Hans Fransen’s The New Amidst the Old: Buildings in the Klein Karoo

Some thoughts about new architecture in the historically sensitive areas of the Klein Karoo

Compiled by Hans Fransen, Published by the Simon van der Stel Foundation (Heritage S.A.) (S. Cape Branch), Oudtshoorn 2006

ISBN no. 0-620-35512-3
Sponsors: Architects Ferdinand C. Holm (George), Johan Smit (Oudtshoorn).
Publisher: Simon van der Stel Foundation
PO Box 599, Oudtshoom 2006.
Copyright Hans Fransen

This slim 40-page publication is so jam-packed with information, advice and photos, that it puts glossier publications to shame.

Johanna de Beer, Cape Librarian, 2006, Vol.50 (4), p.28

[Text retrieved from PDFs posted at De Rust Heritage. To see the associated maps and beautiful photographs, I definitely recommend you download the set!]


1.1 Preface by the Committee

There is a very special region in the Western Cape known as the Klein (or Little) Karoo. It has many attributes, not the least of them being its magnificent mountains and valleys. Dotted throughout this beautiful landscape are humble cousins of the grand Cape Dutch buildings of the Boland. In the pretty villages and towns the typical flat-roof Karoo-style buildings are found. The ostrich-feather boom of a century ago also left a rich heritage of fine and decorative buildings throughout the region. The towns in the area retain fine environments in their own right.

Much of this very special heritage has vanished, and today much of it is still under threat. It may never be the intention of new owners to obliterate what is so characteristic of their environment, but merely to erect for themselves comfortable and up-to-date accommodation. But sadly this results only too often not only in ill-advised alterations and even losses, but also in new buildings that do not fit well into the existing built environment – including ‘invasive’, foreign elements.

Mrs. Hazel Gibson-Jonker of the Simon van der Stel Committee first expressed the need for published guidelines for the general public and especially the property developer. Generously sponsored by architects Ferdinand Holm and Johan Smit this has resulted in this booklet compiled most lyrically by Dr. Hans Fransen, the man with the finger on the true pulse of regional culture.

The Committee is confident that these clearly expressed thoughts and guidelines will be of assistance to the general public and help safeguard our heritage.

Publishing Committee: Mrs. Hazel Gibson-Jonker, Prof. Johan Olivier, Dr. Taffy Shearing, Mr. David Shearing, Mrs. Juletha Zietsman.

1.2 Author’s Preface

Not only is the built heritage of the Klein Karoo rich in a quantitative sense, but it also has a distinctive character of its own. Both of these assets are perhaps the result of the relative ‘remoteness’ of the area, of the fact that substantial mountain ranges separate the Klein Karoo from the coastal strip, the Overberg and the Boland, and of the absence of major through roads. In its particular climate and the flavour of its agriculture, too, it differs markedly from other regions of the Western Cape.

In its landscape the Klein Karoo retains, below the imprint of its cultural landscape, a stronger substratum of a dramatic natural landscape than in the so intensively cultivated Boland or Overberg and it possesses a decidedly more ‘African’ quality. In its towns, too, the Klein Karoo preserves a quality of streetscape that is unique. Both Calitzdorp and Ladismith and also Prince Albert are remarkably well-preserved villages and while Oudtshoorn shows unmistakable signs of having become the metropolis of the area, it has managed to maintain several unique features. We will discuss these qualities later on.

The cultural landscape of the Klein Karoo, both rural and urban, differs from that of places like the Dordogne valley in France or Tuscany in Italy in that it is of more recent vintage, at most a little over two centuries. This in itself does not make it any less precious to us, but it does mean that it has had less time to coalesce with the natural landscape and is therefore more vulnerable to modernising influences: straight roads, more rational farm boundaries, water-storage dams, the ill-considered positioning of utilitarian housing or industrial complexes.

Nor have our architects, despite many brave attempts, as yet managed to develop generally applicable ways of implementing all these unavoidable changes to the least possible detriment of the existing cultural landscape.

The latter is indeed no easy matter, and one about which even in more established societies such as in Western Europe there exists considerable disagreement and confusion, among designers as well as conservationists and authorities, often resulting in deplorable developments even in historically sensitive environments.

The Southern Cape branch of the Simon van der Stel Foundation (Heritage S.A.) is clearly aware both of the very special character of the built environment of the area, and of the tricky question of ‘the New amidst the Old’. It is to be commended on its decision to provide some guidelines in this minefield. The fact that so little unanimity exists about a ‘suitable’ style of architecture in environments of quality should be no excuse for not at least trying to identify that quality and to think of ways in which to minimise the impact of new developments upon it – while in no way interfering with ‘progress’ and the freedom of individuals to contribute to it.

The product of their initiative lies in front of you – for what it is worth. For while compiling it, its author became uneasily aware of how onerous the task was that he had agreed to undertake, in the hope partly that he would somehow get more clarity about the matter himself. The guidelines he was asked to provide can hardly be described as anything more than reflections on why and how. They are in no way prescriptive; nor could they ever presume or in fact be allowed to be. They are merely meant to help property owners, developers and designers to gain some insight into the existing built environment: how it came to look as it does, what, if any, are its aesthetic qualities, and how these can be respected- perhaps even enhanced – by new developments in its vicinity.

These notes are the work of a museum curator and lecturer in art and architectural history with sixty years’ experience of looking at natural and especially built environments, here and elsewhere, and of trying to put into words why some of them strike him as agreeable and why some of them do not. We can only hope that not being a member of the architectural fraternity himself, his views may be more acceptable.

We are aware that readers of these notes will not always agree with all the suggestions they contain which, we should stress, are those of the author. We hope indeed that they will be read well enough for the readers to disagree with some of them. We should also be aware that, as has happened in the past, today’s ideas may no longer be current in thirty years’ time.

But we are nevertheless confident that there will be fair degree of consensus about the irrevocable damage ill-considered developments can cause to our cultural landscape in its widest sense. Perhaps the thoughts expressed in the following notes may help them to achieve some clarity as to what it takes for New to fit in with Old.

1.3 Methodology

The actual notes on ‘the New amongst the Old‘ are preceded by an introduction to architectural styles in general and to those of the Klein Karoo in particular, and to the history and structure of the six towns in the area. The latter section should be read together with the street plans of these towns on which the author has made an attempt to show ‘historically sensitive’ areas. The ‘guidelines’ are personal reflections, intended to engage the reader in what will always be a very subjective issue.

This section is illustrated with examples of which, similarly, the merits or otherwise are discussed. A few of these are from areas other than the Klein Karoo where they best illustrate points made in the text. We have omitted the names of architects, which are mostly unknown to us and in any case irrelevant for our purpose.

We have included Prince Albert as part of the Klein Karoo; although north of the Swartberg, it is not far from Oudtshoorn and, rightly, regarded by the Southern Cape committee as part of its territory. We have not included Barrydale and Montagu, equally rich in character, as perhaps better dealt with from the Western Cape end. But most of what is written in the following chapters applies equally to those towns.

The booklet includes a list of heritage sites in the country areas of the Klein Karoo. At the end appears a summary of ‘do’s and don’ts’ for the casual reader. Unless stated otherwise, photographs are by the author.

1.4 Architectural styles over time

The word ‘style’ is derived from Latin ‘stilus’, meaning a writing implement (for scratching into a wax tablet), and came to denote a characteristic, personal handwriting. It is well known in various other contexts. ‘This is his style’ means it is ‘his way of doing things’. In the study of the history of art or architecture a style refers to the combination of shapes, composition, medium or building materials, decoration, etc., that is shared by art works and buildings of a particular period or area – or indeed of a particular artist. In Europe, there are the Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Rococo styles. Sometimes styles are named after the monarch reigning at the time: Louis XIV, XV and XIV in France, Tudor, Georgian, Regency, Victorian and Edwardian in England. Within each style, there may be considerable differences, but they are outweighed by the common elements.

Why are such styles always followed by others that have come to differ sufficiently to be given a new name (usually after the event!)? It has to do with new materials or building methods or with evolving lifestyles calling for new expressions. The work of architects of creative genius ‘pushing boundaries‘ often also plays a role.

In the Western Cape, too, a number of successive – sometimes overlapping – styles can be distinguished, as well as styles peculiar to certain areas – such as the Klein Karoo! The best known of these, of course, is the ‘Cape Dutch’ style with its thatch roofs and gables, but there is also its urban version with flat roofs. After 1800, ‘English’ styles made their appearance (for much of the century co-existing with the ‘Dutch’): the Georgian and the Regency. The typical flat-roofed Klein Karoo style can be seen as the local version of the Georgian style. The progressively ‘different’ Victorian style of the late 19th century was as long-lived as the queen after which it was named. It may be pertinent to discuss each of these in greater detail later on.

1.5 Why does ‘style’ matter to us?

Today, with a sigh of nostalgia, we tend to lump our built heritage together as ‘the Old Cape’, as the ‘then’ against the ‘now’- as a completed chapter we may page through occasionally like an old photo album with pictures from our youth, with our wedding photographs and those of our parents, only to close it and get on with our lives. The big culprit, of course, is the phenomenon known as the Industrial Revolution, which hit Europe from the mid-19th century and South Africa a little later. Besides bringing wonderful new techniques and materials we would not want to do without today, it also caused a traumatic break with the continuity of the past. And, looking back, we now tend to telescope the centuries before, say, 1910, and their tangible evidence, into one compressed ‘past’, without fully realising that it represents a long continuum of styles gradually merging, without any noticeable break, the one into the other. Styles were like ‘idioms‘, generally spoken and understood by all. No wonder we have come to speak of vernacular architecture the way we can describe the Afrikaans language as the vernacular, home-grown language of the Cape, as opposed to ‘foreign’ languages Dutch and English.

The style of the time and of the area was likewise in general use, without anyone as much as contemplating building anything out of the current idiom. During the 18th century in Paarl, Stellenbosch, Swellendam or Tulbagh – town or country – this meant the Cape Dutch style with its six-metres-wide wings under thatch, with only perhaps a well-executed centre gable or an elegant fanlight denoting the status of the owner. In the Karoo, with its lower rainfall and shortage of timber and thatching reed, the brakdak style became as much of a ‘lingua franca‘ as the thatch-and-gable style of the Boland.

The importance in one’s built environment of such a ‘vernacular’ language – of ‘style’ – to give it coherence cannot be overestimated. Although some of its elements changed over the generations, they remained familiar, and they were interspersed with or overlaid upon one another. An early Cape Dutch house could have its flush small-paned windows replaced by larger-paned and slightly recessed ‘Georgian’ sashes or, in later, Victorian times, could be given elegant broekie lace verandas. In Graaff-Reinet the gabled houses lived – and still live – happily alongside the flat-roofed Karoo houses and the double-storeyed ‘Georgian’ commercial buildings on the corners. But the basic coherence of this tapestry of styles, of scale, of proportions, also of details and much of their materials, remained and ensured an intimate and sympathetic built environment in which people felt ‘at home’.

Together with the proliferation of building techniques and materials, the Industrial Revolution brought a plethora of ‘styles’ – if we can call them that, for unlike those of the past they are interchangeable, at the whim of the moment, and lack the coherence of pre-industrial styles. It would serve little purpose – nor would it be an easy task – to describe all the modes of building of the last century. They include Art Deco, Modern Movement, Cape Dutch, Georgian or Victorian Revival, Tuscan, Brutalist, Post-Modern – one could go on for pages.

If one were to single out a style from among all of these that truly represents the era of technology, it must be the Modern Movement, the style of the Bauhaus, of Gropius and Mies van der Rohe. It has had some very fine representatives in this country, too, in the persons of Pius Pahl, Rex Martienssen, Norman Hanson, Helmut Stauch, the younger Revel Fox and others. In its pristine form it had an idealistic, visionary element in its attempts to combine the best of modern technology with a form language reflecting the clarity and rationalism of modern thinking – a reaction to the muddled romanticism of the Victorians. Yes, it had the potential of an all-embracing form language that could have replaced those of the pre-industrial era. But its products remained little more than much-admired individual art-works and caused alienation leading to its ‘de-construction’ by the Post-modernists.

Our own architects have produced impressive structures that, in their own right, are of great originality and quality. We should use them and enjoy them on their own terms, and they will not be out of place anywhere. But many of them do not have that quality, and environments where our earlier built heritage is still much in evidence are perhaps not the place for their ‘originality’. For those of us who value these environments – and we should, for they are good places to be, and do we really want to tear up our old photo albums? – they call for humility and modesty, for ‘fitting in’ rather than ‘standing out’.

How the need for harmony of material and scale was realised from the early 20th century can be seen on the campus of the University of Cape Town, where the original buildings by architect Solomon are of a unified design, all with red pan-tile roofs, and where for a long time afterwards all later buildings, though they might differ in design, had to have red pan-tile roofs to unify at least the skyline of the complex set against the mountain.

It is perhaps as well at this early stage – we will come back to this – to make it clear that ‘fitting in’ does not mean going back to the old style we are trying to respect – producing pastiches. Previous generations never ever did this. Every style was peculiar to its period and area, reflecting its available materials, techniques and way of life. Today, that is not Cape Dutch or Karoo brakdak, and any attempt to copy such styles (while presumably accommodating all mod cons!) would produce a bastardised result with which neither old nor new is served. Nor are any of our vernacular styles in themselves of such outstanding intrinsic beauty that even faithful copies would automatically produce fine buildings.

That is not to say that we should not look for certain elements and qualities in our old buildings that can be incorporated in new work and thus provide a meaningful link between old and new, without the new work losing its basic, recognisable ‘of our time’ character that is essential in all good architecture. This is what we will try to do in this survey.


2.1 Cape Dutch

The ‘Cape Dutch’ style at its most spectacular, such as at Groot Constantia and Boschendal, has been called the most important contribution our country has made to world architecture (or to world culture, for good measure!). Even if we presume this to be the case, it is a somewhat pointless statement, for such homesteads were not built to impress the world – such as the Taj Mahal or the Eiffel Tower. They were built as the purely local response of local building know-how and materials meeting local requirements – which, indeed, is the hallmark of all good architecture. They consist of sturdy clay or clay-brick walls, thatch roofs covering elongated ‘long-houses’ or developing from them with wings towards the back, in letter-of-the-alphabet shapes (T, H, U, etc.).

Its products range from modest two- or three-room cottages in the mission or fishing villages to pretty town houses lined up along the streets and impressive homesteads with complexes of outbuildings; even its churches were built in the style. They could be lent status by acquiring a decorative ‘layer’ of features such as fanlights and particularly centre gables, though these were never allowed to affect the basic, almost democratic, uniformity of scale, construction and materials that, more than the gables, are their chief characteristics.

