Architectural expression of the southern subcontinent and eastern seaboard of Africa in
the 20th century resonates with broader international concerns. In the first half of the
century, before decolonization, the regional styling was a direct reflection of that of the
European colonial powers—an embodiment of empire and what architecturally might
appropriately reflect statehood and civic order. After World War II, postcolonial Africa
engaged the international architectural debate.
At the turn of the 20th century, the so-called scramble for Africa by the European
nations had created the geography of the continent, the larger portion of which bore the
pink mapping that demarcated the British Empire. The southeast and south-west
seaboards were flanked by Portuguese East and West Africa (since 1974, Mozambique
and Angola, respectively), which were at that time administered as provinces and not
nations, and German South West (to the south) and East Africa (to the north), now
Namibia (1992) and Tanzania (since 1964; in 1961, Tanganyika), respectively. On the highveld
(flat grasslands above the escarpment) lay two independent Boer republics. While being
the political domain of farmer-pioneers of European extraction of some 200 years before,
their numbers swelled a wave of immigration of the gold rush to the Zuid-Afrikaansche
Republiek (South African Republic) of the 1880s.
The subcontinent, as it entered the 20th century, was heir to the aspirations of one
man, Cecil John Rhodes (1853–1902), with his stated ambition to have the area from the
Cape to Cairo as a dominion of the British Empire. Architecture, through his architectprotégé
Herbert Baker (1862–1946), was to embody the expression of this ambition.
Baker can take credit for coining a style, Cape Dutch Revival, a derivative of the
domestic baroque of white-walled and curvilinear gabled homesteads of the Dutch
farmers who had settled the Cape peninsula and beyond. This was probably fired by the
Queen Anne style then fashionable in Britain, although the appreciation for vernacular
and traditional architecture fostered by the Arts and Crafts movement also played its part.
His first example of this revival, the “restoration” of Grootte Schuur (1896; since 1994,
the state president’s guest house) for his patron, Rhodes, has been shown to be a
fantastical reinvention of a once-sedate Georgian barn conversion. His homes for the
wealthy “Randbarons” on Parktown Ridge of Johannesburg follow in the Arts and Crafts
tradition, as, for example, the house known as Northwards.
A colonial war (Anglo-Boer War, 1899–1902) heralded the new century. The British
had to maintain long lines of supply and communication, and so industrialization came
into its own. Kit wood-and-iron utility buildings, popular in the diamond rush to
Kimberley and the gold rush to the Witwatersrand in the latter half of the 19th century,
came back into their own for military use. The crowning achievement of prefabrication
was the supply of parts of buildings as fortification—loopholes, ladders, and hatches—in
steel. These were built into blockhouses, the rest constructed from any immediately
available material. Thousands were erected, and many survive.
At that time, the independent Boer (farmer-trekkers of Dutch descent) republics had
their own architectural patrimony, a European eclecticism rooted in the Beaux Arts. The
Encyclopedia of 20th-century architecture 40
Department of Public Works was newly established in 1887 by President Paul Kruger
(1825–1904). The Dutch contingent of architect immigrants, with Sytze Wierda (1839–
1911) as head, brought with them current European practice. The best examples are the
Raadsaal (Legislature, 1892) and Palace of Justice (1900). This same styling manifested
in the then German colonies of German South West Africa and German East Africa, best
represented by the “Tintenpalast” (“Ink Palace,” Administrative Building, 1913,
Windhoek, Namibia). In the northern countries of Europe, Schinkel’s influence was still
strong—the tradition of brick buildings for public commissions in particular. This was
reflected in the schools, magistrate’s courts, and other utility buildings of the period, as in
the Johannesburg Post Office (1897). The colonial tradition of the Germans persists in
Dar Es Salaam and, while contributing to the architectural character of the city, was one
of the motivating factors for moving the capital inland to Dodoma. The term
“Wilhelmine,” deriving from both Wilhelm II (1859–1942), German emperor and ninth
king of Prussia, and Wilhelmina (1880–1962), queen of the Netherlands, is used for the
stylistic influences of northern European architects in German colonial Africa. It is the
equivalent of Victorian style in that both show eclecticism and revivalist styling
(particularly neo-Romanesque and neo-Gothic) but differ in their sources and treatment
of style elements, particularly domes and decorative trimmings. The style found its most
ebullient expression in his turn-of-the-19th-century Ostrich Feather Palaces, designed by
Johannes Egbertus Vixseboxse (1863–1943), in Oudshoorn (South Africa).
