Docomomo South Africa

December 3, 2013adminNews Links


Docomomo SA is the local chapter of docomomo international, a non profit organization founded in the Netherlands in 1988. It stands for ’International Committee for Documentation and Conservation of buildings, sites and neighbourhoods of the Modern Movement’, and aims at creating awareness around the significance of modern movement buildings in the broader public realm. To this end international conferences are held and a database of important representative buildings has been set up. (Link to international website The debate around the Werdmueller Centre prompted Heinrich and Ilze Wolff to attend the Rotterdam docomomo conference in 2008.

The conference inspired them to found the SA Chapter, at the following conference in Mexico in 2010, together with Lauren Robinson and Nichloas Clarke. We now have 24 members throughout the country, mostly architects and heritage practitioners, of which many are also members of SAIA. SAIA and the KZN Institute of Architects are Institutional members. In the South African context the aim is to promote the recognition of all valuable 20th century design in the built environment, beyond those that fall specifically into the Modern Movement category. Docomomo SA is aligned with other heritage bodies and shares information and ideas help with preservation of significant works.

Local Authority List

To create awareness by local authorities for modern buildings that may or may not yet be protected by the ’60 year regulation’, a list of significant Western Cape buildings was given to the Cape Town Planning department this helps to alert them when buildings of significance are under threat. Docomomo has an informal arrangement with them as an interested and affected party and are thus asked to comment whenever one of these buildings is submitted for development.


Recently an article on Aiton Court, in Hillbrow, written by Hannah le Roux, Brendan Hart and Yasmin Mayat, was published in the international docomomo Journal 48. Illustrated with contemporary and modern photographs, plans and diagrams, it presents a case study in how ‘heritage and economics clash in economically constrained cities.This iconic and formally innovative modern apartment block from 1937 is located in an area where the income levels of tenants are now very low’. ‘Designed by Angus Stewart and Bernard Cooke in the mid -1930′s it reflects their exposure to the formal language of the CIAM architects through Cooke’s lecturer Rex Martienssen, the leader of what le Corbusier termed the Groupe Transvaal (le Corbusier 1935, Herbert 1975)’ . The authors discuss the obstacles that stand in the way of the building’s survival and possible restoration, such as the limits of commercial viability for the owners, resistance by tenants, and rapid structural deterioration.

They suggest a strategy of ‘critical conservation that imagines a staged renewal, that mediates between a realistic approach to what is possible and the ideal of total restoration, without stopping the possibility of such a return’. Realising the limitations of funding available from heritage quarters, the suggestion is to make use of other funding options such as the Green Fund and Johannesburg Development Agency, by showing the value of the building in terms of urban renewal and energy conservation.

Docomomo Journal 48

To fulfill the obligation of documenting the minimum of five buildings per anum, to be submitted to the docomomo International Register, members held a workshop at the Fagan’s House in Camps Bay. Small work groups which recorded the Langa hostels and beerhall, Customs House, the Rex Trueform Complex, Gawie Fagan’s ‘Die Es’, Keurbos and Naude dos Santos’ Cape Town work, in the form of ‘fiches’, the standard library format as prescribed by
docomomo international.


Members at the Saturday morning Fiche workshop at the Fagan’s House in Cape


Threatened Buildings
Currently members of docomomo SA are concerned about a number of threatened works. Most recently the appalling state of Roelof Uytenbogaardt’s Steinkopf Community Centre has come to members attention.


Current view of Steinkopf Community centre in the Northern Cape showing the
strong formal language of Prof Uytenbogaardt’s architecture


The currently stripped and vandalised state of the interior of the Steinkopf
Community Centre


New Members
We are actively looking for new members , interested in recording
modern architecture, to join us, share their insights and expertise
and add strength to our endeavour. Contact Liz Davies at or