South Africa Architecture

The first two decades of the 20th century were marked by neoclassical revivalism, which served well the colonial tendencies. The works of two English architects, sir E. Lutyens (Civic Art Gallery, 1911-15, in Johannesburg), and sir H. Baker (Union Buildings in Pretoria, 1910-15), were modeled with an Italian Renaissance language albeit tempered by English tradition. The same suggestion operated, in a more moderate way, in the 1920s, as evidenced by the University of Witwatersrand and the new Johannesburg station, the latter with reminiscences of Scandinavian classicism. The following decade was characterized by the influence of WM Dudok, W. Gropius and Le Corbusier. The influence of the modern movement on new empiricism.

Eaton is undoubtedly the most important figure of the century. Born in Pretoria in 1902 and died in the same city in 1966, he dedicated his work to reconciling the prevailing qualities of rationalism with the environmental reality of Africa and the history of South Africa, criticizing those who used only an international language, forgetting the context historian and geophysicist. Its buildings include the offices for the Netherlands Bank in Pretoria (1946), Pietermaritzburg (1941), Kroonstad (1943) and the most beautiful in Durban (1961).

The new empiricism is born within the international style, but if it dramatically stands out for its search for an adaptation and reconciliation with local conditions. Realizations of this school are J. Fassler’s Wits Dental School (1954), Issy Benjamin’s Claridges Hotel (1952), the new Cape Town station.

The end of the 1940s was characterized by two important episodes, which left an important imprint on South African urbanism: the creation of housing for those returning from the Second World War and the advent of the Nationalist Party in power in 1948. The the problem of housing for veterans was solved by building residential settlements characterized by low-cost houses, which respected the minimum standards of habitability and maintenance: for example. the Parkhurst, Johannesburg, with single-family homes of 85 m 2. Since then this typology has been adopted as a distribution prototype for low-cost housing, giving rise to the so-called 85 house.

After the advent of the Nationalist Party in power (1948) and the consequent law on apartheid, the black population was sorted into contained areas between the industrial areas and the railway, completely detached from the urban and commercial nuclei. Hence the formation of the black townships, which from 1948 until the end of apartheid represented a plague of South African cities. The most famous of these is Soweto, a sad, shapeless agglomeration of run-down housing for the black population looking for work in nearby and affluent Johannesburg. The building type adopted in the townships is the 51/9 house, i.e. a single-family house of 51 m 2for a three-room house with characteristics of great squalor: absence of ceilings, flooring, sewers and drinking water. The 51/9 house has become the symbol of apartheid over the last thirty years.

In the 1960s, South African architecture was again dominated by foreign influence, this time predominantly Brazilian. The South African architects had appreciated the method by which their South American colleagues had solved the problem of air conditioning in buildings located in equally hot countries and subject to considerable temperature variations, using brise-soleil. and screens, while limiting the use of air conditioning. The result was an impressive chiaroscuro language that blends well with the subtropical climate of South Africa, as evidenced by the Netherlands Bank in Durban by N. Eaton, the Jan Smuts Airport in Johannesburg, as well as the works of P. Guedes, L. Ferreira da Silva and S. Ahrends. The seventies are those in which South African architecture and town planning are formed. It was in fact in 1970 that the major architecture schools in the country (Cape Town, Natal, Witwatersrand) began to produce graduates prepared for the problems of Third World architecture. For South Africa 2010, please check

The fruit of this direction are the development programs for depressed areas (as in the case of St. Wendolins and St. Chad), developed by interdisciplinary groups with the collaboration of the local population. The most emblematic example of this movement is the Mitchell Plan, Cape province, where low-cost housing has been proposed for black populations, with the triple help of the administration, the private sector, but above all the population. The birth of agencies and working groups such as Built and Urban support, which contributed to the rehabilitation of inner cities areas, dates back to this period., with the aim of re-proposing them for both a commercial and residential use. In the seventies, the adoption of exposed concrete, expressed in a language ranging from functional to neo-brutalism, as found in the Carlton Tower Center in Johannesburg, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, in the University of Pretoria, A. Sandrock, and in the British Petroleum Center in Cape Town, by R. Fox (1971-73). The seventies end with the works of the American architect H. Jahn in Durban and Johannesburg, both works of great mannerism linked to the International style.

The Eighties are those of the maturity of South African architecture, of the standpoints, of discovering itself: that is, the search to integrate the two traditions, the African and the Anglo-Saxon Boer. This search for a common denominator led to the abandonment of international language and marked the emergence of figurative experiences of integration between the two traditions. An opening that, on the other hand, could not occur without a historical-political motivation: the independence of the homelands.

The best works of South African architecture, produced by highly qualified professionals from South African universities, belong to this period, who brought to the fore the “ contextualism ”, that is to say the architectural language synthesis between the ethnic richness of the country and the need of the South African pluralistic society with the surrounding geophysical environment. Three works stand out in particular for the profound research of both figurative and social values ​​and for the complete respect for the environment: the Anglican cathedral of Soweto, by J. Noero (1987), the offices of the secretariat of Bophuphatswana, Mmabatho, of B Britz and M. Schole (1978-83), the community center of Behla, Cape Province, by R. Uytenboaardt (1981).

South African architecture