A product of the Afrikaner Cape Colonyestablished in 1652 by the Dutch East India Company and under Dutch rule until the late 18th century Cape Dutch architecture is striking in appearance and a signature of South Africa’s Western Cape.
Here, we lay out the distinctive features of the style and where you can experience the best examples.
- A country house. Cape Dutch style is associated, first and foremost, with country houses, not city houses. Accordingly, designs were not constrained by a rigid lot that dictated a specific plan or the need for multiple storeys — they spread out, without constraints.
- Typical layout. Cape Dutch structures t
- emerged from an earlier linear three-chamber plans, as you can see in the exhibit below.
- The use of steep roofs (discussed later) encouraged the development of a prominent central gable to lend some degree of verticality to the appearance.
- Rather than lying exclusively at the end of a house, on the short side of the rectangular-plan structure, as they do in most parts of the world (and in the Netherlands — see image), they are set right in the middle of the long side of the rectangle, over the front door.
- They vary considerably in design from the simple stepped gable, which is rare, to the elaborated scrolled and embellished types. See a number of the designs below.
- These gable designs are not unique: the same ones are found in the Netherlands and Belgium, however, instead of being made of brick, they are covered with plaster, which lends a decidedly different aesthetic.
- Simpler end gables. Far simpler gables rise over the over the short sides of the rectangular plan.
- It is sometimes a “stable” door, meaning that it is divided horizontally into two halves, so that in hot weather the upper portion could be kept open.
- And above that, a full-sized window.
- Horizontal bias. Structures are either one or two storeys and their width far exceeds their height.
- A stoop. An uncovered stoop
- Symmetrical arrangement of windows flanking the entrance.
- Windows early structures with casement windows, later structures with sash windows (lower part sliding open, upper window fixed) are divided into small panes by wooden glazing bars.
- Paneled shutters.
- The Cape climate. Thatched roofing is well-adapted to the climate of South Africa’s Western Cape: sunshine year-round, with minimal rain except in winter. Cooling was important.
- A need for reed. Since wood was in tight supply in the Cape, thatch was an ideal solution. Thatch made from thamnochortus insignis
- Sharp angle. Thatch is installed at pitch of 45-50°. The steep slope is needed to ensure
- And thick. The reed is laid to a minimum thickness of 125-150 mm (5-6 inches). See image below.
- A brick core. Bricks are the primary building material
- he limewash functions as protective layer to the lime coatings and brick substrate.
- A soft white. The limewashed plaster also performs an aesthetic function, generating a glowing surface with an ever-so-slightly undulating surface texture that reveals the hand of the mason.
- Dark grey. The thatch introduces a multi-hued grey that adds depth and further texture to the appearance.
- Dark green/olive wood features. Doors, shutters and window frames stand out with a prominent green tone.
Where to See It
We have mapped out our picks for the top Cape Dutch structures in South Africa.
A common heritage / an appropriated history: the Cape Dutch preservation and revival movement as nation and empire builder by Nic Coetzer
A Guide to Thatch Construction in South Africa
Eighteenth century architecture in South Africa by Geoffrey Eastcott Pearse
Historical Stellenbosch: Design Guidelines by Ian Pretorius
Introductory Guide To Thatching by K Long and R Oelofsen
Rising from the Ashes – The 1926 Restoration of Groot Constantia by SJ de Klerk
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