In the Union of South Africa (1910), which formed from the colonies of Cape and
Natal and the defeated Boer republics of the Orange Free State (Orange River Colony,
1902–10) and the South African Republic (Transvaal Colony, 1902–10), Baker and his
office, as official architect to the Church of England (Anglican Church) and favored
architect of the Department of Public Works, received numerous commissions, with the
Union Buildings (1912) in Pretoria being his crowning achievement.
A vast array of state and private commissions by the young coterie of architects was
brought into the Department of Public Works by the British administration. They belong
to the socalled Baker School, a collective term coined by Pearce (first head of school of
the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg—himself a Baker boy) to cover the
works of the young architects who worked either in Baker’s office or in the employ in the
Department of Public Works in the colonies of the Free State and Transvaal (1902–10).
With its attention to craftsmanship in detail, traditional use of material to suit
circumstances, and free borrowing of styles, it dominated architectural thought for
decades after Baker’s departure. Included in the school are the works produced in his
own office and of his own imagination in the years 1902–13, when he was resident in
South Africa; commissions carried out by his successors in the firm in the period 1913–
20 at the dissolution of the partnership; work done by previous members of the
partnership after 1920 or former assistants who established independent practices on
leaving; and then contemporary architects inspired by his work but having little or no
direct association in practice. This styling of the Edwardian period in the other British
colonies, with a mix of Arts and Crafts revivalism and neoclassicism, particularly in its
state and civic expression, was meant to aggrandize the sense of empire and, hence, is
known as the Empire style. Lutyens’s (1869–1944) New Delhi Secretariat complex, to
which he had been jointly appointed with Baker, epitomized this style in India. Lutyens
too has his legacy in South Africa: the Johannesburg Civic Art Gallery (1915).
Entries A–F 41
Opportunities for these architects expanded to the northern colonies of Southern and
Northern Rhodesia (since 1964, Zambia, and since 1980, Zimbabwe, respectively),
Bechuanaland (1885; since 1966, Botswana), and beyond to Nyasaland (1891; since
1964, Malawi) and the East African Protectorate (now Kenya).
A reaction to British imperialism was to be found in the person of Gerhard Moerdyk
Old Stone Town, Zanzibar, Pwani Region, Tanzania
Born on African soil and educated at the Architectural Association in
London, he looked to northern European precedent, particularly the Romantic Nationalism (the term derives from Kidder Smith as applied to certain early 20thcentury
trends in Sweden) of the Baltic peninsula. The brooding and somber Voortrekker
Monument (1949) remains his personal triumph, although he matched the number of
Baker’s Anglo-Saxon ecclesiastic architecture with more than 80 Afrikaans Protestant
churches, built from Windhoek, South West Africa (now Namibia), to Salisbury (now
Harare, Zimbabwe). His joint appointment to the Johannesburg Station (1932) with
Gordon Leith gave opportunity for demonstrating the use of local materials and
decorative motifs and artworks (their school colleague Henk Pierneef was commissioned
for these) on a public scale. These Romantic Nationalists show diverse stylistic
influences, but central to their endeavor is an expression of the use of local material and
decorative devices. There is usually an underlying classicism and thus sometimes the use
of classical elements, although often in modern guise.
