Canadian Architect

Feature

Community Spirit

Painted houses define a community in Tweespruit, South Africa.

September 1, 2003
by Ian Chodikoff

Architects go to great lengths to track the movement of the sun and the passage of time. In the town of Tweespruit, Orange Free State, South Africa, members of the community take pride in decorating their homes and buildings with a high level of craft and consideration. With a necessary economy of means, members of the community are able to capture the dramatic qualities of light and shadow in basic concrete block buildings raised on plinths high enough to let flood waters pass through.

Every year, citizens trowel a stucco finish to their homes in advance of the area’s rainy season. The ephemeral nature of this colourful mode of self-expression is a way in which the village marks the passage of time and the cycle of the seasons. With the application of a textured and painted surface, a simple home becomes a highly dynamic means of ‘architectural rendering’ within a tightly-knit and poor community in an extraordinary landscape and beneath a particular quality of light only to be found in South Africa. Doorways and windows are framed by rich, textured patterns that are based upon the pride and artistry of the inhabitants while flat, neutral exterior walls provide insight into the lives of the owners.

Meanwhile, in an architectural expression that is more permanent, the wall along the entrance of the community’s church is marked with crosses that seem to be randomly positioned within the formwork used for the site-cast concrete. With the application of a simple coat of white paint, the purity of this surface is animated by the texture of the building and the deep shadows that result. The church illustrates how the significance of community can be represented eloquently in a simple structure. While every cross that was placed within the formwork was essentially the same, the ever-changing qualities of the sunlight floating across the faade allows the meaning, craft and efforts of those who built the church to be represented in the variegated qualities of each cross. At the end of the day, and beginning of the next, a community is re-presented.

Photographs, by architect Clive Levitt, were taken while on his recent trip to South Africa.




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