democratic state founded on constitutional values.
- The Leaves: protruding from the Circle: Signify that South Africa is an open society looking to the future.
- The Circular Shape: Indicates that constitutional justice continues infinitely into the future, promoting lively growth of the nation in which everyone is secure in dignity, equality and freedom, from generation to generation.
Connections...Questions for the Classroom
- Constitutional Court justice Albie Sachs put much thought and time into his assigned task of creating a logo for the court. In light of a decades-long history of the racist and deeply dividing system of apartheid, why do you think this task was so important? Why are symbols especially important for societies in transition?
- Think about a symbol from your own experiences; maybe from your city or province, your religion or family. It might be a flag or logo, a coin or a statue on your town green. In your journal, first write down everything you see. Describe the symbol in detail. Next, hypothesize on why the creators of that symbol may have made the choices they did? Why did they choose those specific objects, colors, shades, etc.? What values and attitudes do you think they were trying to project when they created the symbol?
Finally, research the symbol and see if you can determine its origin and the intended meanings of its creators. How do your hypotheses compare to your findings?
- In small groups, create a symbol for your classroom. Be thoughtful and respectful of the values, qualities and personality you think it is important to convey in your symbol. Present the symbol to your class, explaining the choices and reasoning that went in to creating the symbol.