Presentation from Richmond

 Trevor Lloyd Evans – Architect  


Background

I am a lecturer in Design and Design Theory at the Tshwane University of Technology. (Please note that our students can choose to exit the university as either Architects or as Technologists.

Our third year students exceed 60 in total. They did a design project based in Richmond. They were required to split into groups of two or three. Each group had to select a building in the main street and to prepare a design proposal for the adaptive re-use of the building.

Our goal with this project was to empower them with:

  • Skills of on-site documentation

  • Skills of observation

  • Exposure to the heritage architecture of the Karoo

  • An understanding of the dynamics of a small town

  • Experience in working collaboratively, holistically and inter-actively

  • Issues regarding conservation

 

As part of their submission, they had to build a model of their proposal.

 We exhibited these models in the Map Gallery.

 Three of the students, Justin Kleynhans, Herman Smit and Rudi Vermeer worked on the public park instead of a building as such. They accompanied me to Richmond. They assembled the exhibition and they explained their design proposal.

Taking Conservation Forward

 Members of Heritage South Africa are bound together by an appreciation and wonderment at things of antiquity.

 It is a great and a very rare privilege to be able to appreciate the patina of time, the incredulity of an ancient fossil, the fine proportioning of an old building or the artistry, craftsmanship and skills executed by our forebears and ancestors.

 Most people do not notice these things and as a result they do not care much about them. By most people, I mean upwards of 90% of people and so we really do number among the privileged few whose lives are so enriched by these things that we see all around us.

There are several reasons why so few people care or even notice the magic of their surroundings. These include the facts that;

  • We live in a dysfunctional society that is still suffering post-traumatic stress syndrome. As a result we have the highest rates of crime, accident, divorce etc in the world.

  • Most South Africans are struggling economically and we are in survival mode.

  • We live in an excessively materialist and capitalist time where there is no room for expending energy on anything that does not bring immediate financial reward to the self.

  • South Africa has a very controversial and distressing history that most people would like to forget. For good reason, most South Africans would like to move forward and not be reminded of the past in any way.

  • The pace of life is so fast and so hectic that people simply (think that they) do not have the time to sit back and enjoy.

 One of our fourth year students wrote in chalk on the steps to our school building:

In the pursuit of happiness,

it is good sometimes to pause a while

and

just be happy.”

These are doubtless the wisest words ever written!

In my day of being a student we would NEVER have allowed ourselves to be caught writing such ‘twoddle’ on the steps to our building. But the students today are different and I am constantly astounded by their innate wisdom.

The Mayans never predicted the end of the world on 21 December 2012. They DID predict the end of a cycle. I, like many others (including Graham Hancock), believe that we are entering an age of expanded consciousness. The younger generations are born with a wisdom and insight that some of us older ones may never achieve.

This is very positive for conservation!

Our third year class of students is truly representative of the demographics of our diverse population. It was both extraordinary and uplifting to me that the entire class enjoyed the involvement in Richmond equally. Every single student displayed an appreciation of the architecture in the town without ever allowing the supremacist policies of the past to blur their vision. They seem to be able to see beyond and through things.

I find this to be remarkable. Being not quite the pacifist that I would like people to believe I am, there are buildings in my own town of Pretoria that I am sure I would have blown up had I been Black, Coloured or Asian simply for the fact that they serve to me as icons of the oppression of the past. This, despite the fact that some of them are individually beautiful works of architecture.

We are very fortunate that wholesale destruction did NOT occur as the means to celebrate the end of Apartheid. Instead, people have simply changed the names of streets and places. Such renaming does freak people out a lot (especially in Pretoria!). But such protestors do not realize that the renaming is utterly harmless and even more importantly that it gives a sense of ownership to the broader population.

A sense of ownership is of paramount importance in the cause of conservation. We need to share more effectively in the ownership of our heritage. So, by way of example. while the property owners of Richmond are the custodians of the heritage there, we all (as South Africans) may share and delight in the ownership thereof. It is our collective heritage. By virtue of that ownership we automatically becoming caring guardians as well.

At the moment, we rely too heavily on legislation alone to ensure the conservation of our heritage. People, developers and (alas!) most architects easily find their way around the legislation. A common example is that property owners encourage the deterioration of conservation-worthy buildings. When the buildings become sufficiently dilapidated, they get an engineer to declare the building a health or safety hazard and demolition is advised. Another growing example is the abuse of most cities’ policy of densification. Such policies are laudible and to be encouraged but developers and architects abuse the policy to fast track the issuing of demolition permits when they could in fact have achieved the higher densification without sacrificing anything save a little time and care.

The legislation does not always work.

 What we really need is a mind shift. We need more people to start noticing things and to start rejoicing in them. Next, we need to empower them with a sense of ownership and then we can rest assured that they will protect their heritage.

Louisa Connolly, a Richmond organizer of the symposium put it very beautifully that humble people were so stripped of their dignity in our sordid past, that they are left with feelings of no self-worth. They pass these feelings on to their children. It is so terribly sad. We need desperately to restore that dignity so that the ordinary citizen can become a proud and rightful custodian of the environment.

 Most importantly we need the younger generations to become involved in nurturing our heritage. We need to put our faith in them and to listen to them for the chances are that they have a far deeper and untainted insight than do we older ones!

Trevor Evans

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