Preserving old buildings is a valuable international practice. In contrast, requiring new work to be fashioned by dated values and technology is culturally anachronistic. Architect Keith Struthers of Keith Struthers Studios makes a case for contemporary African architecture, which is resonant with our times. 

Pickled in old brine 

Unless your design is pickled in an early Dutch, Victorian or Edwardian style preserve, you cannot get building permission in Simonstown (Western Cape) in 2023. Currently, faux colonial-style architecture is the legal requirement for all new building work, alterations or additions in the Southern most town of Africa. All plans require the consent/permission of the Architectural Advisory Committee (AAC), affiliated with the Heritage Council of the City of Cape Town before being submitted for approval. 

Take the lid off 

These “guidelines” put the lid on architectural expression indicative of the current spirit of Southern Africa. In simple terms, early European architecture is mainly rectangular, while early African architecture is more organic. Forging a different approach to architecture in Southern Africa, something woven from the fabric of our current culture, will include integrating curvilinear and rectilinear forms.  

A faded past vs a bright future 

Imported guidelines are prevalent throughout South Africa – if not heritage requirements, then private estates copying Tuscan villas or faux Dutch. Clinging to dated architectural idioms handcuffs creative innovation. “Without stepping courageously into the unknown, cultural development and evolution suffocate,” says Struthers. 

It is not that traditional architectural styles are problematic. Many historic buildings are aesthetically refined and remarkably inspiring. However, when forced to produce mannerist versions of a faded past, copy-and-paste replicas of bye gone eras, we don’t value the worth of today, so we forego participating in our emerging times. 

Cultural Integrity 

In the context of a country looking for its unique identity, architectural guidelines founded on past architectural genres should be entirely omitted from council and estate requirements for plan approval, to make space for the emergence of architectural forms culturally unique to the 21st century and Southern Africa. 

For more information, contact Keith Struthers Studios:

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