By the middle of the 19th century a slight shift occurred in the planning of ‘Cape Dutch’ houses when builders could more easily obtain beams and planks longer than six metres and the ‘double deep‘ plan developed, mostly in the towns, where a rectangle with two rows of rooms took the place of the earlier wing-type homesteads. They can easily be distinguished by their much higher roofs and, if they have them, by their higher gables. Their windows and doors are of the ‘Georgian’ type (see 2.3), setback in the wall, the sashes with larger panels, often with louvred shutters, and the doors vertically divided instead of the bo-en-onder deure of earlier years. The towns of the Klein Karoo are of mid-19th century vintage and what ‘Cape Dutch’ houses they retain are generally of the rectangular variety, while older towns like Beaufort West or Graaff-Reinet, which still caught the tail-end of the true ‘Dutch’ style, in the first decades of the century, still have many houses of the lower wing-type homestead type.

Though rare in the towns around here, in the country side of the Klein Karoo several true and very fine early type homesteads, predating the towns, survive. They appear in the section (5.2) listing rural heritage sites.

2.2 ‘Cape Dutch’ flat-roofed buildings

Thatch roofs have one major disadvantage: they are prone to fire, particularly in built-up areas where the flames could spread from roof to adjoining roof. This happened in Cape Town in the early and mid-18th century, and led to a regulation prescribing flat roofs for rebuilt or new structures. In the town centre this provided an opportunity to add an upper storey – turning the village into a city! – but in the ‘Bo-Kaap’ flat-houses of only one storey high provided accommodation for less affluent people. Such houses can be called ‘Cape Dutch’ because of the period, but also because they have the same inward-opening casements or part-sliding sashes, doors, floors, ceilings as the thatched variety.

In Simon’s Town by the late century the same type of houses were built from the beginning because of the limited space on the narrow coastal strip. For country homesteads the style was not popular except for a few notable exceptions such as Vredenhof and Uitkyk. Stellenbosch, too, had its conflagrations and in parts, such as Dorp Street, became double-storeyed and flat-roofed, but this happened well into the 19th century and these Stellenbosch houses were given ‘Georgian’ details.

2.3 The Georgian style

After the regime change around 1800, the Cape Dutch styles gradually saw a more British-derived mode appear in its midst, known by the name given to it in England after the reigning monarchs from 1727 till 1837. In Europe, after the decorative and curvilinear style known as the Baroque and Rococo styles, the Georgian represents a return to classicism, with an emphasis on careful proportioning, symmetry and quiet rhythms. In the Cape it was never quite as prevalent as in the fully British colonies, in particular the later United States. Here, it was often ‘grafted’ onto the existing Cape Dutch style, affecting the design of windows, which were placed deeper into the walls producing more distinctive ‘openings’, with taller and narrower proportions, thinner frames and glazing-bars and ever larger window-panes, very often with louvred shutters. Stable-type front doors were replaced by vertically divided doors, each of the two ‘leaves’ with several panels, set under rectangular or semi-circular fanlights.

This ‘grafting’ of Georgian woodwork details onto structures basically built in the ‘Cape Dutch’ style – thatch and gables – or even in existing buildings when altered – until not so long ago was regarded as inappropriate and restorers would replace such doors and windows by fake Cape Dutch ones. Today we appreciate their elegance as much as the sturdier quality of the Dutch woodwork, and in any case prefer good and authentic Georgian woodwork to imitation Dutch. It has to do with the concept of ‘layering‘ – leaving elements from different periods side by side with one another as so many documents of the history of a building. In the towns of the Klein Karoo, all dating from the mid-19th-century, even the first buildings were overlaid with Georgian details.

After the flat roofs of the Dutch town houses, pitched roofs became fashionable, often with hips at the sides, sometimes of slate and generally needing a lower pitch than thatch roofs in order to be watertight.

Inside, multi-paneled doors replaced the single-panel ‘Dutch’ doors and ceiling beams became narrower as it was realised that it is not the width of the beams but their height that determines their strength. In their domestic life, intimacy started to take precedence over hospitality, and houses were given narrow entrance passages instead of the wide voorhuis with which visitors during Dutch times could ‘met die deur in die huis val’ [To rush at once into the thick of the matter]. ‘Mod cons’ [modern conveniences] were added, such as fireplaces in living rooms.

2.4 The Karoo flat-roofed style

Of interest to this particular region is a mode of building peculiar to lower-rainfall areas, particularly in the towns: the brakdak style. In (Groot) Karoo towns like Aberdeen or Hanover they are the stock building style of the second half of the 19th century, where they form pleasing compositions with the quiet rhythm of their fenestration set in their geometric facades under simple moulded cornices. They are less frequent in the Klein Karoo, but the streets of Ladismith contain a number of very attractive flat-roof houses, with ventilators, some with stoepkamers, interspersed with pitched-roof houses.

2.5 The Cape Gothic style

In Europe, the Gothic style of architecture, occurring during the late Middle Ages (13th to 15th centuries) is chiefly known as an ecclesiastic style, the style of the great cathedrals like Paris, Westminster, Cologne and hundreds of others. As such, it is characterised by its soaring lines, pointed windows and vaults, flying buttresses, pinnacles, cluster columns and stained glass. The style set the pattern for church architecture for centuries to come. Its ‘revival’ became almost obligatory during the 19th century, also in the Cape. Its products could range from simple thatch-roof ‘vernacular’ structures given an ecclesiastical appearance by providing the gable with small pinnacles at the side and a bell-turret at the top, and inserting pointed windows (Zoar, Amalienstein), to the modest English village chapels of ‘the Bishop’s Lady’, Sophy Gray (such as found at Knysna, Belvidere, George and St. Jude’s in Oudtshoorn) or the more ambitious Gothic Revival structures of architects Hager (Ladismith, Uniondale), Wallis (Oudtshoorn) or Freeman.

2.6 The iron-roofed cottage style

The last quarter of the 19th century saw the introduction of a new building material that appeared almost impossible to resist: corrugated iron for roofing. At a time when thatch was not necessarily regarded as ‘pretty’- as many of us do today – iron gradually took over both for new buildings and for thatched ones needing a new roof. It is more durable, waterproof and fireproof. But it also lacks the heat-isolation qualities of thatch, it usually caused gables to be ‘clipped’ to rest it on the walls instead of behind it, it needs a lower pitch than that of thatch allowing the side walls to be built up with ‘loft-windows’ being inserted, and thus affects the pleasing roof-to-wall proportions of thatch.

Many dealers touting the new material – and presumably builders talking owners into ‘renovations’- must have done pretty well out of it. Not all areas were equally affected by the corrugated-iron fashion: towns Montagu and McGregor remained relatively free of it. But elsewhere its advent spoiled the beauty of many hundreds of fine Cape Dutch homesteads and town houses.

On the other hand it could be said that, perhaps, it saved many a homestead from being pulled down altogether; as a roofing material it is ‘reversible‘, and, anyway, no thatch roof is ‘authentic’ in that it has to be replaced every thirty years or so. But by the end of the century many new houses in town and country, too, were built as fairly featureless rectangular iron-roofed ‘barn-type’ boxes. But they, too, form part of our ‘built heritage’ and, also because they harmonise in scale and material where they survive in groups, deserve preservation.

2.7 The Victorian style

Like the Georgian, the Victorian style is named after British royalty. Queen Victoria acceded to the throne in 1837, but ‘her’ style took a while to develop. At the Cape, late Cape Dutch and Georgian held out till late in the century, and Victorian elements made their appearance very gradually. The style is not really a vernacular mode and can rather be seen as a complex of responses all prompted by the Industrial Revolution. We will nevertheless try to identify some common denominators. These include the use of new materials – corrugated iron (for roofing), cast-iron (for decorative features such as fences and verandas) and pressed sheet iron (for ceilings). Victorian styles also exhibit the romantic elements common to post-industrial culture with its nostalgia for the past, even then seen as a chapter irrevocably closed. It favours the ‘Revival’ of earlier styles, though seldom in an archaeologically correct way. The ‘Picturesque‘ taste tries, in a more willful way, to evoke the ‘primitive’, unpredictable, quaint and irregular qualities perceived as characteristic of ancient architecture. It is expressed in asymmetry, elements such as corner turrets, oriel windows, weather-vanes, a multitude of chimneys, mysterious nooks and crannies.

Victorian architecture generally tries to soften the sheer facadism of its Georgian predecessor and promote an interaction between the solid of the building and the void of its setting. Thus, gable ends become projecting, gaily pierced and scalloped bargeboards; bay-windows and porticoes break up the linearity of the outer walls, while ridge decorations and finials soften that of the roof. The most effective ‘softener’ was also a particularly useful one in subtropical climates: the veranda, for which the new cast-iron roofing sheets formed an ideal cover, sometimes provided in concave, convex or ogee profiles. But even the veranda itself was often interrupted by projecting stoepkamers with or without bay-windows, and built-out or recessed sections marking the entrances.

In towns, the tendency to make the built structure interact with its environment also led to houses being placed back from the street and surrounded by their romantically landscaped gardens instead of lined up along the street boundary with the unbroken rear of their erven used for orchards and vegetable gardens.

After an early-Victorian interlude where symmetry was retained (the old Parsonage in Oudtshoorn) the Victorian ‘villa’ was born during the 1890’s, dominating the extensions of our towns. They are, of course, particularly numerous – and particularly exuberant! – in Oudtshoorn, reflecting the prosperity of those years. But there are also many fine, but more modest examples in Ladismith.

Certain Victorian features could also easily be overlaid onto earlier stock: Cape Dutch or Georgian. For many years this was regarded as ‘degrading’ the earlier building, and in a way it probably was. Today, like that of Georgian onto Cape Dutch, we see this as ‘layering’, the removal of which would be sacrificing a significant element, particularly where the earlier appearance may be irretrievably lost or unknown.

The Victorianisation of an older homestead usually involved the addition of a veranda, often with decorative cast-iron broekie lace or, less often, with wooden trelliswork. As this sort of refashioning often took place in conjunction with other alterations, such as the replacement of thatch with corrugated iron, it could (though not always did) involve the removal of the gables. At Coetzenburg, the ‘home of rugby’ at Stellenbosch, the removal of a highly decorative fretwork veranda was reversed at considerable cost when it was discovered that no records existed of its pre-Victorian appearance!

2.8 Edwardian architecture

The Victorian style lingered well after the death of Queen Victoria in 1901 and continued producing villas and commercial buildings almost unchanged till after 1910. Even in many houses of the 1920’s one can find the basic asymmetry of a projecting stoepkamer at one end and a recessed stoep on the other and round the corner, though without the Victorian frills of broekie lace and decorative bargeboards. Edward VII succeeded his mother in 1901, and reigned till his death in 1910. The style period that was named after him, in architecture as well as in costume, decoration and general lifestyle, includes this late-Victorian, but so many more besides that it cannot really be called a style.

Because it was at this time that the ‘modern era’ really began in that architecture – like so many other things – became more individualistic, using, beside elements from Victorian architecture, a variety of new design features that did not really aim at forming a coherent style. It also saw the emergence of architect-designed buildings, particularly in Oudtshoorn where, to the well-off, nothing but the best was good enough and where, for the first time perhaps, ‘standing out’ was considered preferable to ‘fitting in’.

Locally, the Edwardian period also saw a renewed interest in the use of the gable as a decorative feature, often on the front end of the stoepkamer or topping multi-storey buildings.


3.1 Introduction

Precisely because of the heavy demands involved both in conservation and in fitting in ‘the New amongst the Old‘, it is essential that we make certain of precisely what constitutes ‘the Old’. We have therefore gone to some lengths to identify environments of historical interest, both in the towns and in the countryside.

The rural areas of the Klein Karoo are rich in historic farmsteads, less densely spaced than in the Boland and many of slightly later date, but many of them unspoilt and full of character. In an appendix (5.2) of these will be listed. But the main topic of this publication is what constitutes sympathetic architecture in historically sensitive urban areas in the six towns covered by these notes. Some notes on these towns may therefore be called for.

In dealing with our Klein Karoo towns, we should regard them as more than just a collection of old houses – interspersed with later ones. For a century and a half their old cores have been functioning organisms which in their totality are larger than their component parts. Towns originated where they were needed and where they had a chance of growing. This is reflected in their physical appearance: their street plans, the distribution of their buildings and their open spaces, the churches to which most of them owe their existence, with all that goes with them: their outspans and their tuishuisies; the availability of their lifeblood, water: their river lands and irrigation furrows; the early growth of modest commercial districts along their main streets and of other parts of their tissue taken up by the various population groups: working class ‘townships’, middle-class villa districts. Any foreign element introduced into such a living organism is likely to disturb it more than just visually.

3.2 The plans

Specifically for this publication, the author has drawn up conservation plans of the six towns. They appear on the inside front and back covers. The plans should not be seen as detailed surveys (for which there is still an urgent need in most cases). They are merely intended to highlight concentrations of older architecture by means of a (highly simplified) indication of old buildings. To this end, the following abbreviations have been used:

  • Th: thatched (Cape Dutch)
  • V: Victorian (‘villa’)
  • I: iron-roofed cottage
  • E: Edwardian
  • 2: double-storeyed
  • G: gabled
  • S: sandstone

By means of a circle round these letters, we have tried to select buildings of quality or authenticity. On each plan a dotted line indicates those areas we regard as ‘historically sensitive‘. Note that as things stand, these areas have no special statutory standing.

3.3 Oudtshoorn

Hand-annotated map of Oudtshoorn from Fransen 2006 [with edited position for Foster’s Folly]

The Klein Karoo was long devoid of church towns although it had been the home of scattered settler farmers since the mid-18th century. It was not until a century later that this was rectified with the establishment of no fewer than three towns within a few years of each other: Calitzdorp, Ladismith and Oudtshoorn, the latter always the true ‘capital’ of the area. The first farms in the present Oudtshoorn district, then called the Achterberg (‘behind the – Outeniqua – mountain’) were granted in 1760, one of these, De Cango aan de Doornrivier, to one Claas Grobbelaar. An informal settlement developed there, up to 1843 known as Grobbelaarsrivier. In that year the resident magistrate of George, under whose jurisdiction the area fell, named the village after his wife, Gesina Ernestina van Oudtshoorn – a granddaughter of Pieter van Reede van Oudtshoorn, the man who died on his way to the Cape where he was to take up his post of governor.

Its foundation was clouded with controversy. When Mossel Bay was established in 1845, the Grobbelaars River became the boundary between the Achterberg part of its parish and that of George. This meant that people of the west side of the river belonged to a different parish and could not attend the services that were held in the buitekerk [country church] that had been completed in the little settlement on the east bank in 1839. The problem was only solved in 1853 when sense prevailed and a Dutch Reformed congregation was founded. The final push was the presumed ‘threat’ of the Roman Catholic church whose priests, it was said, paid “treacherous visits and thus set up temptations to the poor and uneducated”. Did the ‘temptations’ perhaps refer to ‘treacherous visits’ of the five Catholic men in the district who had already married ‘poor and uneducated’ Afrikaans girls?

