The history of architectural practice in South Africa can be viewed in three distinct periods or "ages". (This text addresses the eurocentric architectural practice systems in South Africa over time - not Architecture in South Africa.)

The Colonial Age
Colonial Age


The regulated architectural profession in South Africa was first established by the English settlers in Johannesburg following the discovery of gold and the annexation of the Boer Republics at the start of the 20th century. In 1905, barely three years after the end of the South African War, the Transvaal Technical Institute, later the Transvaal University College, began offering classes in Architecture and Building.

Four years later the Transvaal Architects Act of 1909 was passed and the Association of Transvaal Architects was brought into being as a statutory body to regulate the profession. One of the Association's first concerns was the education of its future members.

A formal professional training structure was designed and implemented in 1911 by the Association. A four year academic course with annual examinations was instituted followed by a four year period of practical and professional experience, after which the candidate could apply for registration with the Association and be able to enter into professional practice.

In 1916 the South African School of Mines and Technology (which had succeeded the Transvaal University College) implemented plans to convert itself into the University of the Witwatersrand in response to the settler population's demand for higher education in fields outside mining and technology.

In 1921 the University of the Witwatersrand was established by an Act of Parliament and the first Chair of Architecture, and first University School of Architecture, in South Africa were brought into being at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits).

" Meanwhile the students themselves had acted with a view to furthering the development of their School by forming a Students' Architectural Society in 1925. This was an occasion of far-reaching consequence because from then on the Society played a very important part in the progress of the School and, indeed, also in the development of architectural thought in South Africa." (1)

In 1928 it became mandatory for schools of architecture to become university based, thus terminating the traditional training systems of tutelage, apprenticeships and private colleges or studios. South Africa thus "won the distinction of being the first country in the world to establish professional education and examinations in architecture and quantity surveying as a system founded solely on a university basis.  Indeed, it is only in recent times that the far older system of pupilage, whereby architects and quantity surveyors in other countries, notably, for example, Great Britain, acquired their training in the offices of private practitioners, has been superseded by university education." (2)

In 1927 the first university degree in architecture in South Africa was awarded to the son of a Johannesburg architect - a H. Hulley.

So there you have it; the modest colonial beginnings of what has become an exemplar profession backed by strong institutions and ethics and which continues to produce outstanding architects in large numbers to this day.

The Apartheid Age


After the Second World War the Nationalist government took power and implemented the policy of apartheid. The apartheid government built several universities for Africans across South Africa but, for some reason, considered the architectural profession to be a "strategic profession" and banned Africans from studying and practising it. Africans could become doctors, lawyers, accountants, physicists or rocket scientists - but not architects or engineers. That was the law and all schools of architecture applied it.

Until the mid to late sixties the profession of architecture was controlled by the profession's gatekeepers at the schools of architecture and the Association. When I entered the Natal school of architecture in 1972, for example,  we were told on our first day of classes that less than 10% of the class would complete the course; the others would be "excluded" along the way. Since we were an intake of one hundred it meant that most of us would be booted out of the system over a six year period  - or worse, get stuck in final year for a decade - like Joe Stapelton whose kids were teenagers by the time he finished. We were then given an opportunity to leave the school there and then if the odds did not suit us. Nobody ever left.

At our school there were years when nobody qualified. It was really hard to get through the gate without connections - and impossible if you were an African.

Up until the sixties the profession of architecture was self regulating under a Private Act. The apartheid government sought to control the profession so as to implement its "strategic" plans - like spatial segregation and a multiplicity of complex parallel worlds. It did away with the Architects'  Private Act and replaced it with one of their own which gave rise to a government controlled and public works administered burocracy now called the South African Council for the Architectural Professions (SACAP) charged with regulating the architectural profession. Effectively the powers of the president of the Architects Association were usurped by the minister of public works and replaced with ceremonial duties like wearing a big chain around the neck at social functions.

In this way the apartheid government was able to block the education and training of African architects. There was much jumping up and down at the English universities at first as the international recognition of their degrees was at risk of being withdrawn by foreign institutions like RIBA, but they soon settled on a negotiated solution.

The Institute of South African Architects (now SAIA) met with the apartheid government and requested special permission to train one single African architect, as that would show the foreign institutions that there was a willingness to change and stave off an academic boycott. The government agreed provided the candidate be a male African from any country in Africa except South Africa.

Peter Malefane came from Lesotho to fulfil that role, becoming the first African to qualify at a South African school of architecture in 1979, fifty two years after H.Hulley became the first European settler to do so. The year 1979 thus marks the start of the racial transformation process in the South African architectural profession.

The Independent Age


In 1992 the European settler population voted to end apartheid and in 1994 South Africa became an independent African nation under President Nelson Mandela. The country has now been under African rule for twenty five years.

Architecture in a post apartheid South Africa has not just survived; it has thrived. South Africa is home to the most sophisticated, productive and ethical architectural profession in Africa today. There is nothing remotely like it anywhere on the continent. It is a massive national asset that exists in spite of a corrupt government's apparent effort to destroy it - as other rogue governments have done throughout Africa.

In the next segment of this series I will seek to explain why it is that corrupt African governments destroy the architectural professions which their countries inherit from European settlers - as well as how and why South African architects have not just survived but have thrived under the most severe social, economic and political conditions.

(1) & (2) artefacts.co.za


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