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JAPHA, Vivienne

Born: 1945
Died: 1999 06 23


"On Saturday 23 June 1999 Vivienne Japha was killed in Beijing and at that moment the drive and power went out of many initiatives and reforms in architecture, education and conservation studies in Africa and elsewhere. At the time of her death, as a pedestrian hit by a truck, she was in the company of friends who are some of the key figures in international affairs in architecture and settlements. She was at the height of her powers and beginning to form a strong platform from which to bring a new vision of Africa and African affairs into the world of international studies in education, architecture and the built environment.

Vivienne as President of the South African Institute of Architects was attending the World Congress of the International Union of Architects held in the People's Republic of China. She was active in education and professional matters as Vice President - Africa (South) for the Commonwealth Association of Architects and the Chair of the Board of Education, Research and Technology, and Council Member of the African Union of Architects. The combination of these three important positions would have made possible contributions to the development and consolidation of policy matters pertaining to education and practice and the links between South Africa, the rest of Africa and the Commonwealth.

Her activities recently included relationships between countries on the rim of the Indian Ocean. She was representative of the South African Institute of Architects at the Commonwealth Association of Architects General Assembly and Council at Goa, India, in 1997 and also an invited participant at the joint CAA and Indian Institute of Architects' International Conference on Urbanisation and Housing, Goa, India. She was a resource person, lecturer and member of Commonwealth Association of Architects and Indian Institute of Architects Visiting Board in Mumbai, India, for accreditation of the Architecture Course at RIZVI College of Architecture, Mumbai; the Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute for Architecture and Environmental Studies, Mumbai. She was also a visiting lecturer to a seminar for teachers from architectural institutions in India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives in 1995.

These contacts with India were developing into a new research interest into common problems of intercultural work in architecture, settlements and education and a new set of initiatives, which would grow and expand to include her colleagues and students. All of this has been cut short by her death.

The success and great potential of these international ventures had a strong grounding in her wide range of interests and work in South Africa. Vivienne was an active academic and teacher. She was Associate Professor in the School of Architecture and Planning, University of Cape Town, a member of the UCT Ethics Committee and the UCT Building and Development Committee. As a teacher she was co-ordinator of the Bachelor of Architecture Programme. As Fieldwork Co-ordinator she had become well known for interesting fieldwork studies which led to the recording of numerous historical towns and buildings. She was external examiner and visiting lecturer in Universities in South Africa and the University of Eduardo Motlana, Maputo, Mozambique. A brilliant and entertaining lecturer who illustrated her lecture; with her own excellent photographs, she captivated many an audience. She was also an incisive and outspoken critic, and a judge of consistent opinions on buildings and urban design issues.

Vivienne was also a practitioner in partnership with Fabio TODESCHINI and her husband Derek JAPHA. The work of the practice is primarily in the field of policy planning and urban design with particular reference to conservation and development at local, regional and national levels.

A large part of her work had to do with the research, practice and policy related to conservation and development of our built heritage. This included being Council Member of the National Monuments Council appointed by the Minister of Arts, Culture, Science & Technology, Chair of the NMC Built Environment Committee, and Chair of the NMC Western Cape Regional Committee. She has also been President, Cape Institute Of Architects; Chair, Executive and Finance Committee; Chair, Heritage Committee; CIA representative on the Minister's Liaison Committee, Victoria and Albert Waterfront Development; CIA representative on the International Commission of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) South Africa.

Her involvement was total and in depth, and she had carefully assembled a body of work of considerable significance. She was also a trustee, Board of Trustees, Cape Heritage Trust; a trustee, Classical (Rome) Scholarship Trust, a member, Commission for Museums, Monuments, Archives and National Symbols, ANC Department of Arts and Culture; a board member, Cape Environmental Trust, a member of the Simon Van der Stel Foundation, a member of the Simon's Town Architectural Advisory Committee, and a member of Plans Committee, National Monuments Council. Service on these bodies over the years gave her a depth of understanding that she was able to draw on as her professional and cultural life developed and grew.