Oudtshoorn was always a large town; the grid laid out by surveyor J. Ford in 1847 rather optimistically providing for rapid expansion. No fewer than 465 water erven were put up for sale on a most unusual street plan. It consists of grids on both sides of the meandering Grobbelaars River, both dog-legged and roughly following the course of the river, leaving a strip some 700 m wide in the valley bottom unoccupied. Ford’s neat, narrow parcels were slow to be taken up and cultivated, and even today the river strip is largely un-built-upon. On the eastern side of the river he projected two parallel streets higher up, today’s High and Adderley Streets, as part of a grid with square blocks, the church in its approximate centre. The other three-quarters of Ford’s town took much longer to develop, although there, too, long streets developed, parallel with the original river-side streets.

The erection of the church, which replaced the first cruciform and thatched buitekerk of 1839, was a lengthy one. Planning started in 1853 by Geo. Wallis but by 1855 money had run out. Only by 1877 funds were found to resume operations, this time by veteran architect Carl Otto Hager who, together with stonemason J.T. Cooper, produced a splendid Gothic church in stone, though a full tower proved prohibitive. Equally fine St. Jude’s Anglican church, also in stone, stands in Baron van Reede Street. The first Roman Catholic church of c.1860, too, was stone-built; it was replaced with a modern one.

Although the earliest, mid-century houses in Oudtshoorn were of the traditional, plastered and thatched variety, few of these survive. It is now largely a stone town, like Mossel Bay, sandstone being abundantly available locally. Some very fine houses and public buildings are found in High and Baron van Reede Streets, several by professional architects such as Vixseboxse and Bullock. The generous size of its layout at last came in useful when the ostrich-feather boom hit the town in the 1860’s, only to experience a slump around 1885.

A second boom occurred round the turn of the century. Most of the finest buildings in Oudtshoorn date from this period, including the extravagant ‘ostrich-feather palaces‘ with their liberal embellishment of Victorian decorative cast-ironwork, turrets and other ornament. Also from this time dates the elegant single-span suspension bridge across the Grobbelaars River at the bottom of Church Street. Like so much of the cast-iron finery of the Victorian and Edwardian villas of the town, it was imported from the U.K. and locally assembled.

The two-part layout of Oudtshoorn is truly unique, but its wide strip of green down the middle along its full length is already being whittled away. Further development in the valley bottom should be resisted.

But equally unique as its sandstone architecture and its green river-strip is the special quality of the four central blocks beside and just above the D.R. church. Here, no fewer than fourteen narrow lanes have been inserted into the blocks, all once lined with tuishuisies on minute erven, bought or rented by farmers from the district visiting the town. Similar lanes can be found at Calitzdorp – surely no coincidence, for this phenomenon is extremely rare elsewhere. Many of these lanes, being in the very centre of town, are now invaded by backyard workshops, parking and storage sheds. Efforts should be made to preserve at least a few of these lanes.

Our ‘historically sensitive area’ does not include any urban tissue south of Voortrekker Street. It includes all of Baron van Reede and High Streets, most of Adderley Street and the central stretches of some higher streets, especially those closest to the D.R. church and its tuishuises. In this area it includes the entire river strip as well as, on the west bank, Van Riebeeck Road which, though it does not contain many historical buildings, is a high-quality residential area.

3.4 Calitzdorp

Hand-annotated map of Calitzdorp from Fransen 2006

The delightful town of Calitzdorp owes its existence to the establishment of a buitekerk of Oudtshoorn. Its name refers to local farmer Frederik Calitz, who donated part of his farm Buffelsvlei, near the confluence of the Nels and Gamka Rivers, for the purpose. A small settlement known as Calitzdorp had already existed there in the 1840’s. In 1856 land was made available for the erection of a first ‘cottage’ church but it was not until 1873 that the ‘Ring’ of George approved afstigting [secession]. In 1880 architect C.O. Hager (also church architect at Ladismith, Uniondale and Oudtshoorn) was asked to remodel and enlarge the little church. Like so many others, it was later pulled down – the D.R. congregations seemed to have much less respect for their venerable old godshuise than the English denominations.

The layout of Calitzdorp is most unusual, irregular, and attractive: a welcome exception to the checkerboard designs common to so many kerkdorpe of the time. To be sure, there is a tiny rectangular and intimate grid, only some two hundred metres square. One square block is occupied by the second church – an early 20th-century stone building quite handsome in its own right.

A most unusual and charming feature is the series of narrow lanes, five in all, facing the church containing some of the town’s earliest houses, all on very small erven. These were almost certainly tuishuisies for the use of people of the districts coming to town for church services or business. What is of particular interest is that such tuishuis-stegies also occur in nearby Oudtshoorn but, to the knowledge of this author, nowhere else in the Westem Cape. They preserve much of their unique character and should be looked after.

The first little grid was extended across the through road, where some good houses survive. Further north there is another group of tuishuisies, restored and, appropriately, used as tourist accommodation.

Also unique to Calitzdorp is its 800-metres long ‘tail’ to the south, in the form of two not quite straight or parallel streets, Queen Street (possibly a pre-existing road following the course of the Nels River) and Pretorius Streets above it. Both these streets also contain early houses (two in Queen Street double-storeyed) and, though more sparsely built up than the central grid (the thatched Anglican church modestly placed in Queen Street), must have been part of the town from the beginning.

Inseparably part of Calitzdorp’s idyllic street scene is the rustling water furrow along Queen Street, as well as the well-irrigated strip of fertile land with the Nels River as its spine, 250 to 500 metres wide. There are some older houses in winding St. Helena Road on its other side, too. Where the Nels empties into the Gamka, a similar strip is over a kilometre wide. The upper confines of these strips are clearly delineated by furrows deriving from a dam in the Nels River higher up in its course, built in 1919 (although irrigation directly from the river had been in operation long before that). The irrigated area, in the midst of the semi-arid Klein Karoo, is now a highly productive agricultural area with fruit and lucerne among its chief crops. Calitzdorp is now also one of the best-known sweet-wine producers in the country.

Our ‘historically sensitive area’ includes the church grid with its tuishuis lanes, the two irregular ‘tail’ streets, the entire cultivated river strip and the road on its western side. Calitzdorp is one of the most fascinating and unspoilt villages in this part of the world.

3.5 Ladismith

Hand-annotated map of Ladismith from Fransen 2006

Until this town was founded, the farmers in the Ladismith area had to travel to Swellendam, 130 km away, for important occasions, and from 1839 to Riversdale – across the Langeberg. Occasional services were held by Rev. Robertson of Swellendam. A Dutch Reformed congregation was established in 1851 and a small town a year later, named after the (Spanish) wife of governor Sir Harry Smith, Juana de Leon.

The town, on part of the farm Elandsvalley, is situation on very flat ground, quite some distance from the nearest river, the Swartberg River, but it is well watered from mountain streams. It has a rectilinear grid layout, the work of Swellendam surveyor W.M. Hopley. It is the most regular and symmetrical of all Klein Karoo towns and strongly reflects its origin as a church town. Interesting, though, Church Street, with the old church as its impressive focus, is not the central street of the three main streets of the grid.

It was the church council that sold the 138 erven, eighty of them with water supply, into which its four elongated blocks – surrounded by a framework of much narrower blocks – were divided, in order to supplement its funds and finance its church building. Only 62 of the erven were initially sold, and the £1155 this yielded only allowed for a small thatched church that soon proved inadequate. After twenty years it was replaced with the present building by specialist church architect Carl Otto Hager – who also worked in Calitzdorp and Oudtshoorn.

The much larger Hager church, interestingly, was erected around the older church, which could continue doing duty in the meantime. Only once the new church had been given its room, the old church was taken down (and out!) to allow the interior of the new church to be completed. Although it has long since stopped serving as a church and was long used as a lucerne store, it is still there, now again in good order and, like a white Medieval cathedral, presides over the townscape. As the town’s tourist office, it is open to the public, but an even better public use should be found for it.

Many of the old buildings of Ladismith are in Church Street, making it one of the finest streets in the Western Cape. Two sections of this street, in particular, form valuable conservation areas. There is the former church at its top, with several old houses nearby. And lower down Church Street is the unique Lutheran mission complex, in poor condition, the parsonage now all boarded up despite a decade of attempts to save it – a sad state of affairs that should be rectified. But both Queen and Albert Streets retain interesting buildings, too.

Ladismith is a typical Klein Karoo town in its domestic architecture (also in its colour scheme: many houses are plastered in ‘roughcast’ painted in light ochre with details picked out in smooth white plaster). There are no ‘homestead’-type houses or gables, but the earliest houses were all rectangular thatched cottages – now mostly iron-roofed. slightly later are the numerous flat roofs, single- or double-storeys, many with projecting stoepkamers at the ends. A charming feature are low ‘loft’ storeys under flat roof with round ventilator openings.

In Becker Street, a longitudinal street added at half-a-block’s distance from Church Street, a number of good Victorian villas survive, simpler versions of the palaces of Oudtshoorn. The central cross street, Van Riebeeck Street, is Ladismith’s business ‘district’, but even there, later intrusions are few, and Die Vinknes is a good example of a turn-of-the-century shop building.

Almost the entire old core of Ladismith qualifies as a historically sensitive area.

3.6 Uniondale

Hand-annotated map of Uniondale from Fransen 2006

The name of this town reflects its history as an amalgam of two separate townlets. They were both established in 1856, near-adjacent to each other, on the farms Lyon(s) and Hopedale by their respective owners, Du Preez and Van Rooyen, with the help of two different surveyors, Melvill and Garcia respectively. The two grids were separated by the pre-existing mission settlement of Coloured people and Basters, its modest thatched church, dated 1843, and the adjoining school, both still there as two of the more important buildings in Uniondale (though with a truly awful new building recently erected in between!). Of the two townlets Hopedale’s population was mainly Coloured, that of Lyons mostly white. In 1862 a simple buitekerk was built, the area still being part of the Onder-Langkloof congregation at Krakeel.

The physical unification of the two units was not easy. There was some disagreement as to which of the two would eventually get the church. Also, the two grids did not match at all. The present name of the town refers to the eventual union of the two. Uniondale shared in the ostrich-feather boom, but also in its crash at the beginning of the 20th century, and the absence of a rail link and the proximity of Oudtshoorn discouraged its growth.

Uniondale still quite clearly shows the two separate grids, their angles sharply intersecting. The two, forming an elongated layout roughly following the course of the Kamanassie and a tributary, are strung together by the main street forming the straight spine of Hopedale before boldly swinging through Lyons without any reference to its grid. While the Lyons layout bears no apparent relation to the river, that of Hopedale does have the customary water erven on the river side of Victoria Street, parallel with and below the main street.

This is also where the best-preserved Uniondale houses can be found, dating from its earliest days; some of them have been well restored with their low-pitched thatch and end-gables, the walls painted ochre. But in the main street, too, some old houses survive, including, on a curve in the street, what may be the original Hopedale homestead though it has undergone many changes.

Uniondale, though not without character, lacks the charm of Calitzdorp or Prince Albert. Its houses are widely spaced and an area of coherent historical tissue is hard to pinpoint. The town could do with a lot more greenery. The area we have indicated as ‘historically sensitive‘ is not uniformly of interest. On the whole, the eastern (Hopedale) grid is much the better preserved, including the fine stone-built D.R. church and the old thatched mission church.

3.7 Prince Albert

Hand-annotated map of Prince Albert from Fransen 2006

Prince Albert is an attractively situated town, at the foot of the Swartberg Pass, that could serve as an example of how a community can treasure its heritage. The town is no open-air museum, it lives in the 21st century and has all mod cons to offer its visitors. But thanks to the efforts of some dedicated cultural activists, it is still one of the towns in the Western Cape that have best managed to preserve their 19th-century character.

The congregation first known as Swartberg, then Albertsburg after Queen Victoria’s husband, and only then as Prince Albert, was founded in 1842 on an 18th-century farm called Kweekvallei owned by Samuel de Beer. As so many other towns, it was laid out roughly parallel with the (Dorps) river, so that the strip between the two could provide arable garden allotments. These are watered from a furrow along the main street, taken off the river a kilometre or so higher up and probably already there before the establishment of the town to service the Kweekvallei farm lands. The street nearest the river is not the main street but De Beer Street, over two hundred metres further down. The large strip between the two is well watered, with the strip to the river another full five hundred metres wide.

All streets in Prince Albert are straight and intersect at right angles, but the layout is irregular without a semblance of a checkerboard. Quite a few of the cross streets run into the main street without continuing. The church is placed at the focus of one of these, about halfway down the 1.7 km length of the Main Street, with the Anglican church on the corner of the same block. The old mission church stands in a street higher up.

Both Main Street and especially tree-lined De Beer Street look much like they did a century ago. The town boasts no fewer than sixteen centre-gabled houses – beaten only by Worcester, Stellenbosch and Paarl – many of them retaining their thatch. Prince Albert developed its own gable design, with curvilinear outlines and plaster bands across the face, a type that also occurs in the surrounding areas. Of the few double-storeys, two are the hotels in Main Street; both are period pieces. We have marked most of the old town centre as ‘historically sensitive‘, including the four longitudinal streets and part of the cultivated strip between town and river, namely that contained by Deurdrift and Parsonage Street.

3.8 De Rust

Hand-annotated map of De Rust from Fransen 2006

Of the six towns discussed in this publication, De Rust is the laatlammetjie [late lamb]. But it certainly does not lack historical interest and can be considered one of the best-preserved Victorian villages in the Western Cape. Its very appropriate name was that of the farm on which it was established in 1900 and which belonged to Petrus Johannes Meiring after whom the Meiringspoort was named.

The barely one-kilometre long main street of De Rust lies beside the Huis River just before it crosses it, leaving a tapering strip of vacant land. It differs slightly from the dozens of ‘river-strip’ towns in that it lacks the cultivated lands along the river (Montagu, Calitzdorp, also Oudtshoorn). This presumably has to do with its late date and its origin as a residential more than an agrarian town.

De Rust’s two long streets are lined with modest but charming Victorian houses (though Tom Schoeman’s antiques shop is a major ‘villa’), as are most of the cross streets. The streets are slightly dog-legged and the town seems to consist of two separate grids. This lends a decided intimacy to the streetscape. Unfortunately, in the block opposite the fine D.R. church in the very centre of the town, a large residential complex is under construction. In our plan of De Rust we have indicated almost the entire town as a ‘sensitive area’.


4.1 lntroduction

At the outset, the author of these notes wants to express his regret that it should be at all necessary to erect new structures in historical environments. He is not against progress and admires the work of many of our outstanding architects and planners. If anything, he feels that much more use could be made of their talents. But ‘historically sensitive’ areas occupy an infinitesimally small proportion of the Klein Karoo. Those we have indicated on our town plans occupy – at a very rough estimate – a total of barely six square kilometres (Oudtshoorn 250 ha, Prince Albert 90 ha, Calitzdorp 75 ha, Uniondale 65 ha, Ladismith and De Rust 50 ha). It should be possible to limit modern developments in these small areas to a minimum, and these should be subject to stringent control – of which there is preciously little in most towns.

This ‘control’ is something that is not for this author to exercise. He admits that he has little insight into the politics nor into the economics of urban development – nor any ‘clout’ in these areas. It is something that only local interest groups can handle. Every town has its ‘zoning’, and this sometimes prevents undesirable development – although in other cases, of course, it can open the door to just that. It has to be accepted that development will take place (also because so few of our conservation areas survive entirely intact).

