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South African architecture, leaving ordinary behind





 by HE Ms Celia-Sandra Botha, South African Ambassador in the Czech Republic




Along with democracy, came a fresh look at architecture in South Africa, both forward and back, and a vital new energy to take from, learn from, and contribute to the world that which is unique to us, and also to review that which is universal.


The diverse elements of the South African landscape, both nature and human, are all to be found reflected in our built environment. Not for us the monotony or declaratory mode of uniformity and predictability, but an altogether abundance of style, taste, material and design.


Everywhere the great definer, the sun, reflecting off white lime washed walls, absorbed by a mix of clay and manure, caught in diamond glass, baked into sandstone, ripening into thatch grass, shimmering in suburban pools, tracing lacy patterns through shaded verandas, languishing in dusty roads, setting behind silhouetted thorn trees, mineshafts and mealie fields, built into bunkered cement and red brick, slowing the fall of rain on corrugated roofs.


And everywhere African people, loud music, rhythmical movement, hurried city dwellers, money makers, beggars on street corners, smells of grilled meat and roasted corn, vivacious women, confident men and raucous school children.


All these images, swirling together, all the diverse impulses generated, the sense of adventure pulsing everywhere, make up the architectural heritage of South Africa –as well as its future. Sometimes stagnant imitation, sometimes glaringly at odds with the environment, sometimes despairingly monotonous, but sometimes, sometimes just so South African that it can be nothing else.


We are very honoured to bring to you an example of South African originality and creativity. From the beautiful and historical Cape Dutch homes in the South to the brilliantly coloured Ndebele houses in the North, from the sparse farmsteads in the West to the clustered huts in the East, from the modern glass and concrete monoliths in the cities, to the cool and elegant planes of sophisticated beach abodes, from mass housing to edifices of glaring individuality –South African architecture has it all.


We may be democracy in progress, but what cannot be argued, is that taking on South African architecture, you are leaving ordinary behind.



March 2018






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