Stellenbosch - Architecture

Cape Dutch architecture was prominent in the beginnings of the Cape Colony, the initial settlers of the Cape being primarily Dutch. The style has its origins in mediaeval Holland and Germany, France and the islands of Indonesia. The earliest houses were single-storied dwellings and purely utilitarian, consisting of a row of three rooms, with a steeply pitched roof (45 degrees) supported by rafters and a width of just 6 metres. With minimal technology and a low availability of local materials, building was limited. The roofing style probably also reflected the pitch used in northern Europe to allow snow to slide off the roof.

Perhaps the most prominent and unique feature of this style is the central ornate dormer gable with consistent features, including: the date of construction, moulded decorations and a prominent centralised location. During the early 18th Century, gables became more decorative with their non-European carvings, probably as a result of their Malay craftsmen creation.

The houses were initially built symmetrically – a central door as focus, two half windows on either side, followed by two or four full-width windows. As prosperity increased, home-owners began to add wings (the U-plan), after which followed a T-plan and finally evolved into an H-plan construction. During this development, materials used in construction began to change – shutters were developed to protect windows, slate replaced peach pips for the floor and stronger wood was used in construction. Outbuildings began to be built, including a “jonkershuis” (house for the heir), stables, a coach-house, slaves’ quarters and a wine cellar. White-washed thick walls, reed thatch roof and a raised stoop and gable – these characterise the Cape Dutch dwelling.

The 1840’s experienced a decline in the Cape Dutch style – it became possible to construct wider buildings with the introduction of spine walls; porous brick walls and the danger of fires with thatch roofs all led to the change to more durable materials in the construction of dwellings. There are only about 400 intact original Cape Dutch homesteads left in South Africa.