All we can try to do is suggest ways in which the locals can try to minimise its impact. It is undesirable – and impossible – to impose a uniform ‘infill’ style for historical areas. Nor is it easy to present a few easily applicable rules for such architecture. The most important ‘rule’ of all is to understand the essence of our built environment, old and new, before trying to find a way of reconciling the two. A few easy rules without that basic understanding just cannot work.

4.2 Character of a place

The planning of the New amongst the Old is part of Conservation in its widest sense. There seems little point in painstakingly restoring a fine old house and then to allow a prosaic apartment block to be erected next door. In a way, our task goes much further than such an individual restoration project. It concerns the character of an area, more than any particular relic. This involves, first of all, its topography, the effect of level contours, of natural watercourses and of the vegetation alongside them. But the character that has to be understood equally concerns the man-made overlay, the ‘cultural landscape‘: boundary walls and hedges, wind-breaks, irrigation furrows, contour ploughing, the werf formation of farm complexes and their approach roads. In towns it is the importance of vacant green river side-strips (Oudtshoorn, Calitzdorp) and public open spaces: church and market squares, outspans, the interaction of landmark buildings and the surrounding domestic components. Are we building in stately Victorian villa areas or in a tuishuis precinct?

Unfortunately in the context of these notes it is impossible to define abstract theoretical models to apply universally to both the natural and cultural elements of the landscape in their widest sense. Yet for any major development a close analysis of the general character of a neighborhood is the very first and most essential task to be undertaken.

4.3 Harmony of scale

In new development it may not always be possible to achieve unity of dimension: it is now easier to build bigger, which may in fact be the very raison-d’être for new development. But it goes without saying that there is no single bigger threat to the integrity of a historical environment than the introduction into its fabric of massive structures.

But if such a development is really unavoidable, there are ways to minimize its impact. A good architect should be able to break down its bulk into components each of which fits in better with the scale of the older work. Or if it is to remain one single building, its facade could be articulated so as to create a similar effect.

Harmony of scale not only concerns the bulk of a new building, but also elements of it. In our built environment, not all buildings have to be similar size or height. The early builders quite happily built double-storeys in between single-storey town houses. But two storeys still seems to be the maximum desirable height, and out-of-scale ‘prestigious’ entrances, unusually high ground floors, the raising of a building on stilts with an open arcade below it, etc. should be avoided.

Stoeps, verandas, pergolas, for double-storeys full-width balconies came to be an essential element during the course of the 19th century. They changed the sheer ‘façadism’ of the Dutch and Georgian eras into a buffer zone between house and setting. These are features that can be replicated in new work; they can also help to break down the contrast between old and new by masking facade details and picking up cues from the old work. We do not advocate the use of frilly ‘broekie’ lace, but simple wooden latticework, such as balustrades with crossing struts, can work well.

4.4 Harmony of material

The harmony of materials that we associate with our traditional architecture did not come about as a result of aesthetic considerations (although there can be no doubt that the people who lived there appreciated it) but has a much simpler explanation: the narrow range of materials available. Walls were of inferior bricks or of clay, and therefore had to be ‘rendered’ (plastered) and, because the plaster, too, was not too durable, it had to be limewashed. Hard-baked roof-tiles were not available, but thatch was, in most areas, and was generally used.

This coherence strikes (most of) us, in our bewildering age of technology, as highly attractive. But when the industrial age gradually appeared, and corrugated iron, steel windows, face-brick became available, they were eagerly snapped up, without much regard to niceties such as ‘harmony of material’. Nevertheless it is among the things that contribute to architectural coherence, and should be respected.

In new work there is naturally no need to return to the use of inferior soft clay bricks and plaster, but a cement plaster coat is now widely used. The plaster finish should preferably not be too smooth, but the artificially roughened surface, with dents made by the trowel, often seen in such work, is not recommended – it fools nobody! White-painted ‘bagged’ brick is also perfectly acceptable if a more contemporary idiom is used.

White is certainly the most frequent colour in traditional Cape architecture – except of course for Oudtshoorn stonework. But far more use of muted colours was probably made than is generally thought. Paintings of Cape Town two centuries ago show a multi-coloured streetscape with shades of cream, light yellow, pink. Light yellow or ochre is still much in evidence in the Klein Karoo. Provided these remain gentle, pastel, ‘earth’ colours are acceptable in new work.

A frequent Klein Karoo wall finish is ‘roughcast’ (or pebbledash) plasterwork. This would be alternated by smooth and slightly projecting ‘long-and-short’ plasterwork (also called quoining), with a similar motif – or plain frames – round doors and windows. This articulation of wall-surfaces was often emphasised by ‘picking out’ of colour, the projecting details in white against the rest of the wall in mute earth colours. There is no reason why such a finish could not also be used in a new work.

What to use in stone-built environment? This architecture is so unique and calls for such distinctive detailing that it is difficult to recommend attempts at ‘matching’ it in new work. There are enough plastered buildings even there to warrant the use of a neutral, scale-matching variant. But to paint perfectly good stonework, such as was done to the Oudtshoorn D.R. church, makes little sense.

It hardly needs emphasising that doors and windows should preferably be of wood. But if a more contemporary style is decided on, metal windows might be acceptable, providing the openings are vertical and carefully spaced. But no builder should even contemplate using large hi-tech glass-and-metal walls. We will return to detailing at a later stage.

There is a wide choice in roofing materials. Thatch may be a choice material for domestic work in close proximity to complexes of traditional thatched-roof buildings. This is not essential, and some may feel that it creates confusion, rather than harmony. After all, we are trying to create architecture that sympathises, not copies. In any case, there are enough old houses whose thatch roofs have been replaced by corrugated iron to justify our use of the latter material, provided is uses a similar – or steeper – roof pitch and for it to be painted. Avoid angular-profiles IBM or asbestos-cement roof sheeting.

Georgian-style buildings usually have a lower roof pitch, more like 30 degrees, and their roofing material is less in evidence. They can therefore be of slate (which many of them were) or synthetic slate, of ceramic roof tiles or even corrugated iron (always painted!). In areas with many old single- or double-storeyed ‘flat’-roofs brakdak buildings, such roofs are acceptable, too (even if consisting of concrete slabs hidden behind parapets), but mono-pitch roofs must be avoided

4.5 Siting

Unfortunately it is not for the compiler of these notes to decide where (and whether!) new developments should take place. It should be realised that historically sensitive environments surely do not offer the best prospects for ambitious enterprises and should be left for domestic or perhaps low-key commercial work, which can more easily be made to fit in.. On the other hand it must be remembered that the presence of a heritage district can hold promises of cultural tourism that at one and the same time can both endanger its authenticity and act as a spur to look after it. But this puts even higher demands to the new architecture.

In the towns, houses were almost uniformly placed on the street boundary. This left the rest of their erven available for cultivation – an essential element in the town’s economy. It also lent an intimate, enclosed feeling to the streets of the town, modestly sized though they might be. In places where this quality still exists, new buildings should respect it. A street has to be understood as something more than a traffic artery. It is a space in which people spend much time and which defines the feel of a town – in Florence or in Bruges as much as here.

The Victorians, when they built their grand villas, broke with the street-boundary tradition and set their houses further back into their properties and, also because of the greater diversity in Victorian domestic architecture, more latitude exists here as regards positioning and also design.

The street patterns in our towns are usually rectangular, and even most pre-Victorian architecture keeps to this rectilinearity – where necessary street-hugging, as we saw, but also into the block. This, too, should be respected; oblique elements should be avoided.

Much new residential development takes the form of ‘cluster housing‘, whereby a number of erven are amalgamated to allow somewhat greater density and shared services and security. In sensitive hands, these can produce successful results, their quiet rhythm, repeatable elements, staggered roof-lines and ‘democratic’ modesty being qualities that relate to our traditional town architecture. Many home-owners nowadays actually like this greater density, and provided it is planned into the block and does not present itself as a densely congested sea of houses it does not need to upset its environment. But too many such developments are so large (Steenberg, Millennium Park!) that even when well laid out and designed, they read like pure ‘urban sprawl’.

While architecture is about structures, urban planning is as much about voids as about solids. This means two things. It asks for our understanding in respecting the existing spatial effects – views and perspectives of old buildings, meaningful public open spaces. In Oudtshoorn, for instance, and most pertinently, it means respecting the green strip along the Grobbelaars River (or what is left of it!). But it goes without saying that new designs should equally provide for intimate spaces.

A last word about siting. If the erection of a building of larger-than-usual dimensions is unavoidable, its impact can be ameliorated by its being set back behind smaller scale buildings and/or masked by vegetation. But remember that it takes longer for a tree or even a shrub to grow than for a block of flats to be built!

4.6 Is there a suitable style?

Now we must tackle the most vexing question of all. We have argued the importance of ‘style’ in architectural environments. Is there, over a century into the modern era, a suitable style we can use? It should be obvious that anything even remotely smacking of ‘hi-tech’ design is emphatically out, no matter its intrinsic quality. But what then should be recommended instead? Because if there is anything as harmful as hi-tech, it is the endless array of styles that has been in use in our towns over recent decades – a Tuscan house next to a mock-Cape house next to an adobe-looking hacienda next to late-modern-movement, each of these perhaps perfectly attractive but in their arbitrary juxtaposition utterly confusing.

Up to the early years of last century prospective builders had little choice – and little desire – but to build in the style of the day. Apart from minor variations of size or decoration, all houses in an area around the same time would be very similar.

Soon all that was to change. In a climate of uitspattigheid [exuberance] made possible by the ostrich and merino booms and the prosperity brought to the Cape by the Anglo-Boer War, a wave of architects went into practice round the 1900’s. They designed fascinating Victorian and Edwardian buildings that are now themselves part of our architectural heritage. They were followed by a generation of ‘modern’ architects, familiar with an ever-growing variety of building modes in new materials, producing some excellent buildings side by side with some featureless or downright ugly work. More conservative builders and owners, put off by this, preferred more ‘traditional’ modes: badly proportioned ‘Georgian’, half-timbered ‘Tudor’, inappropriate Cape Dutch gables on double-storey houses, more recently ‘Tuscan’, Mykonos, and other outlandish modes.

As a result, if we look past the quality of individual buildings, which may be considerable, today’s built environment is one of bewildering confusion. Our architects, for all their skill and often good taste, seem unable to reach – or even work towards – a consensus of how to achieve the urban harmony that is surely as important as individual brilliance of design.

This author does not pretend he can help architects to achieve this if they cannot or do not want to manage this themselves. His main concern here is to suggest ways to achieve greater harmony at least where new buildings are erected in the vicinity of the (very few) historical environments that are still left to us. Also because this built heritage itself consists of various sub-styles, no single, easily applicable guideline can be given, and here, too, architects have reached no agreement among themselves. It should also be realised that what seems acceptable today may strike a next generation as deplorable.

‘Guidelines’ for conservation have been compiled for several historical areas: old Wynberg village, Montagu, Graaff-Reinet, Franschhoek – and, indeed, for Oudtshoorn. They contain excellent suggestions for renovation and restoration, but preciously little advice on ‘infill’ architecture – nor were such publications ever widely enough distributed.

In the review of the guidelines booklet for Wynberg which appeared in the excellent periodical Architecture SA a full fifteen years ago, the remarks were made that “its main defect [was] its failure to address the problem of infill” and that the “establishment of a philosophy for such development” was long overdue. Yet we have not progressed much further since then.

Is there then no ‘national’ or even regional style that could do the trick? A Cape Dutch revival style was long thought to be the answer – ornate gables and small-pane windows in varnished teak! – from Sir Herbert Baker, a hundred years ago, onwards. Apart from some fine grand mansions, it never provided a satisfactory solution, perhaps because it tended to out-design its prototype while lacking precisely its one outstanding quality: its harmony of scale. The Cape Dutch ‘vernacular’ revival has, rightly, been dubbed die Kaapse Verneukulaar.

It has been said that if such old styles are to be re-employed, they should at least be appropriate to the area. Of all the towns in our area, only Prince Albert had any gabled and thatched houses; the others were never Cape Dutch towns.

Several brave attempts have since been made to devise an idiom that could be used for entire environments. In the ‘twenties the romantic Pinelands ‘garden-village’ Cape-Dutch-English blend with thatch and dormers and bay windows and leaded glass worked well there – where it was prescribed, though with individual variations – but never spread much further. The picturesque Pinelands style may well still find its adherents today, and we have no problem with that, in a quiet residential suburb, but in a historical setting it might be deemed too eclectic

As we saw above, the Modern Movement of the middle of the 20th century, significantly also known as the International Style, was the work of visionaries like Le Corbusier who were trying to create an architecture expressive of the modern age capable of forming a coherent environment. It resulted in some truly wonderful buildings, but its cold logic alienated the public at large.

Architectural philosopher Lewis Mumford years ago complained that “modern architecture has produced some flagrantly uneconomical and uncomfortable buildings”. Our own guru, Prof. Barrie Biermann said twenty years ago: “The International Style is past. National styles will come into their own again.” The first half of his prophesy has proved correct, but the second seems unlikely to happen any time soon. So architecture appears to find itself between a rock and a hard place, which is hardly helpful for our particular purpose.

Several architects and groups of architects have tried to develop a ‘green’ architecture. The great Norman Eaton had already built clustered rondavel-style houses in Sotho style. More recently, others have produced most interesting experiments with traditional materials: clay, timber, thatch, even corrugated iron, integrating the building with its setting, borrowing from traditional African modes. But none of these have yielded more than one-off oddities, either.

A more contemporary attempt at creating a coherent environment is that of Marina da Gama, an idiom in white-painted brick punctuated by straight gable ends, that has rightly found several followers and, for complexes, might just be acceptable in a historical environment.

For individual buildings right in the middle of older ones, for ‘fill-in architecture‘, we may have to search a little further. It may seem to be a contradiction in terms: to design buildings that are recognisably contemporary and original, yet harmonise with their traditional counterparts. The’modern movement’of the mid-century held that only the best design of today is good enough for the best of the past. But that, of course, does not necessarily mean Modernism as a style which, as we saw above, never gained wide acceptance.

4.7 Post-Modern ‘Victorian’?

What about the succession of ‘post-modern’ styles that have emerged over the last three decades or so? Post-Modernism was never a style so much as an attitude: as its name suggests, it was a reaction to Modernism in its most austere form. In the hands of architects like Graves or Venturi in the 1980’s it produced some interesting reinterpretations of elements from older styles – though out of context – that contributed even less to a generally accepted architecture-for-our-age than the modernism against which it rebelled (but on whose technology it unashamedly drew!). Some of the bewildering array of post-modern styles of the last quarter century are so magnificently outrageous that no-one would dream of using them in historical Calitzdorp or Oudtshoorn.