Until the 1920s, architects of the southern African subcontinent were obliged to study
abroad. The first local architectural graduates were from the Witwatersrand School
(established in 1923) and made their mark internationally. The students brought the
Modern movement to the subcontinent with their publication zero hour (1933; the sans-serif
uncapitalized lettering a deliberate choice, showing solidarity with the Bauhaus). In their
Encyclopedia of 20th-century architecture 42
seminal publication, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier were heralded as role
models. Le Corbusier was sent an issue and responded with an approving letter,
published in the South African Architectural Record (vol. 20, no. 11 [1936], 381–83) and used to preface his Oeuvre Complete. In this he
coined the term “the Transvaal Group,” a name that has stuck. South Africa was thus at
the cutting edge of the Modern movement in the post-Depression years. Monuments to
the period are the residential blocks built in the developing higher-density suburbs of
Johannesburg and Pretoria.
In the years directly following World War II, Expressionist modernism became
popular on the subcontinent, fired by the “Brazil Builds” exhibition (1943) and the
subsequent publication of the same name. Graduates from the architectural schools of the
Witwatersrand and Pretoria (established 1943) had a particular affinity for the style, and
the highveld became a “Little Brazil,” a style term used by Chipkin (1993) and derived from
Pevsner’s (1953) observation that Johannesburg was “a little Brazil within the
Commonwealth.” The appellation has expanded to all southern African architecture of
the 1950s and 1960s that reflects Brazilian influence. The idiom is most flamboyant in
the then-Portuguese colonies of Angola and Mozambique, particularly in Lorenço
Marques (now Maputo), with Pancho Guedes (1925-) being its distinguished exponent.
Graduates from the Witwatersrand and Pretoria Schools (the latter established 1943) had
a particular affinity for the style, and the highveld became a “Little Brazil,” typified by buildings
that were overtly styled against sun penetration—exaggerated louvers, bris es -soleil, and egg-crate
sun guards, with the first such building being Helmut Stauch’s Meat Board Building
A movement with nationalist roots but without an overt political agenda was the
emergence of a regionalist school, and Norman Eaton (1902–66) was its recognized
founder and master. He frequently traveled to East Africa, sketching and photographing,
bringing these motifs to his buildings as sculptured elements and patterning in brickwork
and paving; his Bank of Netherlands buildings (Pretoria, 1953, and Durban, 1966) are his
finest testimonies. This style, termed Pretoria Regionalism, epitomized by Eaton, is a
variant of the Modern movement where the tenets of modernism are tempered by
considerations of local material, techniques, traditions, and climate. Graduates of the
Pretoria School moved away from the aesthetic of large expanses of window and clipped
eaves toward an architectural expression of deeply recessed or screened windows and
wide eaves, verandas, and pergolas. Materials of choice were stock bricks, gum poles,
stone, and roughcast exposed concrete. Traditional elements such as downpipes and
shutters were employed, although they were reinterpreted in modern idiom.
World War II brought with it the demise of the European colonial empires.
Postcolonial Africa needed new symbols of independence. Nairobi, Kenya, as the capital
of one of the first independent southern African British colonies, engaged in a program of
high-rise building. High-rises were not new to the subcontinent. Johannesburg (South
Africa) had always been at the forefront of the tallest modern structures on the continent,
the most innovative being the Standard Bank tower, the most ambitious the Carlton
Complex. Today, it is the Reserve Bank (1990, Pretoria), in neo-Miesian style, that holds
the honor.
In the 1970s, New Brutalism, a term associated with Peter and Allison Smithson of
England, found its way across the continent through the offices of the Transvaal Institute
of Architects and the Witwatersrand School, who invited the Smithsons to visit South
Entries A–F 43
Africa. Similar influences were through the frequent visits of Fry and Drew and Paul
Rudolph from the United States. The aesthetic was an uncompromising ruthlessness,
intellectual clarity, and honest presentation of structure and materials. The University of
South Africa (Pretoria) best epitomizes this period and is possibly the largest single
commission in the world that can be ascribed to only one architect—namely, Brian
Louis Kahn was also highly influential and established a committed following among
local students who had gone to Philadelphia to do postgraduate studies under him. Roelof
Uytenbogaardt (1933–98) is possibly the most esteemed local protégé, and his Steinkopf
Community Centre (1985) is probably the best architectural example, although his
contribution as teacher of urban design at the University of Cape Town remains his
enduring legacy. Unfortunately, his honest opposition to the apartheid state denied him
any commissions of substance.
