A true South African feel

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IT IS ex­tremely un­likely that while trav­el­ling through Italy you would come across a hous­ing de­vel­op­ment that fea­tured rows and rows of Cape Dutch-style homes. Like­wise, when trav­el­ling in Spain, it would be sur­pris­ing if an ar­chi­tect pro­posed build­ing a house of Tus­can de­sign.

While it may be pos­si­ble to get a bit of a feel for South African build­ing cul­ture when trav­el­ling through some of the smaller towns in the coun­try, very lit­tle of SA cul­ture is re­flected in the build­ings in many new de­vel­op­ments in and around the larger cen­tres.

Un­like other coun­tries, par­tic­u­larly those in Europe, SA seems to go through phases as to what is in and what is not. The Span­ish craze (com­plete with tur­rets) dom­i­nated sub­urbs in the early 1970s. Al­though there was no clear ar­chi­tec­tural dom­i­na­tion dur­ing the 1980s, the pot­tery Mex­i­can af­fixed to out­side walls ap­pears to have been a must. The 1990s of course was the time of the Tus­can look. How far this ac­tu­ally de­vi­ated from the real houses in that re­gion is ques­tion­able, as it seemed many de­vel­op­ers re­garded slap­ping a lit­tle earthy toned paint on the wall as an Ital­ian ar­chi­tec­tural mas­ter­piece.

Bali was the next coun­try we tar­geted and al­though this is still pretty trendy, it doesn’t ap­pear to have had as much im­pact on our sub­urbs streets as other styles.

Sadly, we seem to have lost our way a lit­tle and al­though we have been quick to adopt styles that we deem at­trac­tive, there are very few ar­chi­tects who have fo­cussed on designing a home with a true South African feel. While it may be a bit much to ask res­i­dents of sub­urbs to colour their homes us­ing the se­cret paint sig­nals once used by the Nde­bele tribes, it seems a pity that very few have adopted a purely African theme. Again, the African styled home seems to re­side in the ru­ral re­gions of the coun­try and sel­dom makes an ap­pear­ance in your av­er­age city sub­urb.

There may be those who ar­gue that the Cape Dutch look is fairly com­mon place, but while this is cer­tainly part of our her­itage, is it truly rep­re­sen­ta­tive of what the ma­jor­ity of South Africans re­gard as our own look?

And that seems to be the prob­lem: per­haps we have no cul­tural iden­tity be­cause we have a thou­sand dif­fer­ences.

No mat­ter which way you twist and turn it South Africans are a di­verse cul­ture and the prop­er­ties that were built in the early part of the last cen­tury are tes­ti­mony to this. The English built homes full of broekie lace that were rem­i­nis­cent of the old coun­try, the Dutch pre­ferred the gable look while the Afrikaans com­mu­nity favoured large prop­er­ties with wrap around ve­ran­dahs and high ceil­ings to help them cope with the hot cli­mate.

These days the look is de­ter­mined by trends and not cul­ture and there are those who say that we have de­vel­oped our own style by adopt­ing some of the as­pects of prop­erty in other coun­tries. They may have a point as it is ex­tremely un­likely that any of the newly-built Tus­can homes in SA bear any real re­sem­blance to the ones that grace the hill­sides of this beau­ti­ful Ital­ian re­gion. While they may look sim­i­lar on the out­side, it is, for ex­am­ple, highly un­likely that the orig­i­nal homes will boast a sec­ond bath­room or have a rim flow pool.

While some may long to see houses sim­i­lar to those in Graaff Re­niet form the ba­sis of new de­vel­op­ments you get the idea that this is a long way from be­com­ing the norm. There can be lit­tle ar­gu­ment that SA has some of the most beau­ti­ful homes set in some of the most spec­tac­u­lar scenery in the world – it’s just a shame that few have had the op­por­tu­nity to hon­our their roots by build­ing homes that truly say I am proudly South African.

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