But among the plethora of styles that Post-Modernism produced, it also opened the door to modes more expressive and more attuned to a variety of everyday contexts. Among these, what we might call simplified neo-Victorian is quite popular today and has produced pleasing results in historically sensitive environments.

This might require some elaboration. We have stated above, and will do so again, that we think our architectural heritage is not well served with mock-historical ‘pseudo’ styles, particularly not with copies of Cape Dutch work. Then why ‘neo-Victorian’? Indeed we do not advocate copies of Victorian work, with turrets and fibreglass casts from old cast-iron broekie lace patterns. But Victorian architecture, as we know it, has an ‘eclectic’ quality, a small-scale picturesque surface texture that can be replicated if not duplicated. In our picture columns we illustrate and discuss a number of examples, not all of them equally successful.

A number of common elements include roof-lines given interest by small barge-boarded gable ends, roof hips and dormers; by ripple effects along the plastered facade; by balconies, simple fretwork and balustrades, plaster bands along roof edges and around windows, louvred shutters.

With all these features on offer, we should guard against ‘over-designing’ new work in historical settings; simplicity does not mean inferior design. The more subdued the design, with the occasional cross-reference to the past and with an emphasis on pleasing proportions, the more it will fit in.

One of the largest concentrations of ‘Victorian post-modernism‘ is that found at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town. It is indeed a spectacular and in places picturesque creation meant to augment the existing dock-side architecture there. But knowledgeable critics feel that it tends to out-design the originals, that there is too little local content, and that is has become inter-changeable with similar waterfront ‘packages’ such as those in Sydney or Baltimore.

It might be unfair to compare the Waterfront style with ‘theme park’ or Disney World fantasy styles. There, to offer escapist pleasure to the bored city dweller, environments are conjured up where he can chose between Mykonos, Costa Brava, Taj Mahal or High Victorian settings. But there are certainly similar risks in devising a style matching the historical environment too closely.

At this stage, one personal thought that might seem to militate against the general trend of our suggestions. Most of these are about architecture that inflicts ‘minimal damage‘ to its historical environment. This is, of course, a highly important consideration. But such neutrality is not a recipe for good architecture. The latter is not our brief. But it should perhaps also be stated that no really good architecture can ever do damage to its environment. Even in a historical environment, a quality landmark building – a school, a civic centre – in a truly contemporary idiom can be value-adding. The Baxter Theatre in old Rondebosch, a soaring, coarse-red-brick colossus, is quite simply the finest building in that suburb yet hardly ‘links’ with its (admittedly richly treed) setting, which would be the poorer without it.

4.8 Woodwork

Wooden doors and windows form an essential part of our Western Cape and Klein Karoo heritage, and are therefore desirable (though certainly not essential) in historically sensitive settings. A diversity of suitable woodwork is available. For reasons already given, they do not have to be faithful copies of historical woodwork. Small-paned, heavy-framed, flush ‘Dutch’ woodwork is rare in the Klein Karoo. But ‘Georgian‘ woodwork is plentiful, and there should be no harm in emulating the pleasing proportions and elegance of mid-century sash-windows and multi-paneled doors – though without copying. Similarly, the careful facade rhythm formed by rows of doors and windows (always vertical!) is a feature that a good designer can attempt to achieve in new work, too – also in metal-framed windows.

Note that our doors and windows were without exception painted, at least in pre-Victorian work. The notion of the beauty of ‘natural wood’ is a romantic, 20th-century one. Our forefathers would have said that “natural wood can be found in the forest” and that, to do its duty as an excellent building material, it should receive a generous coat of paint – at least on the outside. It might go against the grain to paint well-made and expensive hardwood doors and windows. But they will last longer and, especially in a well-treed setting, dark-green window frames, with the moving parts and glazing-bars in white, looks better. In Victorian architecture, being in essence a romantic style, exquisitely crafted and carved teak woodwork – often sheltered by verandas – can be left unpainted.

A security feature nowadays regarded as desirable are burglar bars in windows. They should preferably be placed inside the windows (instead of forming a sort of cage outside as is sometimes seen) and their unfortunate aesthetic effect can be further lessened by aligning the bars with the glazing bars. They can also be made less conspicuous by painting them in a dark colour.

4.9 Boundary walls, fences, garages

Traditionally, dwellings were alternated by building elements that almost unfailingly harmonised in material and scale. Plots were bounded and buildings visually linked by garden walls with stout, sloping copings, rough-plastered and whitewashed like the buildings themselves. Such boundary walls have always performed a vital space-creating function in our cultural landscape, in towns as much as in the countryside. Their judicious use in new work can therefore contribute to the compatibility of old and new. Entrances were subtly emphasised by piers holding slatted or wrought-iron gates. These could be set a metre or so back, with the walls working their way up to the taller gate piers. This can be quite impressive in itself and does not need complex mouldings and finials. As in most other detailing, anything that aims at out-designing features of the historical setting does the latter a disservice. (It was a mistake often made by the Herbert Baker generation, adding over-decorative gables even over their side entrances, corkscrew chimneys lining the roof, elaborate gates with towering piers and frilly ironwork to produce mansions that might be labelled ‘Cape’ but have little in common with the modest dignity of the real thing.)

For gates, openwork wrought-iron is still suitable, secure and can be highly decorative. So are wooden gates; these should preferably be of lattice-work. If they have to be solid (for greater privacy?) they should be painted, white or green, and not be so high as to impede the view.

Traditionally, boundary walls, too, are not higher than will at least allow a general view of the landscape behind – both built and natural. This means at most 1.50 metres, preferably 1,20. It will be argued that higher walls provide greater security. But then, high walls can allow burglars freedom of action behind them. Walls at the side or rear of a property can be slightly higher.

Walls and the piers that articulate them should be topped by simple copings of which a few are illustrated alongside. On the whole we do not advocate the copying of historical details, but we can see no harm in adopting some of these for new work, provided they are not ‘dolled up’. Please note that bare wire fences and precast concrete walls are out of character in historical precincts. But hedges are a suitable alternative; ‘spekboom‘ is very water-friendly.

A tricky question can be security gadgets atop boundary walls. In some areas these might be considered obligatory. In the bigger towns few houses are not built or renovated without walls of well over two metres topped by ugly spikes or wires or both. If these are contemplated at all, they should be kept as inconspicuous as possible. Wiring can also be placed in horizontal rows.

The availability of secure multi-car parking today seems non-negotiable. The problem is that for obvious reasons the tendency exists to place the garages on the street front – preferably two, or one double one, per dwelling unit, seriously affecting their appearance. The preponderance and prominence of garage-doors can make new residential developments look like motor-towns, and should be resisted. Garages and carports should be placed back from the street front.

Pedestrian public pavements can be turned into pleasant public spaces by means of greenery, carefully designed street furniture and patterned paving. Sparing use should obviously be made of elements that are out of keeping with the historical environment. These can include unnecessarily garish signboards, satellite dishes and large featureless tarred parking areas.


5.1 Introduction

It might be thought that, given the vast spaces of our country areas – this survey covers some 15,000 square kilometres, half the size of the country of the Netherlands – the quality of new structures and other developments on the platteland is perhaps less critical than in the towns. This is a dangerous misconception. As our survey towards the end should indicate, the vast tracts of the Klein Karoo have a rich cultural landscape. Such cultural landscapes are precious assets in this part of the world. They consist of the natural landscape, overlaid with the features man has constructed for himself over many generations and that until not so long ago, were usually in harmony with the natural landscape – and often derived from the earth. Country roads, farm tracks, boundary walls, avenues and hedgerows, farm dams are as much part of it as the complexes of farmhouses, stables, sheds, volkshuisies, water-mills, plaaswinkels [farm shops] in the diversity of traditional styles we have described above. In the Klein Karoo these tend to occur in the form of clusters, of veritable hamlets: Vleiland, Hoeko, Van Zylsplaas, Opsoek, Kango, Voorbaat.

It is obvious that development has to take place on the farms as much as in the towns. Farms are sold and bought, they are subdivided, their cultivation changes, new structures are required for different functions: packing sheds, maturation cellars, tractor sheds, labourers’ accommodation. All this can irrevocably change the character of these unique settlements if not handled with the utmost circumspection. It is not within the scope of these notes to formulate do’s and don’ts for what can amount to an endless diversity of circumstances. But a few general rules of thumb might be useful.

  • Care should be taken to respect the topography, of the site; traditional structures and other man-made features nearly always ‘settled’ in the folds of the terrain.
  • When roads and pathways curve, they almost always do so for a reason; to straighten them violates that logic.
  • Substantial new structures – packing sheds, workers’ villages – should be placed clear of the old farm werf.
  • Attempts should be made to break down their bulk to masses that do not dwarf the old plaasopstalle [farm stables]. Roof spans should not be too wide; roofs should not present large unpainted surfaces (or painted in silvery colour) shining in the sunlight.
  • Because of the wider spacing, the matter of correctness of detailing is not quite as essential as in the towns. It has been observed that even ‘modern movement’ designs – flat ‘sandwich’ structures with canopy roofs and full-height curtain windows – can look surprisingly good on old farms, if painted white and set away from the werf.
  • As part of such developments, greening must be undertaken: trees, shrubs, grassy areas to mellow their harsh lines. Again, remember that such greening always takes much longer to be completed than the buildings!

5.2 Old buildings in the platteland

A detailed description of conservation-worthy rural structures in the Klein Karoo can be found in this author’s The Old Buildings of the Cape (2004). It runs to some twenty pages. We thought it useful to conclude these notes with a brief summary of such structures in the Ladismith, Calitzdorp and Oudtshoorn magisterial districts (as at 1998), as well as those parts of the Uniondale, Prince Albert, Swellendam and George districts that can be regarded as part of the Klein Karoo: the area north of the Outeniqua range to the northern slopes of the Langeberg-Groot Swartberg chain.

Please note that since some of these sites were last inspected by the author, they may meanwhile have been altered or even demolished. Some interesting structures off the beaten track may have been overlooked by him. In both cases, he would appreciate being informed by local activists. A fuller and more detailed documentation of the area should one day be undertaken; the author knows the areas well enough to assure the locals this will be more than worthwhile.

A feature of this area is the way the various agrarian buildings tend to cluster together: groups of homesteads, stables, water-mills, volkshuisies, family graveyards the original farms subdivided into much smaller units. Such hamlets, rare in other parts of the Western Cape, are among our most precious cultural treasures and should be handled with extreme circumspection. In the following list, the asterisks, one to three, represent an attempt to suggest relative significance.

5.2.1 Oudtshoorn
  • 2 Voorbedagt. A small hamlet with mostly thatched houses.
  • 1 Boomplaats. A grand, centre-gabled and H-shaped homestead. There are some other old houses around.
  • 3 Kombuis. The most interesting farm complex for kilometres around, associated with the Steyn family of Swellendam and the birthplace of Louis Trichardt. There are several Cape Dutch gabled homesteads here, as well as some unique earthen walls lining an approach road.
  • 2 Schoemanshoek. A hamlet-like settlement with buildings in different styles, including a church.
  • 1 Drogekraal / Potgieterspoort. The oldest homestead of c.1800 seems beyond repair, but the second one of 1861 still stands.
  • 1 Kruisrivier. A stone villa of 1908.
  • 1 Oude Muragie in a delightful valley west of De Rust has a T-shaped homestead of c.1810 that is now a labourer’s dwelling.
  • 1 Vredelust just east of De Rust stands on the remainder of the farm on which the town was laid out.
  • 2 Oude Rietvlei Toll-house, now Mons Ruber. On the road to De Rust and Meiringspoort, a toll with adjoining inn was in operation from 1858. The adjoining double-storey was added as a hotel in 1891.
  • 1 Vogelgesang. Also on the old De Rust farm, a double-storeyed water-mill building.
  • 1 Schoeman House east of De Rust dates from the 1850’s and retains interesting wall-paintings.
  • 1 Meiring House nearby is a much-changed H-shaped homestead with clipped centre-gable.


  • 1 Onverwacht just south of Oudtshoorn, a stone mansion designed by Freeman & Bridgman in 1908.
  • 1 Die Denne, a ‘palace’ by Ch. Bullock, 1907.
  • 1 Klipheuwel, on Mooiplaas, near Highgate, notable for its trellis-work veranda.
  • 2 Welgeluk, also called Safari, a ‘palace’ by Vixseboxse, 1910.
  • 2 Greylands, a double-storeyed palace of 1911, gabled and with a fine balcony / veranda
  • 1 Hazenjacht, an ostrich-feather palace of c.1908.


  • 2 Volmoed (originally Armoed, probably after the name of a Khoi chief). Intended to become a formally laid-out town, now no more than a hamlet. It retains its church of 1910 and a charming shop from the 1880’s.
  • 1 De Hoop. Another dogtergemeente [subsidiary] of Oudtshoorn though as a ‘town’ it consists of little more than its landmark stone church of 1909. On its rise, it is visible from afar. As a congregation De Hoop has since been dissolved. The church must stay.
5.2.2 Calitzdorp
  • 1 Mossienes. South of Calitzdorp, an interesting late Cape Dutch house dated 1866.
  • 2 Kraaldoorn. One of a series of old farms along the Cango road, the minor road from Calitzdorp to Oudtshoorn along the foot of the Swartberg. It is quite a complex of different styles, dating from c.1825 and later.
  • 2 Groenfontein on the same road. A precious group of three homesteads, all of different styles: a thatched building with a fine flight of steps to the stoep, c.1850, an irregular-fronted double-storey of c.1880, and a Victorian two-stoepkamer house of c.1900.
  • 1 Die Tarentaalhuisie, probably on Groenfontein, a good double-storeyed flat-roofed house in the Klein Karoo style.
  • 2 Kruisrivier. Yet another hamlet of old buildings. The main homestead, standing towards the south, is known as Strydomsrus, T-shaped with its oldest part perhaps 200 years old.
  • 1 Limerick, south of Kruisrivier, retains an old water-mill.
5.2.3 Ladismith
  • 2 Elandsvlei / Redlands / Van Zylsplaas / Newtons Farm: A hamlet of mostly 19th-century flat-roofed farmhouses spread over a substantial area, just northwest of Ladismith. Before the foundation of the town, church services were sometimes held here.
  • 2 Ausblick. Nearby stands a find Victorian house.
  • 3 Buffelsdrift / Vyversrus. Another interesting complex, a gabled house bearing the initials of Isak Wilhelm van der Vyver 1852, though the house is probably older. Graveyard.
  • 2 Winkelplaas on Buffelsdrift. A T-shaped homestead, its buitekamer once a shop (hence the name), the centre gable dated 1855.
  • 2 Roepersfontein on Buffelsdrift. Two T-shaped homesteads here, one perhaps c.1810.
  • 1 Zeekoegatsdrift. A typical ‘Ladismith’ house: flat-roofed with stoepkamers.
  • 3 Voorbaat. A delightful hamlet some 18 km west of Ladismith, with buildings of different 19th-century styles, some thatched and some ‘square-fronted’.
  • 1 Dwarsrivier. Some modest farm structures survive here but no major homestead.
  • 1 Bergsig. Just north of the town, a fine five-bay double-storey of c.1885.
  • 2 K’nuyswagendrift. Immediately adjoining the Ladismith town grounds, this T-shaped homestead with wagon-house extension is (or was?) one of the finest in the district, and one of the oldest. When the quit-rent grant was made to J.J. Alberts in 1832 he had probably been living there for quite some time.
  • 3 Hoeko. One of the most fascinating landscapes in the Klein Karoo, if not in the Western Cape. It is an extensive hamlet with several old homesteads, situated on various sub-divisions of the original Hoeko farm granted in 1832 – though they had been settled here long before – to the three Kok brothers, descendants of whom still live here. This is also where C.J. Langenhoven was born in 1873 (‘Stille Waters’).
  • 1 Kroonfontein. A good farmhouse with cast-iron decoration, dated 1911.
  • 1 Three Oaks. A group of two double-storeys of c.1890 and a thatch-roof house.
  • 2 Opsoek. A unspoilt hamlet with houses scattered around, all of them dating from the 19th century, in different styles: thatched, flat-roofed, stoepkamer.
  • 2 The Willows. This is the main homestead on Opsoek, a TT-shaped (with two tails) traditional homestead from c.1835, unfortunately changed after a fire.


