The National English Literary Museum is the first museum building in the country to achieve a 5 star rating from the Green Building Council of South Africa. The amphitheatre, which is found outside the main entrance of the museum, is used for community activities including street performances and open air book readings. 
NELM moved into this custom-designed building in 2016. It houses fantastic new permanent exhibitions which tell the story of South Africa through our literature, with audio and video components and two touch screens. It also has temporary exhibitions in our upstairs gallery. At present its temporary exhibition is ‘Voices of Protest’, an exhibition of letters between authors and publishers that explores apartheid-era literary censorship.
The museum offers excellent research facilities for visiting researchers. The Education and Public Programmes Division offers a range of activities for schools, and regularly hosts book launches and other events. The museum’s facilities are available for hire to the public, including our indoor theatre, outdoor amphitheatre and two activity rooms.

The construction industry is deemed to have a high impact on the environment, but there are ways to mitigate this and safeguard the environment. The key issues are:
• energy consumption
• pollution
• waste generation

‘Green’ buildings are designed, built and operated in an environmentally sustainable and energy-efficient manner. A few of the key issues are:
• energy efficiency
• carbon disclosure
• staff training
• stakeholder engagement

Key 'Green' Elements

  • The large windows showing the wide surroundings encourages the use of stairs for user health and wellbeing


  • Specialised air-conditioned and mechanically assisted natural ventilation systems were built in order to deliver optimum air quality to people in the occupied areas. The system is a Variable Refrigerant Volume system. This means it makes heat recovery possible so that both cooling and heating can be provided in different sections of the building simultaneously and so delivers maximum energy savings.
  • Natural light pours through the abundant windows of the building. This use of natural lighting reduces the need to rely on artificial light sources which can be adjusted individually. Many of the lights in the building are sensor active in order to further reduce energy consumption. Energy saving heat pumps have been installed in specific areas in the museum in order to supply hot water and heating systems 
  • Green materials have been used in the flooring including recycled rubber and bamboo tiles as well as recycled plastic carpets. The museum has made use of low volatile organic compound paints (VOC) and coconut mosaic wall cladding to aid in  the ‘greenness’. Where it were possible to do so, reusable and recyclable materials were sourced locally in order to minimize the transport distance and fuel consumption. 
  • NELM uses indigenous plants in their outdoor gardens, replecating South Africa’s many flora biomes. Do not try and pick or destroy any of these plants.
    Depending on the season, different plants may attract your attention. The blooms of the alow ferox which expel stunning red flowers, symbolizing the bloodstained spears of warriors past. The sap which comes from this aloe has the potential to be used as insect repellant.
    The Leonotis leonurus plant, more commonly known as wild dagga, has the ability to treat snake bites and is another one of the medicinal plants which grow in the gardens.
    A particular favourite of giraffes, the Vachellia Karoo more commonly known as sweethorn, is found in abundance. The leaves and gentle thorns are enjoyed by this tall and gentle animal. There is also another interesting analogy; the thorns of the plant are said to have made up the crown of Christ when he was crucified.
  • The rainwater harvesting system which NELM uses collects underground water from the water table and expels it into the ponds found on the premises. These storm water detention ponds were initiated into the building’s design in order to release storm water gradually and prevent the erosion of the related river system. Rainwater is also collected from the roof area and used for irrigation and toilet and urinal flushing. 
  • Along the outside wall of the building, there is a large bicycle rack. These racks and the showers outside are assigned to the public to encourage non-motorized commuting. They are designed to promote the health and wellbeing of the public. If you carry on walking along the path, you will take a curved right into the paved road on the premises. Along the right of the wall you will notice five large storage rooms where recyclable items are discarded. The museum promotes recycling and allows for an alternative waste disposal system, saving materials and helping to lower greenhouse gasses.
  • The museum is multi-storeyed in order to minimize the ecological footprint of the building. 
  • The museum’s archive, housing over one hundred thousand original manuscripts, has a green roof insulating the building It means there is no need for air-conditioning. 
  • The indigenous gardens found surrounding the building are open to the public allowing for enjoyable walks through the vegetation and park-like areas. 
  • The gabion walls and stone cladding stabilize the indoor temperature of the building thus reducing energy consumption through air-conditioning. 

Construction vs Finished Project

Construction began on the new museum building in 2014 after the Green Building Counsel of South Africa (GBCSA) approved the project to create the country’s first ‘green’ museum. The GBCSA was established in 2007 and developed the Green Star SA Rating Tool to assesses the environmental design attributes of a building at design stage, and then again at the ‘as built’ stage

The green museum movement originated in children’s museums in America, mainly out of health concerns for young visitors. The first was the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, which opened in 2004. Some others are the Children’s Discovery Museum in Normal, Illinois, the Boston Children’s Museum and the Brooklyn Children’s Museum.