The Norval Foundation opened to the public on Saturday 28 April 2018, a multi-sensory celebration of art, architecture and landscape. The project provided a unique opportunity for the architects; a client brief with the aspiration to create a world class art and cultural centre in an exceptional location that would be open to the public. The Norval Foundation is expected to become a significant space for art both in South Africa and globally.
The Norval Foundation was envisioned by the architects as a modern pavilion for art, set against a dramatic mountain and vineyard landscape. It is a pure expression of form; a bold rectangular mass, delineating its heavy walled enclosure and light over-sailing roof.
The building is constrained by the linear site, between a busy road and an existing wetland; turning its back to a neighbouring embassy compound. The linear circulation spine is positioned along this edge, with the galleries and public spaces facing the natural landscape, capturing framed views of the wetland, vineyards and mountains beyond.
The building sits in an elevated position, and shields the wetland, creating a private space for the sculpture park and forms an inhabited threshold between public and private zones. A triple volume atrium establishes a deliberate visual connection between these zones; one urban, the other natural, and provides a physical transition between these contrasting environments.
The Norval Foundation is experienced in a linear sequence. A curved wall that extends into the entrance court, draws visitors past the double volume restaurant, gallery shop and into the generous reception which calmly directs guests to the central atrium that introduces the main galleries. A terrace along the length of the building incorporates a timber deck serving the restaurant, and connects to walkways on either side that lead into the sculpture park. The grounds also include an amphitheatre, children’s playground, and picnic area.
The gallery spaces comprise a large environmentally-controlled special exhibitions space, and a series of six small galleries, culminating in a dramatic triple volume sculpture gallery, a dramatic setting for large scale pieces with Table Mountain as a backdrop. All of the gallery spaces are column free, allowing for maximum flexibility for display of all forms of art and they can be treated as separate experiences or to create a sequential journey as required.
The very specific technical requirements for the gallery spaces in terms of environment control take into account careful control of light, temperature and humidity, acoustics, and fire prevention. To create the minimal spaces required for the display of art, all of the services are concealed in the wall and ceiling cavities to create a seamless appearance.
The programme further dictates the building form, which is split vertically between the ground floor galleries and public spaces, and the first floor where the more private spaces are found; offices, library, bar, a further gallery space and artist’s residence. Art storage vaults are positioned below ground level, with the highest level of security as well as state of the art temperature and humidity control. In addition to 32 parking bays at grade, minibus drop off and a tour bus embayment, there are 120 parking bays below ground, with 8 bays set aside for electric car charging stations. A LPR parking payment system was specified.
In addition to the rehabilitated wetland and indigenous landscaped sculpture park, sustainability features include solar photovoltaic panels on the roof, a building management system to optimise performance, water saving measures, grey water purification system, return of storm water to the wetland system, and energy efficient glazing and solar shading on the façade. Wherever possible, natural light to the internal spaces has been maximised, with large full height and clerestory windows throughout, with the exception of certain galleries.
The materials palette is raw and honest, primarily pre-cast concrete, natural timber, granite and glass. These materials provide contrast with the natural landscape, and take inspiration from the work of Tadao Ando. The clerestory windows allow the roof to float above the heavy walls, like the lid of a box concealing treasures within and allowing soft indirect natural light to penetrate the interior spaces. Externally, the precast concrete is finished with a chamfered tartan grid, which draws the eye upwards and lengthways, and emphasises the scale of the building. Internally timber panelling is used to bring warmth to the spaces.
The architectural design is a rational response to the specific context and the functional requirements of the brief, and strikes a balance between two motivations: to protect the artwork within, and maximise views to the landscape outside.