Sunday, January 2, 2011

Pre Masters Research Trip

Every December my family's evacuation from Durban to the relatively drier and calmer Western Cape takes us through the Transkei, Eastern Cape and Western Cape at break neck speed to lessen the hassle of the trip, a 1660km journey through the N2.

*Note 1
Having been involved in this pilgrimage for most of my life, and hardly experiencing more than a 5 minute fast food breakfast en route, I was determined to see what the N2 had to offer me as a student, a South African and Durbanite living in Pretoria with attachment issues from his time in Cape Town. 

The Blue Book
After a brief online look into what information was available on line for an Architectural Tourist, a flip through through Ora Jouberts Blue Book and a Friday bunny chow session with my former undergraduate lecturer Derek Van Heerdan I had mapped out a rough assortment of stops along the N2.

The focus of the trip began as a quite broad look into contemporary Architecture in developing settlements of South Africa - I had no specific question to answer, I felt the journey was more a search for a question rather than a search for an answer.


*NOTE: All images from Author unless indicated. *Note 1 IMAGE: adapted from



The first stop was just outside Kokstad, Kwa-Zulu Natal in the small settlement of Shayamoya to visit  the 7 Fountains Primary School.

The primary school was designed by East Coast Architects  and commissioned by Oprah's Angel Network as part of their community involvement in South Africa.


An East Coast Architect scheme would not be complete a Jojo Tank or an indigenous garden

The Nelson Mandela Heritage Trail

While searching for Architectural Tourist sites online, I came across several links to a Nelson Mandela Historical Route.

The articles described a network of famous sites related to Nelson Mandela's life such as Qunu, the place of Mandela's birth, Mveso, Mthata and highlighting points such as University of Fort Hare in Alice, where he was educated, and going further into Pretoria and Johannesburg as well as Cape Town. The route also mentions Steve Biko's grave site in King Williams Town.

Many of these featured on the N2, with the closest stop being the Youth & Heritage Centre in Qunu. Designed by Stauch Vorster Architects.

At this point in the trip there were some technical issues with the camera, to illustrate the points I have added a one or two referenced images.

A vegetable garden at the center

IMAGE: Pg 392; 10 Years 100 Buildings, Joubert Et Al

The route included the Nelson Mandela Museum in Mthata, curated by Mashabane Rose Architects. This museum is located in the heart of Mtatha but seemed to only be frequented by European tourists.

The next intended stop was the Mveso Museum Pavilion, designed by Cohen and Judin Architects but the bad condition of the road leading to the heritage site and quickly fading daylight forced us to move on.

IMAGE: Pg 389; 10 Years 100 Buildings, Joubert Et Al

IMAGE: Pg 388; 10 Years 100 Buildings, Joubert Et Al

After a restless night on a University digs couch in Grahamstown and a in situ camera repair stint, we headed towards Port Elizabeth to visit the Red Location Museum of Struggle by by the Cape Town firm of Noero & Wolff Architects.

Memory Boxes, intended to symbolise the twilight of memory

The Museum sits in the heart of New Brighton

The Ubuntu Center

While in Red Location I we came across a recently completed building, the Ubuntu Center by South African born and now California based firm, Field Architecture .


I've come across this building many times before and every time I see it I feel this would make quite an interesting project to work on. Unfortunately I can't remember exactly where it is but its somewhere between Knysna and Mossel Baai on the N2.

There appears to be a whole community that has settled around this former Industrial building. I didn't get close enough to see the extent of their interaction with the structure itself , but a large tree is growing inside.


Arriving in the mother city I found accommodation with a former classmate from the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal, who happened to have a spectacular view from his beautiful home in Blouberg. Courtesy of my host I had a breathtaking view from my 'Cape Office' while preparing for the year ahead.

Cape Office View. Average.


The Cape stop was a twofold affair. In one regard I had much administrative issues to resolve from my former life in the Mountain City, on the other hand I had met many people during my time with Architecture for Humanity who were involved in projects in Kayalitsha and other developing areas in the Cape that I felt would be of interest towards my pre-masters resarch.
Kirstenbosch Gardens

Between my administrative obligations I found time to visit Kirstenbosch for some mountain time and came across this very interesting exhibition building in the gardens.  Dylan Lewis's sculptures have always fascinated me and this building together with his work was well worth the surprise.

A planted wall wraps around the exhibition centre

The UNTAMED exhibition is a collaboration between sculptor  Dylan Lewis, Architect Enrico Daffonchio and Poet Ian Mcullum

I was fortunate enough to attend a trip in Kayalitsha planned by one such contact, Verena Grips, whose involvement with an NGO called MatchBox was of great interest towards my now narrowing focus on developing areas of South Africa.

MatchBox aims towards improving the quality of life and learning of children in townships. Verena had arranged a trip with another student who was looking into Township Tourism in South Africa.

The first stop in that trip was the Look Out Hill Visitor Information Centre, here we met a local tour guide  from Coffee Bean Routes tours.

Our tour guide took us through the centre, where we met some of local ladies who work with another group to produce hand bags to sell in market.

As the name implies the centre is overlooked by one of the higher points in Kayalitsha and offers a panoramic view of the settlement.

From here we visited the largest shopping mall in the area, the Nonqubela Link Mall , this mall sits adjacent to a train stop and between is serviced by a local market. What we found interesting was that an informal market could exist with a formal mall and still function.

The 'formal'

The 'informal'

View from the station platform
As part of the township tourism our guide had planned the next few stops at woman run local B&B's. These ladies were running successfull lodging facilities and invited us in for a cup of tea and some interesting stories of foreign visitors, radio talks shows and how they share their skill base with others in the same business field.
Vicki's Bed and Breakfast

Verena's personal focus on creche's and day care facilities that have been adapted from donated containers such as the Zanoxolo Educare Creche took us to some of these spots in Kayalitsha.

In true township tourism fashion we finished the day off with a visit to a local shebeen. While Mzoli's in Gugelthu is probably the most well known of Cape Town's township hotspots, it was Kayalitsha's less known counterpart Ace's that we chose as our lunchtime destination.