She engaged in the policies of transformation in South African professional life as SAlA representative on the Alliance of Development Professionals and as Convenor, Education and Continuing Professional Development Committee, and other committees.

Her abilities as a critic and adviser where utilised in programmes such as SAIA, Awards for Excellence, SAIA Awards of Merit and Conservation (Cape), National Awards of Excellence and the numerous sub-committees and work-groups where she often acted as convenor and member of the various panels of assessors. Her most important appointment was as member, Steering Committee of the National Department of Public Works and architectural advisor to the judges of the South African Constitutional Court responsible for writing the brief, and setting up an international architectural competition, for the new Constitutional Court Building for South Africa.

Apart from the above commitments in terms of public service, Vivienne was also a prolific writer with numerous publications, far too extensive to be listed here. She was also a member, Editorial Advisory Board, SA Architect, the official journal of the South African Institute of Architects; co-editor, South African Architectural Digest, and invited reviewer for abstracts and member of the Sessions Committee of the Fifth Conference of the International Association for the Study of Traditional Environments, Berkeley, USA, 1996.

Vivienne participated in numerous workshops and conferences, and research programmes, which include every possible permutation of level and type of involvement: invited participant, invited session chair, representative, and so on. She attended sessions in Britain, Berkeley, Paris, Tunis, and elsewhere. just as an example, she participated in and set up eight workshops organised with the Eastern Cape Department of Education, Culture and Sport on the Eastern Cape Historic Missions Project -a project to rehabilitate eight historic mission centres, held in Lourdes, Shawbury, Clarkebury, Blythennrood, St. Mathews, Healdtown, Mgwali, Enon, Eastern Cape, SA, 1996 (with D. JAPHA, L. LE GRANGE, and F. TODESHINI).

The list of published work is extensive and includes work done jointly with others. The themes were traditional dwellings and settlements, case studies and recording of buildings and settlements such as missions and towns: Montagu, Franschhoek, Worcester, Graaff-Reinet, work on urban conservation, listing of noteworthy buildings, vernacular architecture and so on.

The above lists are selected almost arbitrarily from a large body of work and are given here in order to show the range, depth, quality and commitment of her work and life.

It is in both of these areas, work and life, that Vivienne will most be missed. She was a teacher, architect, administrator, writer, lecturer, conference convenor, organiser, conservationist, editor, academic, all these things but she was also a photographer, mother of Jonathan, keeper of a large dog, wife to Derek, companion, friend to many, good cook, hostess, "rainmaker", party person par excellence. Even at the most critical moments of debate and sometimes-tense interaction between warring professionals and other parties, she could maintain decisiveness but get everybody to laugh.

As a person she was always larger than life magnificently loud, raucous at times, generous, had a mischievous sense of humour, and was a marvellous companion. The Japha kitchen, a formidable establishment that includes the superb talents of Derek and Jonathan, was a hearth and meeting place for visitors and friends, the natural touchstone for everybody.

This extraordinary person who not only started initiatives but completed them also inspired many others to be an active part of events and to grow as human beings by being committed to some task, some cause. The void left by her absence cannot be filled and she will be missed by all those who knew her, those who should have known her, and those who might have known her."


"We first met Vivienne when the Commonwealth Association of Architects (CAA) Executive met during the Africa 2000 Conference in Cape Town 1995. She was part of a group which came to put the case to the Executive for the re-admission of the South African Institute of Architects to the Association and as such was instrumental in that process.

She was quick to capitalise on the links CAA offered, making the first of a number of visits to India to attend the lndian lnstitute of Architects/ World Society of Ekistics seminar "Education of Design Professional" where she formed enduring friendships in that country and beyond.