  • 2 Zoar. Mission station of the S.A. Missionary Society (at one stage it was Lutheran) founded in 1817. It retains its ‘Gothic’ church dated 1895 but the village is very run-down and few of the original villager’s houses survive in their original state.
  • 3 Amalienstein. A mere 2 km away, another mission station, Lutheran from 1853, slightly better preserved. Its church, at the head of its main street, is a jewel.
  • 2 Vanwyksdorp. A charming, tiny village difficult of access on the gravel road from Ladismith to Herbertsdale. Though only founded in 1903, its history may well go back farther. There is a good church and several old houses survive.
5.2.4 Prince Albert
  • 3 Scholtzkloof. Near the Swartberg Pass, a well-preserved gabled homestead with a gable dated 1864, accompanied by an old homestead and surrounded by a ringmuur [ring wall].
  • 3 Baviaanskloof, not far away on the Klaarstroom road, a magnificent T-shaped house with front gable dated 1837.
  • 2 Rosselerf, further towards Klaarstroom, a somewhat changed T-shaped homestead of c.1820.
  • 2 Middelwater/Kluesplaas/Avondrust just west of Klaarstroom, a small H-shaped farmhouse of great age, possibly pre-1800.
  • 3 Vrolikheid just east of Klaarstroom. Possibly the best-preserved homestead in the area, with fine ‘Dutch’ casement windows and a holbol gable dated 1821.
  • 2 Gamkaskloof / Die Hel. This secluded 40 km long valley – a fissure in the Swartberg – has been described in several publications. A few of the extremely modest homesteads have been preserved:
    • 1 Mooifontein,
    • 2 Middelplaas,
    • 1 Onderplaas and
    • 2 Boplaas


  • 3 Klaarstroom is a one-street hamlet, established as Pietersburg in 1860. Its finest building among several fine Victorian houses is its courthouse of 1899. Now a police station, it is now almost invisible behind its wire-mesh fence, which should be instantly removed.
5.2.5 Uniondale
  • 3 Haarlem. This Langkloof mission village was established by J.C. Taute (see also Molenrivier) in 1856. It retains few old houses but its thatched and steepled cruciform church is one of the outstanding monuments of the entire area.
5.2.6 George

Of this district, we have included only the part in and north of the Outeniquas.

  • 2 North Station Hotel. At the junction of the Montagu Pass (1844/47) and the dreaded Craddock Pass (1812/15) which it replaced, the old elongated hotel building which serviced it during its construction.
  • 2 Toll-house, Montagu Pass.
  • 2 Bridge, Montagu Pass.
  • 1 Doornrivier, Herold, a longhouse that long served as a stop-over place.
  • 2 Heimersrivier, a part double-story house of c.1850, with outbuildings.
  • 2 Ilklamoor, near Kamfer Siding, a much-changed H-shaped farmhouse of c.1840.
  • 2 Schoonberg farm church, a well-preserved Anglican church built after sketches by Sophy Gray, 1855.
  • 3 Eenzaamheid, a singularly well-preserved longhouse under thatch, at least partly dating from c.1765.
  • 3 Molenrivier, a very similar house, long the property of the Taute family. It, too, has a farm church.
5.2.7 Laingsburg

Here we have included the small part of the Laingsburg district that adjoins that of Prince Albert just north of the Klein Swartberg. It is a picturesque valley that can be reached from Ladismith via the Seweweekspoort.

  • 3 Rouxspos is a well-preserved gabled homestead probably dating from 1856 and accompanied by several other old farm buildings.
  • 1 Die Meule is another complex of old buildings.
  • 2 Vleiland is a largely unspoilt farm hamlet.
  • 2 Sanrivier is a modest H-shaped homestead older than its gable dated 1854.
5.2.8 Swellendam

A small part of this district can be regarded as part of the Klein Karoo, namely that northeast of Barrydale.

  • 2 Doornriviersvlei. T-shaped homestead, its gable dated 1844, but probably older than that.
  • 1 Poplars. An L-shaped house, its veranda under thatch, c.1850.
  • 2 Lemoenshoek. A fine double-story of c.1880.
  • 3 Warmwaterberg / Uitvlugt. One of the most important an unspoilt farm complexes of the entire Klein Karoo, in food condition and in use as guest accommodation. Its two T-shaped homesteads date from 1800 or soon after that.


‘Conservation’ is not the main topic of the booklet in front of you. But the dividing line between ‘the New amongst the Old‘ and ‘preserving the old‘ is a thin one indeed. Developments in historical areas are often – and should be – accompanied by the upgrading or reconditioning of historical building stock, and it might be of use to include some thoughts on it in these notes.

We can perhaps distinguish four types of conservation – all of them efforts to retain structures of the past:

  • Preservation – to retain and maintain more or less as is, preventing further changes.
  • Restoration – to return to (a) former appearance. Though this can be very worthwhile when done after proper research (Tulbagh’s Church Street!), by definition it involves a certain loss of authenticity – part of the structure is brand new!
  • Renovation – to modify and repair to accommodate a new use (‘recycling’), while retaining the existing character.
  • Reconstruction – the re-erection of a former old building. This is pointless except perhaps where a well-documented old building is missing in an otherwise intact historical setting. Thus, in the Stellenbosch village museum, Bletterman House was painstakingly reconstructed.

A few do’s and don’ts might be of use here.

  • Do get specialist advice; the publishers of this booklet will happily provide some suggestions.
  • Don’t return an old building to its ‘original state’ if this state is not accurately known, or if in the process you might sacrifice authentic later elements for something fictitious.
  • Don’t turn it into something it never was.
  • Don’t ‘invent’ history – rather retain more modern elements unless these are deemed – by general consensus – too unsympathetic.
  • Don’t remove boundary walls or hedges – or build walls that are too high.
  • Even in new structures on the property, don’t use unsuitable materials like face brick, concrete, IBR sheeting.
  • Don’t use ‘decorative thatch’ (with patterns and cut-out saddles), corkscrew chimneys etc.
  • If additions (garages!) are inevitable, place them where they are least visible from the street.
  • Do paint all outer woodwork from before the High-Victorian age – including in new work, and even garage doors; ‘Old Cape Dutch green’, with white glazing bars, has proved popular, but minor variations are in order.
  • Correct-style doors and windows contribute immeasurable to the authenticity of a restoration. Pre-1820 ‘Dutch’ flush and small-paned windows and bo-en-onderdeure are very rare in the Klein Karoo. But the increasingly large-paned, recessed sashes and multi-paneled vertically divided doors, too, are subject to fairly rapid changes over the course of the 19th century, and a close study of the details of well-preserved houses from a particular period is required and makes the expenses involved in a good restoration worthwhile.


At the outset we started that we were wary of reducing the question of ‘The New amidst the Old’ to a set of simple rules. But although it remains impossible to prescribe an appropriate style, in the course of our formulating our arguments and in the process of trying to clarify our minds, we do appear to have come up with quite a few do’s and don’ts. It might be useful to recapitulate these in point form.


  • Don’t choose a ‘historically sensitive’ environment for large-scale developments
  • Don’t build hi-tech there
  • Don’t use foreign styles: Tuscan, Mykonos, Tudor, adobe
  • Don’t closely copy local historical styles
  • Don’t ignore the scale of local architecture
  • Don’t build higher than two, a most three storeys
  • Don’t build on stilts or with ground-floor parking
  • Don’t use over-prestigious entrances
  • Don’t place garages in prominent positions
  • Don’t use low-pitched or monopitch roofs
  • Don’t use face-brick, concrete, vibracrete
  • Don’t use IBR sheeting or asbestos roofing
  • Don’t leave corrugated iron roofs unpainted
  • Don’t paint stonework
  • Don’t paint plaster walls in anything but muted earth colours
  • Don’t place buildings at oblique angles
  • Don’t over-design
  • Don’t use garish signage
  • Don’t violate public space by large parking areas
  • Don’t use Disneyland theme-park features


  • Do make sure that you really want to select a ‘historically sensitive’ area for your development
  • Do get expert advice
  • Do study the local topography
  • Do get a feel for the ‘character of a place’
  • Do look at qualities of the built environment
  • Do respect the existing architectural scale
  • Do break down the bulk of an over-large structure
  • Do articulate the façade of a large building
  • Do pick up ‘cues’ from older buildings to form linkages
  • Do break down sheer facades by means of balconies, dormers, bargeboard gable ends
  • Do paint outer woodwork
  • Do paint corrugated-iron roofs
  • Do use plaster ‘rendering’ or paint brick white
  • Do use a textured plaster finish but without ‘denting’ the plaster
  • Do paint plaster walls in white or a pale earth colour
  • Do articulate large plaster surfaces by means of projecting quoining or frames
  • Do use greenery to mellow modern structures
  • Do use regularly spaced vertical windows


In this context is is impossible to list all literature pertaining to the above chapters. We can only mention a few readily available books as additional reading.


On individual towns:

About the Author

Hans Fransen was born in 1931 in Amsterdam. Settling in South Africa in 1955, he followed a career as museum curator and lectured in art and architectural history, obtaining a doctorate at the University of Natal. He has been active member in the Simon van der Stel Foundation for forty years, at one time or another serving on its committees in Stellenbosch, Cape Town and Pietermaritzburg.

Dr. Fransen’s many books include standard works on South African art (Three centuries of South African art) and architecture (the definitive A guide to the Old Buildings of the Cape).

Figure captions

[To see the corresponding photographs, please download the PDFs at De Rust Heritage.]

Page 2

  • (cover) The Old Boys School of 1906, now Oudtshoom’s C.P Nel Museum, one of the chief monuments of local sand-stone architecture (by Bullock & Vixseboxse). (ph. Hazel Gibson-Jonker)
  • (top) A Cape Dutch homestead at its best, rare in the Klein Karoo: Vrolikheid near Klaarstroom has it all: holbol centre gable casement windows, in immaculate condition.
  • (middle) K’nuyswagendrift near Ladismith: equally Cape Dutch, T-shaped, but more modest, without centre gable and with its shed combined under the same roof.
  • (bottom) Vergelegen at Prince Albert: a later (1850) ‘double-deep’homestead with square plan and resulting higher roof and taller gable. The delicate trellis-work veranda, also at the side, is later (c.1900) but is indispensable: ‘layering’ that actually makes the house look better. The saddle of the thatch roof is not recommended; a ridge of white-washed cement is more authentic and accentuates the proportions of the house.

Page 3

  • (top) The hipped early-Victorian Cape Dutch cottage in Stanford, c.1860, with two ‘French’windows or doors, each topped by a dormer gable. Again, the tasseled veranda is part of the picture.
  • (middle) When Cape Town became more of a city and thatched roofs were forbidden because of the fire-hazard, a double-storey version of Cape Dutch developed from the 1750s. The one extreme right has a Victorian balcony. (ph. Arthur Elliott)
  • (bottom) In the poorer areas on the slope of Lion’s Head, a similar style developed, but single-storeyed. The wavy parapet of the Bo-Kaap Museum, left, shows its earlier date (1771) than the straight parapets of the others (post-1790). All walls are colour-washed, all woodwork is painted.

Page 4

  • (top) A slightly later Cape Town double-storey, still flat-roofed but now with Georgian details of c.1830: slender double-sliding sashes recessed in the wall and a paneled vertically divided door with circular fanlight.
  • (middle) A gem of a late-Georgian house in Stellenbosch, c.1870, now under a pitched slate roof with eaves, very slender sashes upstairs and french doors with louvred shutters, separate ones for the upper lights and a round-headed door set between shallow pilasters.
  • (bottom) Related to the Bo-Kaap style is the Karoo brakdak style. This charming cottage in Calitzdorp shows the typical Klein Karoo ‘long-and-short work’ picked out in the roughcast finish and a concave ‘liquorice-striped’ veranda.

Page 5

  • (top) The Klein-Karoo flat-roof style also occurs in double-storey form to produce dignified homesteads, here at Opsoek near Ladismith. Again the (ochre) rough-cast plaster-work with smooth surrounds picked out in white.
  • (middle) A variety, found in and around Ladismith has welcoming stoepkamer arms, with a veranda between.
  • (bottom) Corner houses often had chamfered corner entrances, many of them used for shops. Note the fine long-and-short work (on corners also called ‘quoining’), here textured to resemble stonework; c.1860 (Caledon).

Page 6

  • (top) In Ladismith, this two-unit ‘terrace’ of c.1870 has a fine moulded cornice, its sides with stepped parapets to accommodate the slope of the roof. The balcony with its ogee-roof (how pretty it would look with the sheets painted in liquorice-pattern!), rests on what seem rather too slender cast-iron posts.
  • (middle) Two varieties of Cape Gothic Revival: the magnificent stone-built Sophy Gray church of St. Jude’s in Oudtshoorn, 1860-63, based on English village church architecture. The adjoining plastered Edmeades House of 1880 (now ACVV) is basically a Georgian double-storey, paying tribute to the church with its Gothic details: pointed entrance and pinnacles on the parapet.
  • (bottom) Ladismith’s former D.R. church is one of many by the other great ‘Gothic’ church architect, Carl Otto Hager, that grace our country towns: pinnacles, comer buttresses and pointed arches, with matching bell-tower. There was no money for a tower but Hager simply raised the facade wall and gave the central facade third splayed buttresses, making it look at if it projects forward. The Gothic inspiration is clear, but the character is as ‘Cape’ as it comes.

Page 7

  • (top) The ‘iron-roofed cottage style’ of the late 1800’s may seem somewhat featureless but, in context, can yield attractive townscapes, such as here in Calitzdorp. The house has long-and-short work set in ochre roughcast wall.
  • (bottom) The symmetrical (c.1890) Victorian villa: the entrance set between projecting bay-fronted stoepkamers. It has a good cast-iron railing on stone foundation, and pretty fretwork on the gable ends.
  • (bottom) The slightly later (c.1900) asymmetrical Victorian villa, as customary by this time set back in its erf in Ladismith. One bay-fronted stoepkamer under delicate fretwork bargeboard and a veranda running up to it and at the side, the corner emphasized by a turret.