In the late 1960s there arose an international interest in traditional African
construction and styling provoked by the Museum of Modern Art exhibition
“Architecture without Architects” (1964). A concern for alternative low-tech architecture
gained further impetus with the oil crisis of the 1970s. Hasan Fathy (1900–89) was
teaching mud construction up north, where both tradition and vernacular were explored
as precedent; his critical sensitivity catalyzed a reevaluation of the architectural heritage
of the subcontinent. There is now a concern for conserving traditionally African cities,
monuments, and settlements (such as Zanzibar, Mozambique Island, and Great
Zimbabwe). Restoration in the 1990s of Stone City, an Arabic heritage of Zanzibar, with
assistance by the Aga Khan Foundation, is a case in point. A rise and growth of Islam has
witnessed a revival in the tradition of mosque buildings, with Mohammed Mayet being a
practitioner particularly skilled in interpreting the type. The largest such building to date
is the Kerk Street Mosque (started 1994, under construction) in Johannesburg.
Attempts to translate an understanding of the architecture of Africa into a body of
theory have been termed “Afrocentricity” (Hughes, 1994), an understanding directed at
African-American practitioners that has searched find a theory of Afrocentric architecture
through a process of using observed empirical data based on three principal areas of the
built environment: historic prece-dent (including ancient civilizations and monuments),
cultural elements (including customs, ceremonies, and living patterns as well as
representational aspects of artifacts), and elements of the environment (including climate)
and ecology (including geologic conditions and physical features).
African sensibilities in architecture find their best expression in buildings as
ensembles rather than as individual set pieces. Liberated states needed new capitals, and
it is here that the expression of African spaces is made. Dodoma, as the newly conceived
capital for Tanzania, is a people’s forum, a space for the meeting of governance and
populace. Lilongwe, the designated new capital of Malawi that was meant to replace
Blantyre, has ambitious intentions of pedestrianized boulevards and vehicular routes but
languishes as it derives from the personal ambitions for aggrandizement of the president.
An interesting new capital is Mafikeng, provincial capital of North West Province, South
Africa, conceived as the “capital,” Mmbatho, of “the independent homeland” of
Boputhutswana. This had been done as part of the apartheid ideology of Bantustans (the
suffix “-stan” being a cynical attempt at exploiting Balkanization through association
with the separation of India and Pakistan at independence, which had the support of the
Encyclopedia of 20th-century architecture 44
international community). It was meant to supplant nearby afiking, which had served as
the out-of-country administrative center for the Bechaunaland protectorate until the
protectorate became the independent state of Botswana and relocated its capital to
Gaborone. In the Legislative Administration Building (1982), Britz and Scholes explore
the traditional kagotla, or place of gathering, built in monumental brickwork and expressed in
Kahnian style and scale. Yet there is a pervasive sense of an African place in the spaces.
At present, some.practitioners on the African continent meet the ongoing challenge of
designing affordable, appropriate, and sustainable architecture. The Eastgate Building
(1996, Pearce Partnership) in Harare serves as an example, as does the Appropriate
Technology Centre (1999, Stauch Vorster, MOM) in Gabarone, Botswana. There are,
outside the mainstream of commercialism, architects who engage with communities as
clients and attempt to express their clients’ concerns and financial circumstances in built
form; for example, Liebenberg Masojada (Kwadengezi Cemetery reception area, 1995,
Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa), Design Workshop (Warwick Avenue Bridge Market,
1999, Durban, South Africa), and CS Studio (Uthago Lotyebiselwano [Learning Centre],
Nyanga East, South Africa).
Under the auspices of the Commonwealth Association of Architects, those schools of
architecture established in the emergent independent African states once under British
rule partake in academic exchange and scrutiny of their teaching programs by
accreditation boards. More and more architectural graduates are emerging from these
institutions, and as time passes, their contribution should become more apparent.

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