In 1997 she attended the CAA Assembly and Conference in Goa, not only as South Africa's delegate but also as a speaker. Here we came to know more of her value, her intellect, and above all her consideration of new issues; listening and absorbing intently at first; clarifying if necessary; responding definitively without preconception or prejudice and often with conviction. Her interventions were economic but to great effect.

Members of the Africa region quickly and unanimously elected her as their regional Vice President.

In the short time she served, Vivienne made an immense impact within the Africa region, linking members and stimulating activities and furthering exchange. Furthermore the connection she provided with the African Union of Architects (AUA) in her position as chair of the Board of Education Research and Training was proving invaluable in ensuring that CAA's role in the region was complementary to that organisation, especially in education.

Vivienne also contributed to CAA's validation system for courses in architecture participating as a CAA representative and as a chair on a number of school visits in India.

So we met again in Beijing for a Council meeting where each member of council developed a more personal friend- ship with Vienne. The meeting was remarkable for the single mind with which it conducted its business, making a number of historic resolutions. Furthermore our objective of greater co-operation with the International Union of Architects (UIA), towards which Vivienne was highly influential, was achieved beyond our expectations.

These successes made the accident all the more tragic yet may provide some small source of consolation. As we left for dinner that evening Vivienne was bubbling over with happiness, she had secured the readmission of SAIA to International Union of Architects and she had been sight-seeing that afternoon to the Temple of Heaven which she, described to us as one of the most beautiful buildings she had ever seen. She left us on a high!

There is no doubt that the CAA, AUA and UIA have lost an immense resource. Through this we appreciate the greater loss to South Africa and the South African Institute of Architects of an educator and professional of impeccable quality. We grieve with her family and all of you."

Professor George Henderson, President of the Commonwealth Association of Architects

"The tragic death of our National Institute President, Vivienne Japha, is a huge loss to the profession. Ironically, Viienne was attending the International Union of Architects Congress in Beijing on lnstitute business when the tragedy occurred.

Vivienne was inaugurated as National President at the 1st Congress of the South African Institute of Architects held in Durban in the August of 1998. Her term of office has been a short one; however, her achievements during this period have been inversely proportional to her length of service.

Vivienne loved architecture: she loved teaching it, debating it, discussing it, and researching it. She saw her term of office as an opportunity to bring together two of her loves: the teaching of architecture at the school of architecture, and the practice of architecture as a profession. Itwas her desire that the profession and the academic world -in particular the students -would interface and enjoy architecture through the Institute. Accordingly, her energies at both the national and international level were to create opportunities for this interaction.

In her discussions with the international world, the need to bring international speakers to South Africa for the enjoyment of all was a primary focus. It would assist the students, it would form part of the Institute's ongoing Professional Development, and it would be a moment to enjoy architecture together.

Vivienne was of course uniquely equipped to do this. Of the many skills she was blessed with, her person skills were the ones that were making it all happen. She had a way of making every- one comfortable: at her first National Board meeting, she used the entire morning to allow every member of the Board to introduce themselves and to state what their interests and concerns were. It was the first time in my eight years on the National Board that that had happened. It had an immediate effect on the members present and set the scene for a level of participation and cooperation not experienced before.

She was also blessed with another asset: she possessed great wisdom. Her handling of conflict situations wilI be a lesson for many of us. Invariably, the wise know that time is a requirement of successful conflict resolution and she would create time to let the matter settle and to obtain the clarity needed.

Her wisdom was also reflected in another attribute that is rare among us: she forgave. She was a big enough person to appreciate the humanness of us all and to make the necessary space for the idiosyncrasies of the individual to be accommodated without prejudicing the overall operation.

She was with us for but a short time, but she has left the legacy of a centurion. We are the poorer for her loss, but the richer for having had her at all. Our thoughts are with her family and friends as we come to terms with her death.

Farewell Vivienne, our friend."

Llewellyn VAN WYK, Vice-president South African Institute of Architects (1999)

All truncated references not fully cited in 'References' are those of Joanna Walker's original text and cited in full in the 'Bibliography' entry of the Lexicon.