Preserving the Indigenous African Vernacular Architecture of South Africa

Complete digital archives of the built environment of vernacular architecture in South Africa do not exist as yet. This is an exciting gap to fill, and has now been made possible by funding awarded by the National Heritage Council (NHC) of South Africa to OpenHeritage. We will be working in collaboration with Jon Sojkowski, an architect from South Carolina with a passion for African vernacular architecture.

The NHC describes its award “as a way to acknowledge active citizenship that protects and promotes the country’s heritage. As the name of the awards suggests, these are the people who act as the shields against the obliteration of our cultural and natural heritage. It is important to acknowledge, thank and take pride in people who continuously contribute selflessly to the preservation, interpretation and promotion of South Africa’s rich cultural heritage”

For two weeks in September, our team will travel through the Eastern Cape of South Africa with smartphones, cameras and GPS devices. OpenHeritage is developing a new app for the detailed recording of vernacular buildings, and photographs and precise locations will be recorded. Local inhabitants of the area will be interviewed in order to gain a ground level understanding, and correct interpretation, of the cultural and architectural nuances of Xhosa vernacular architecture. During the fieldwork, real-time blog posts will be uploaded to the OpenHeritage website, so stay tuned for exciting developments as the project progresses!

The information gathered will be made publicly available on the South African Heritage Resources Information System (SAHRIS) (our national inventory), as well as the website developed for this project: South Africa Vernacular Architecture.

The NHC’s contribution to the research and publication of this project will foster awareness of our collective human story by supporting a programme that promotes heritage development and management, and encourages integration and public involvement. It will also assist in a job creation and poverty alleviation initiative whereby local communities will have the ability to use promotional material to encourage tourism in their areas.