Page 8

  • (top) The Victorian style with its verandas and bay-windows creates a buffer area between the building and its setting (Le Roux House/Dorpshuis Museum, Oudtshoorn).
  • (middle) Cape Dutch and High-Victorian. A very fine gabled Robertson house of c.1820 ‘defaced’ by a Victorian veranda and portico. Luckily the owner when restoring the house realised that the latter is as fine an example of its time and he decided to keep it.
  • (bottom) Edwardian: villa in Ladismith of c.1910, in many ways a continuation of Victorian, but its veranda on colonnettes and early, ‘Cape Dutch revival’ gables.

Page 9

  • (top) Edwardian: Foster’s Folly (or Rus-in-Urbe) in Oudtshoorn of 1903: some lingering Victorian features, overlaid with Elizabethan, Tudor and Art Nouveau elements.
  • (middle) Art Nouveau: being in essence a decorative, highly curvilinear style, it was seldom used in architectural design; the leaded glass of this entrance is a very fine example (Mimosa Lodge, Oudtshoorn).
  • (bottom) ‘Twenties picturesque fantasy: a fanciful mixture of Tudor half-timber cottage with Medieval fortifications and various other elements (Plumstead). It is this sort of thing to which the Modern Movement reacted.

Page 10

  • (top) Art Deco: ‘modernity’ suggested by a geometric volumes, slabs, portholes, rounded corners, c.1938, Claremont.
  • (middle) Brutalism. The unashamed use of concrete, here in a strange combination with the red-tile roof prescribed for University of Cape Town campus buildings.
  • (bottom) Oudtshoorn: the magnificent stone-built (but unfortunately painted over!) Gothic Revival D.R. church of ‘1879 by architects Wallis and Hager.

Page 11

  • (top) Oudtshoorn: Early-Victorian stone architecture: the Old Parsonage. Pre-dating the ostrich boom (1881), Carl Otto Hager’s design is restrained and symmetrical with fine wooden fret- and trellis-work on the balcony and traditional french doors. The cast-iron fence completes the picture.
  • (middle) Oudtshoom’s splendid St. Jude’s complex: the Sophy Gray church, right, and the Victoria Memorial Hall, left
  • (bottom) Oudtshoorn sandstone villa by Chas. Bullock in 1909, Aunt Rose’s Cottage, also called Le Roux House, today the Dorpshuis Museum, with its High Victorian broekie lace in every available place, including the turret base and roof ridge. The building on the [sic] once housed the C.P Nel Museum.

Page 12

  • (top) The suspension bridge across the Grobbelaars River connects the two ‘halves’ of Oudtshoorn, though for pedestrians only. It is hard to imagine this scene was taken in the very centre of a large town. The green river belt is a unique feature of the town.
  • (upper middle) Calitzdorp: the second D.R. church, the work of pioneer architect Wynand Louw in 1909 heads the little central grid.
  • (lower middle) Calitzdorp: one of the unique little tuishuisie streets in the intimate central grid, the church spire just visible behind.
  • (bottom) Calitzdorp: another view of one of the narrow grid lanes, showing the importance of even the plainest ‘iron-roofed cottages’ when they form a coherent environment.

Page 13

  • (top) Calitzdorp: in the slightly later part of town north of the through road, a typical Victorian villa with ample broekie lace, also on the fence.
  • (upper middle) Calitzdorp: from the church grid two streets run southward, lined with old houses.
  • (lower middle) Ladismith: the ‘cathedral of the Klein Karoo’, Carl Otto Hager’s masterpiece – unfortunately no longer in use as a church – here heading Church Street.
  • (bottom) Ladismith: as idyllic as it comes. A fine one-and-a-half-storey house in the local style, with stoepkamers enclosing the stoep.

Page 14

  • (top) Ladismith: this town boasts Victorian villas almost as exuberant as those in Oudtshoorn. Is the ornate stoepkamer gable of this Queen Street house of 1903 a very early ‘Cape Dutch Revival’ feature?
  • (middle) Ladismith: Albert Manor, though built in 1906, is still entirely in the Victorian mode. Its end-gable has the most magnificent fretwork pierced with floral motifs. One would like to know the identity of the author(s) of this local folk art.
  • (bottom) Ladismith: this towns finest historical complex, in Church Street, is that of the Lutheran Mission church of 1862, actually predating the former D.R. church at the head of the street. The church has now been done up, but the appalling state of its grounds and ringmuur, as well as of the Parsonage next door, reflects badly on the local community.

Page 15

  • (top) Ladismith: straight opposite the Lutheran church, the school has also seen better days.
  • (upper middle) Ladismith: die Vinknes is a fine early example of a business block, its shop front now much changed. Note the decorative ventilator dormers.
  • (lower middle) Uniondale: the two churches form the best view in town. The thatched mission church (left) and its school behind were already there when the town was founded. The stone D.R. church rises in the background.
  • (bottom) Uniondale: as in Oudtshoorn, the superb D.R. church of 1884 shows that Carl Otto Hager, though he usually plastered his churches, understood the stone medium well.

Page 16

  • (top) Uniondale: a well-restored group of houses from the 1850’s. The low pitch of the gables with their moulding along the edge is a local feature. The one with the chimney, right, is actually not a gable but was built up to make the afdak look like a proper pitched part of the house. Here, again, smooth quoining in roughcast.
  • (middle) Prince Albert: impressively placed at the head of its own cross-street is the D.R. church of 1865.
  • (bottom) Prince Albert: on the outskirts of the town the homestead of Dennehof. The cross pattern of its veranda railing is timeless and can still be used.

Page 17

  • (top) Prince Albert retains two unchanged turn-of-the-century hotels – a rarity at the Cape where hotel buildings are usually refashioned to keep ‘up-to-date’. Here the Swartberg Hotel with its framed french doors under the well-preserved balcony.
  • (upper middle) Prince Albert: and here the Seven Arches Hotel, its side showing the conventional Klein Karoo style of smooth-framed windows in a roughcast wall.
  • (loner middle) Prince Albert: a row of gabled and thatched houses – all from the 1850’s – in De Beer Street
  • (bottom) Prince Albert: similar gables in the main street; the house on the left is of the ‘homestead’ type, one-room deep; the other has a higher roof spanning a two-room deep plan.

Page 18

  • (top) Prince Albert: two slightly later, early Victorian houses in the main street.
  • (upper middle) Prince Albert: ‘character of place’. As essential in our cultural landscape as townscapes and buildings are public open spaces or, here, the open green river strip.
  • (lower middle) Prince Albert: ‘character of place’. What would this village be without the sound and sight of water-furrows and sluices?
  • (bottom) De Rust: A late town, but well preserved. The slight bend in the street and the rise from the dip that separates the two grids lends character to this row of Victorian houses. Cannot we think of a way to get rid of these power-lines?

Page 19

  • (top) De Rust: a panoramic view that shows how a townscape can be experienced from a topographical as well as an architectural angle. But would it not be more attractive if these iron roofs were painted instead of shining brightly in the sunlight!
  • (middle) Character of place (country). The unrivaled setting of Rouxspos, north of the Klein Swartberg, its row of old buildings at the foot of the slope, facing its private little river valley. Any new structure here would most certainly disturb this character. The (oldish) lean-to addition to the homestead would be much improved by having its roof painted green.
  • (bottom) Character of place (town). A terrace of Victorian cottages in Claremont, each subtly different, recycled as an up-market shopping precinct, the entrance framed by the original gate-piers.

Page 20

  • (top) Herbert Baker was the first to fashion a ‘Cape Dutch revival’. Architect Bridgeman was another, building the new homestead of Wheatlands, near Graaff-Reinet in 1909, cleverly combining a multitude of gables with the local bay-fronted stoepkamer style and a veranda on columns in between.
  • (middle) A later use of Cape Dutch elements: the Ladismith town hall of the late 1930’s, a sympathetic effort for its time through the building as a whole lacks the character of the original thing and the gables are clearly ‘stuck on’.
  • (bottom) As early as c.1920 the need for coherence and intimacy in the built environment even in the industrial age resulted in ‘garden villages’ like Pinelands, where gently curving streets and crescents are lined with modest but comfortable villas in a romantic cottage style with cozy, hipped thatch roofs, bay-windows and dormers, related but all subtly different. It was successful at the time and in its own setting, but would not do as “infill” in conservation areas today.

Page 21

  • (top) Consistency of scale: the Cape’s finest old-house museum, the Koopmans de Wet House of 1793, ludicrously dwarfed by high-rise office blocks. Perhaps as a result, the museum receives very few visitors.
  • (middle) The council of the most venerable D.R. Church in the Cape, the Groote Kerk, several decades ago showed a complete lack of consideration – or taste – when they erected this massive office block on the site of its parsonage leaving only the narrowest gap between it and the church to allow a glimpse of the old bell-tower of 1704. A greater contrast between this face-brick monstrosity and the old church and the Old Supreme Court on the right is unthinkable.
  • (bottom) Oudtshoorn, too, has its anomalies. The wonderful Standard Bank in Church Street, completed by Ch. Bullock in 1904 in exquisite stonework, received an unwanted neighbour in the form of the Post Office, an out-of-scale and ‘out-of-material’ chunk of facebrick.

Page 22

  • (top) this lovely stone-built commercial terrace, also in Oudtshoorn, was hardly complemented by the poorly designed Old Mutual building next to it, its ‘Cape Dutch’ windows ‘enlivened’ by slanting half-shutters that do not fit; its intended effect undone by the massive slab canopy.
  • (middle) In the very historical centre of Stellenbosch, a very plain modern apartment block is squeezed between the Schröder House of 1710 – the oldest house in the country – and a lovely gabled house, without the slightest attempts at linkage of scale, floor levels or detail.
  • (bottom) A more recent, bizarre attempt in the heart of the same town. Details of the long-since lost Bloemhof school residence on the same spot were picked up, but here only to act as a Disneyland facade to a five-storey office block rising unashamedly behind. A clever solution to an unfair challenge that should not have been allowed to arise.

Page 23

  • (top) Here, at least, the infill building, in Dorp Street in the same town, is of interesting design in its own right. But why allow hi-tech in the country’s most celebrated historical street?
  • (middle) Infill in Adderley Street. A gigantic development inside the block had to incorporate the four historical buildings lining the street – though only as facades. The two narrow bits of glass-fronted infill were supposed to do ‘minimal damage’ but make little effort at linkage.
  • (bottom) Is it possible to think of a plainer, uglier and less sympathetic neighbour to this Rondebosch church and its Victorian parsonage?

Page 24

  • (top) Luckily not in a historical area, this building nevertheless shows why monopitch roofs are not to be recommended.
  • (middle) Talking about incoherence! From left to right, a new building in Victorian style, its broekie-lace verandas since glazed in (so what was the point of reconstructing it!); then an (unfinished) Brutalist building by a name architect and, right, one of the few remaining 19th-century thatched cottages in old Claremont.
  • (bottom) The new D.R. church in Ladismith is no doubt more commodious – though hardly more impressive! – than its Hager predecessor. But is a chunk of facebrick like this really appropriate in this lovely old town?

Page 25

  • (top) One of many ‘outlandish’ creations in fine old Baron van Reede Street, Oudtshoorn: the entrance to the no doubt excellent ‘Swiss Bistro’. Its dented plasterwork and its wavy ‘adobe'(?) outlines certainly do not recall Switzerland.
  • (middle) And the Paljas Restaurant, Oudtshoorn? The roof rising behind shows that this is a Victorian house, encased in a nondescript wall.
  • (bottom) Is this Tuscan? It certainly isn’t Oudtshoorn.

Page 26

  • (top) Whatever we may want to call this house, perhaps Tuscan, it is probably a comfortable dwelling. In its own way, it is not even unattractive. But it is inappropriate in a street in an old Cape Town suburb. And the monopitch next door?
  • (middle) Most of the houses in this old Claremont lane are Victorian and older. But all we see of them are two-metres-high vibracrete walls and garage doors.
  • (bottom) In Herbert Baker’s ground-breaking workers’ village of Languedoc, no better place for an amorphous complex of ‘HOP’ houses could be found than right on the doorstep of the old stone church that forms its centre.

Page 27

  • (top) This old-age home stands in De Beer Street, Prince Albert, doing little justice to its row of gabled homesteads.
  • (middle) The mud-coloured walls of Oudtshoorn old D.R. church are actually of exquisite sandstone masonry that was, for some unknown reason, painted over.
  • (bottom) Two sandstone buildings in Oudtshoorn, the villa unchanged (except for the unfortunate notice) the Georgian business block left with its stone painted in a pastel colour. Why?

Page 28

  • (top) ‘Security complexes’ are here to stay. Unlike individual properties, where each designer may have his own idea of what is appropriate in the setting, their planning and design provide an opportunity to design intimate and coherent architecture. These units in Tokai, Cape Town are in a geometrical, late-modern style in white-painted brick that is well proportioned and coherent and acceptable also in a historical setting.
  • (middle) The pleasing Georgian proportions and detailing of this complex are spoiled by the double garage at its entrance, proudly announcing that we are dealing with a two-car family.
  • (bottom) Another new phenomenon is the ‘office park’. It, too, can be given unified design but because of their by necessity larger scale, and also their often dry, corporate character, they are not to be recommended for historical settings. Nevertheless office parks, too, can be given intimacy and character. This one in Claremont is one of the better ones. Though unashamedly contemporary, its bulk is broken up and offers ever-changing views, with minimal historical references: the little pavilion roofs, the rows of vertical windows, the gate piers.

Page 29

  • (top) The Victoria and Albert Waterfront in Cape Town is one vast complex of ‘Post-Modern’architecture in many different versions. Much of it is rather more spectacular in character than the Victorian dock-side architecture that supposedly inspired it, giving it a ‘theme-park’ flavour that differs essentially from true conservation architecture.
  • (middle) Is ‘green’ architecture the answer in Cape villages? In Barrydale, these structures with their irregular thatch roof and the packed stone walls (much in evidence in this village) do not seem entirely out of place (much helped, of course, by the luxuriant vineyard!). But it is a one-off in the town.
  • (bottom) The ‘neo-Victorian’ idiom. Typical of much architecture erected in the last decade or so, plastered and meant to break up bulk and provide some links with older architecture (projecting sections under bargeboard gables, arched upper doors, little balconies so shallow they are really just decorative, white plaster surrounds in a cream wall). Claremont.

Page 30

  • (top) In Old Wynberg, one the Cape’s prime conservation areas, this terrace makes a brave attempt at fitting in. The gable-like dormers, the hipped roof, the staggered eaves line, the louvred windows are all links, although Wynberg has a ‘cottagy’ quality to which double-storey terraces are foreign.
  • (middle) The ‘Victorian’ style of infill can also misfire. This commercial building in Claremont, alongside some old cottages in a side street, is of truly appalling design. Even the opportunity for the chamfered corner to be turned into a ‘shop entrance’ feature has been missed, not to mention the panoramic windows.
  • (bottom) This post-modern Victorian fantasy in Rondebosch takes picturesque irregularity a trifle too far. There are some charming features: balconies at different levels, simple wooden trellis-work. The monopitch half-gable seems unfortunate.

