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Open Museum for Peace, Kitgum, Uganda

When we talk about achieving peace, we understand it as a process which is arrived at through reconciliation. Reconciliation requires justice, by way of accountability for the atrocities of a conflict; healing, as an individual and social process; and rebuilding, the recovery of the local traditions that acts of war have threatened to erase. It is in this aspect of rebuilding that we can ask what role does architecture and urbanism play? And I do not refer to the mere act of construction, but rather to how a particular design can impact the way a community regains its identity and sense of belonging.

How can the location and design of a space define and promote the nature and character of how community is being practiced. 

 The Kitgum Museum for Peace and War Archive was conceived as both a memorial to the victims of the civil conflicts in Uganda—a living archive to collect testimonies and stories of the war—as well as a collective active space for displaying cultural heritage and organizing public gatherings. A space designated for events in which various groups can come together and experience a sense of commonality.

While the archive contains accounts of the crimes of war, the museum path and courtyard—through the display and practice of art, crafts, dress, customs and rituals—serves as an educational and public meeting space for cultural heritage and identity.

 A new exhibition space in the form of a circular path is the primary organizational element of the project, which engages outdoor spaces and connects to the existing surrounding buildings, disparate structures that before seemed randomly scattered now united through participation in the project. A space for collective activities has thus emerged among them.  

 Architecturally, this circular path was conceived of as a covered open space, primarily a roof and a set of ramps. Its outer perimeter remains open, thus allowing one to enter the museum through several points, and preserving the ability to move openly across the site. In relation to the exhibition, the path serves as a curatorial device that connects fragments of stories and events, without imposing a single narrative. It allows for individual freedom of movement, interaction, and ultimately, framing and interpretation of events. Visitors will create different narratives as they are given the freedom to encounter the material as they wish.

 Contrary to the common conception of the museum exhibition as a closed, separate, and independent experience, this partially open structure creates an exhibition space that is dependent on and integrated with its surroundings. The project fully participates in the realities on site—both the elements of nature, and the human activities and movements between the buildings—to the point that the exhibition pathway and the existing public paths on site become one. Thus the site becomes the museum and the museum becomes the site.

Within the context of Kitgum and the conflicts of Northern Uganda, the project is far more than a record and display of a past conflict. The building of the Kitgum Museum for Peace reengages and reimagines a public space as an act of establishing and dedicating a physical site for collective purposes. The result is a literal and symbolic foundation for the peace-building process.

 

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