A true South African feel
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.