Page 31

  • (top) A good combination of contemporary design with local (Stellenbosch) features: the U-shape, the louvred doors, the loft steps.
  • (middle) A small modernish shopping precinct in the heart of historical Stellenbosch is ‘masqued’ by a somewhat absurd post-modern ‘gateway’ (ignored as an entrance by most shoppers!) in the shape of a borrowed local Georgian house facade. Does it really make the precinct ‘fit in’ better?
  • (bottom) For a new extension (right) to a century-old existing building to house the S.A. Heritage Resources Agency in Cape Town a top conservation architect was engaged. He provided linkage (the roof slope, the continuous gutter, the fence) yet the two components retain their individual character.

Page 32

  • (top) In the conservation area of Old Wynberg the thatched cottage in the centre, part of the two-centuries-old Kleine Oude Wynberg farm opstal, was too small for its new owners. Just acceptable are the three dormer windows providing an upper storey; this was still not enough and an afdak extension with ultra-modern details was added, rather spoiling the little street with the old church at the top.
  • (middle) Restoration? A fine double-storey in Calitzdorp was restored to be turned into a fine restaurant. But what are these louvred shutter doing there, fastened to the wall away from the windows (which they do not fit, anyway!).
  • (bottom) At Delta, Groot Drakenstein, the space-creating Cape werfmuur, punctuated by small piers, its height here somewhat reduced because of the rising ground level. Features such as these are essential elements of the built environment.

Page 33

  • (top) In the wide open Karoo landscape, this delicate Victorian farm gate (of Tweedside) with its cast-ironwork forms a strong visual statement.
  • (upper middle) Another Victorian gate, in Paarl, here with flanking ‘cheek’ walls reaching up to the higher piers.
  • (lower middle) Very elaborate, individualistic late-Victorian gate piers in Ladismith.
  • (bottom) The new wall and gates to some old cottages in Claremont are not without merit. But the walls are too high, the mouldings too delicate and sharp, the baluster openings pointless. The anti-burglar spikes, with those on top of the iron gates, are better than most with their vaguely Victorian look.

Page 34

  • (top) The superb Cape Dutch homestead of Laborie with its new cellars. Though their placement as part of the werf enhances its focal effect, their scale might be deemed slightly too large for this and, though not unattractive in their own right, they should have been set slightly away from the werf.
  • (upper middle) Are entire ‘Cape Dutch’ villages, with lawns, pavements, driveways, lamp posts, a satisfactory answer to rural developments in the Franschhoek Valley?
  • (lower middle) Kombuis: the Klein Karoo cultural landscape at its best.
  • (bottom) Kombuis: the approach to the gabled homestead, its winding course lined with opgekleide [dressed up] walls.

Page 35

  • (top) Kombuis: both end-gables are fine examples of the ‘Prince Albert style’.
  • (upper middle) Schoemanshoek: a highly authentic double-deep homestead of c.1880, with wooden trellis-work veranda.
  • (lower middle) Hazenjacht, between Oudtshoorn and De Rust, is a charming volstruispaleis [ostrich palace] of c.1909, with a simple wrap-around veranda, roof-ridge decorations, a ventilator turret and a cylindrical corner turret.
  • (bottom) Greylands, near Oudtshoorn, 1911, another of the ostrich-feather palaces, its plastered front with elegant veranda / balcony, its tail stone-built.

Page 36

  • (top) De Hoop church, a landmark visible from miles around, is no longer in use as a church.
  • (upper middle) Nearby, at Volmoed (once Armoed, derived from the name of Khoi chief Armoeda) a very fine stone-built church (J. Clunis, 1911).
  • (lower middle) Groenfontein in the Cango, a complex of three homesteads of different ages, set against a breathtaking mountain scene.
  • (bottom) Redlands: a typical Ladismith double-storey, its upper storey no more than a storage loft.

Page 37

  • (top) Voorbaat: the oldest house of a priceless little hamlet.
  • (upper middle) Voorbaat: some other buildings of the complex, the little double-storey with a flawless facade.
  • (lower middle) K’nuyswagendrift, a traditional Cape Dutch wing-type homestead close to Ladismith, photographed forty years ago. It has since lost its thatch.
  • (bottom) The fine mission church of Amalienstein with its ringmuur and bell-tower, recently well refurbished.

Page 38

  • (top) Scholtzkloof, a peerless late-Cape Dutch gabled house, white bands set in ochre roughcast as is the local fashion, surrounded by its ringmuur.
  • (upper middle) Baviaanskloof, another one of the few centre-gabled homesteads in the Klein Karoo, its Cape Dutch woodwork replaced by three French doors of c.1880.
  • (lower middle) Character of place: Baviaanskloof is set amidst serene surroundings, with an idyllic little burial ground, the graves blending with nature.
  • (bottom) The cathedral of the Langkloof: the Lutheran Mission church of Haarlem is a perfect blend of Cape Dutch, Dutch, and Gothic.

Page 39

  • (top) Heimersrivier: an impressive longhouse of c.1850. Because of the sloping terrain, the far end is two storeys high under the same roof, a very rare configuration.
  • (middle) The toll-house of the old Montagu Pass, still there today, probably dates from soon after the opening of the pass in 1849. (ph. Arthur Elliott)
  • (bottom) Another monument in a pass that is a monument itself; the old bridge of 1849, still in excellent condition.

Page 40

  • (top) Eenzaamheid in the Langkloof, a superb early langhuis, the part from the small chimney onward dating from c.1765.
  • (upper middle) Molenrivier nearby, another fine langhuis, with woodwork of c.1830. Note the space-defining werfmuur.
  • (lower middle) Rouxspos, its gable with horizontal band typical of the Prince Albert style.
  • (bottom) Warmwaterberg, an impressive gableless homestead with a long frontage, well restored.
  • (back cover) Nog ‘n wavrag hout vir die Agterberg! ‘n Blaaskansie op die ou Montagupas. [“Another wagon load of wood for the Agterberg! A break on the old Montagu Pass.”] (Arthur Elliott)

Hans Fransen: Tireless cultural historian

by Maré Mouton, printed in Village Life No. 21 (2006) pp. 14-16.

Much more of South Africa’s architectural heritage would have been lost had it not been for the work of Hans Fransen. His ongoing recording of the old buildings of the Cape over more that forty years — initially in partnership with Dr. Mary Cook—created a public awareness that undoubtedly saved many structures. In many cases the awareness came too late; in others maybe just in time, writes Maré Mouton

But, says Dr Fransen, whose latest book has just been published, what he is most proud of in his life are the six Comrades Marathons that he has completed (the last one when he was 59 years old). Now aged 75, he finished his sixteenth Argus Cycle Tour this year, and plans to keep on taking part, although he admits it is getting just a little more difficult each time.

Fransen, born in Amsterdam in 1931, went onto study architecture there for three years after completing school, But he was not a good student, he recalls, preferring to drink beer with his friends on the Leideplein rather than attend class.

“I’m not creative,” he claims. “I have always been interested in the history and aesthetics of architecture, but I didn’t feel I would be able to make a contribution as an architect.” He worked as an architectural assistant in Holland for three years, but in 1955 packed up and emigrated to South Africa, which was a common thing for young Europeans to do at the time. He started work as a surveyor’s assistant for the Department of Water Affairs in the Highveld of the then Transvaal, his introduction to rural life in South Africa. Two years later his knowledge of French and Dutch landed him a job as translator and information officer at the French embassy in Pretoria. This meant he had to travel to Cape Town on the annual trek for the session of Parliament, and on his second visit he decided to stay and found employment as a proof-reader at the daily newspaper Die Burger. During this period he started taking photographs of old Cape buildings, assisted by a grant from the Molteno Trust of the Tricentenary Foundation, who paid him R3,00 per photo (these are now housed in the South African Library as the “Fransen Collection”).

This was the start of life-long passion for the conservation of local historical architecture, and the entry into a career in museum curation. His first position was that of acting curator (1962-64) of the Michaelis Collection of seventeenth-century Dutch paintings in the Old Town House on Greenmarket Square in Cape Town. One morning in January 1963 he was having coffee with a journalist friend in a little corner café on the square, when he was introduced to art teacher Anneen van Zyl; in August of that year they were married.

After his move to Cape Town, Fransen had met Dr Mary Cook, curator of the Drostdy Museum in Swellendam, and suggested to her that they should compile an inventory of historic buildings at the Cape. This became an ongoing project, with Cook concentrating on the historical research and Fransen contributing his fieldwork on architectural styles. Their book Old Houses of the Cape, published in 1965 by A.A. Balkema, was much more comprehensive than the few earlier titles by authors such as Ronald Lewcock and immediately became the standard reference on early Cape architecture. With the history of old buildings recorded in an accessible publication, many more people also became aware of their value and place in South African cultural heritage.

In 1965 Fransen became curator of the Stellenbosch Museum, which at the time comprised only Grosvenor House. He especially remembers the remarkable people he met at the time, all strong supporters of conservation: Marius le Roux, who played a major role in expanding the museum and who would succeed Fransen in 1970, Ters van Huyssteen, Proff Frans Smuts and H B Thom and Willem Dempsey, mayor. Fransen organised an exhibition on “The Cape Chair” which later resulted in the publication of his catalogue as a book in both English and Afrikaans. Somehow the couple found time to study part-time through the University of South Africa, and in 1968 Fransen obtained a BA degree majoring in history of art and Afrikaans-Nederlands.

Many of the illustrations in “Fransen and Cook”, as their book became known, had been photographs by Arthur Elliot, pioneering documentarian of the cultural life at the Cape at the turn of the twentieth century. In 1969 Fransen published the first anthology of Elliot’s work (held in the State Archives and SA Library), titled Architectural Beauty of the Old Cape as seen by Arthur Elliot. The same year saw publication of his Guide to the Museums of Southern Africa, for which he and Anneen had visited each and every museum in the region, and in 1970 Discover Historical Stellenbosch (with photographer Christo Botha) appeared in English and Afrikaans.

In 1970 Fransen was appointed senior professional officer with the then SA Cultural History Museum, with the Groot Constantia museum as his specific responsibility. He fondly remembers this period, as it meant living in and working from one of the lovely historic homes on the estate, Hoop op Constantia. The catalogue of Groot Constantia he compiled at the time is still in use today. From this bucolic setting Fransen returned to curating fine art, when he was appointed assistant director (and curator of prints and drawings) of the SA National Gallery in Cape Town in 1972.

In 1980 he left Cape Town for Pietermaritzburg, where he would work as senior lecturer in history of art at the University of Natal for ten years. In the following year a much expanded edition of “Fransen & Cook” appeared with A A Balkema as The Old Buildings of the Cape, as well as Fransen’s Drie Eeue Kuns in Suid-Afrika (Three Centuries of Art in South Africa), the first integrated history of art, architecture and applied art in the country. An English version, with some new chapters added, appeared two years later. In 1988 Fransen obtained his Ph.D. in history of art with a thesis on styles in applied arts and architecture at the Cape from 1652 to 1820.

The couple returned to Cape Town in 1990, when Fransen was appointed director of the Michaelis Collection. Here he undertook research into Dutch art of the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, which resulted in a comprehensive catalogue of the collection which was published in Holland in 1997. A new anthology of Elliot photographs, A Cape Camera, also appeared in 1994 with Jonathan Ball Publishers.

Hans Fransen retired in 1998, but that was by no means the end of his very active career. Looking at his long list of books, research papers, exhibition catalogues and many talks and lectures, one can only wonder where he found the time for everything. Apart from his well-known knowledge of Cape Colonial architecture and applied arts, his subjects have included a diverse range from old Dutch masters, Japanese prints, International Baroque style and Vincent van Gogh,to “the architecture of the Sotho, Ndebele and Natal Hindu”, modern art-museum architecture, and “the art of cartoon and caricature”. Part-time posts included that of co-editor of the monthly magazine Nederlandse Post 1963-75 and various stints as lecturer at both the University of Cape Town and of Stellenbosch. He has served on the committees of numerous associations, notably the former Simon van der Stel Foundation, SA Association of Arts and the SA Vernacular Architecture Society (of which he is a honorary life member). He has often served on panels to select work for art exhibitions and the permanent collections of prominent art galleries.

His retirement from a day job enabled Fransen to work full-time on his “somewhat compulsive interest”, the old buildings of the Cape. Apart from archival research, this involved visiting each building previously described as well as a host of new ones: he would load his bicycle onto his bakkie and head for some or other village, where he would take the streets one by one,either cycling or on foot, to take notes, photographs and measurements. After three years and travelling 25 000 kilometres by car and another 4 000 by bicycle, the result was the publication by Jonathan Ball in 2004 of A Guide to the Old Buildings of the Cape, an even farther enlarged version of the previous edition. ‘The book now listed some 5 700 buildings, whereas the first edition contained 600 and the second fewer than 4000, with both the geographical area, time period and variety of building styles expanded. Fransen now called himself the compiler of this issue and paid homage to the work of Dr Mary Cook, whose writing from the earlier editions was retained. He also warned that there would probably never be a fourth edition of the book, as a complete survey of the country’s architectural heritage was planned that would one day become available in electronic format.

Whereas Old Buildings attempted to be an inventory of individual buildings, the focus of conservationists had over recent years somewhat shifted to the preservation of entire streetscapes or built areas including non-architectural features. Fransen became interested in the way towns and villages had developed or been laid out, and the result is the just-published Old Towns and Villages of the Cape, another book of encyclopaedic proportions. In it he compares such phenomena as the formal layout of Worcester, reflecting the rather grandiose ambitions of Governor Lord Charles Somerset, with the more natural development of a “romantic” town such as Bathurst. Looking at the way old buildings are in harmony with one another and their surroundings, Fransen says he wonders whether the pioneers consciously selected the location or whether it was just a happy coincidence.

Hans and Anneen live in a comfortable house in Claremont (they have one married daughter), but feels this is now more than they require and are thinking of moving to a village not too far from the city. One can safely assume that this would not herald the end of Fransen’s involvement in research and writing books.

Photograph captions

  • p.14 Ready to go, either to ride the Argus Cycle Tour or to document old buildings
  • p.15 Above: Hans and Anneen Fransen at home in Claremont. He writes his books in a study that seems too small for his vast field of reference
  • p.15 Left: Fransen’s involvement with heritage conservation started with the photographing of old buildings, such as this one taken in Worcester in 1963
  • p. 16 For his new book Fransen made extensive use of aerial photographs to show the changes in villages and towns. He cites Mossel Bay, shown here in c. 1940, as one of the towns where the destruction of architectural heritage sites has been worst. No trace remains today of the old outpost of the Dutch East India Company (circled) in the modern industrial metropolis