This semester I am one of the few architecture students taking part in an exchange program. For this exchange I chose to participate in the honors program of the University of Pretoria in South Africa for a duration of six months. The program is known to be the best in the country and I got the opportunity to work with professors that studied at Harvard and MIT. The program started six weeks ago and my first impression is better than expected. All the students need to have at least one year of working experience before they are accepted in the program which really increases the level of the program. Luckily they make an exception for students coming from the TU/e.
During our field study and after several visits to our allocated site in the center of Pretoria I slowly start to understand how the built
environment came to its current form. The average look of the street is not comparable with those in the Netherlands. For example, streets are not well maintained and littered with trash. The circumstances amazed me but they were expected, however, what did surprise me was the amount of fences and barbed wire. Literally every building is surrounded with it. Every fence is over two meters high, has mean looking spikes and the top is covered with an overkill of barbed wire. This made the street atmosphere, especially in the beginning, feel unsafe and violent. However, this feeling disappeared after a while and then you can see South Africa the way the locals see it.
Another observation is that a lot of buildings in the Central Business District (CBD)
of Pretoria have started to decay and crumbling down. The reason for this is not just a lack of money to maintain the buildings, but the underlying reason stems from the era in which they were built. During the Apartheid era the countries’ leaders wanted to give Pretoria the look of a modern city and promoted a certain architectural style which now can be described as post-modern. These buildings all look distinctive in the way the facade is put together. One of the most dominant examples is the Saambou
Building (fig. 2). Its façade is purple and yellow, has a mosaic pattern from top to bottom and the base has the shape of a pyramid. I learned that many people don’t like the look of the tower and consider it to be very ugly. This really becomes clear when you see the CBD from a distance; the tower is a real eye catcher and gives the city for tourists a distinctive look.
The project I will be working on this semester takes place in the CBD around and old historical park founded by Dutch colonialists and the city hall. While doing research with my team the things I learn still amaze me.
Warm regards from South Africa,