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BAKKER, Karel Anthonie

Born: 1956 04 03
Died: 2014 11 19


BArch 1982 (Pretoria) - Final design title: Italian Centre; MArch 1992 (Pretoria) - Thesis title: Die Formulering van 'n vindingmodel vir die ekologie van die Ioniese argitektoniese kapiteel; PhD (Architecture) 1999 (Pretoria) - Thesis title: A corpus of early ionic capitals.

Head of the Pretoria School of Architecture, Karel is also a founding member of CULTMATRIX CC. His research is interdisciplinary and comprises of theoretical, design and applied aspects in the discipline of architecture - his specialisations are urban and architectural conservation, urban regeneration, heritage theory, heritage impact management, interpretation and presentation of heritage, shared built heritage, African built heritage, architectural history and pedagogy.

At a ceremony held at the Voortrekker Monument on 7 November 2011 he received a PIA award for the book Eclectic ZA Wilhelmiens : A shared Dutch built heritage in South Africa.


Professor Karel Bakker (PhD), Board member of ArchiAfrika Foundation, has died on November 19, 2014. Professor Bakker headed the Department of Architecture in the Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology at the University of Pretoria.

Professor Bakker's influence on the architectural community in South Africa and across the continent of Africa was immense. His research was interdisciplinary and comprises theoretical, design and applied aspects in the fields of architecture, management of historic environments, urban regeneration, historical studies and pedagogy. His fields of specialization were urban and architectural conservation, urban regeneration, heritage theory, heritage impact management, interpretation and presentation of heritage, shared built heritage, African built heritage and architectural history and pedagogy.

Over the years, Professor Bakker brought ArchiAfrika Foundation in touch with the international heritage community, as he was a recognized heritage expert through work for the International Council for Monuments and Sites and the UNESCO World Heritage Centre. He demonstrated leadership and a commitment to the cause of ArchiAfrika Foundation by hosting the biannual African Perspectives Conference in Pretoria in 2009. He was also instrumental in pulling together the ArchiAfrika Educational Network, which links African architectural schools.

Professor Bakker has participated in numerous urban design initiatives and heritage impact assessments, and has also been involved in numerous invited specialist reports for reactive monitoring missions, state of conservation missions, impact assessment missions and urban planning policy guidance documents involving World Heritage properties. He also designed the UNESCO Slave Route Monument in Mauritius.

The Board of ArchiAfrika will miss his presence sorely. We send condolences to his family at this difficult time.

(Joe Addo, November 20 2014)


The passing of Prof Karel Anthonie Bakker (PhD) on 19 November 2014 has left a great void in the architectural and heritage fraternities both in South Africa and internationally.

Born in 1956, Karel spent his childhood years in a small dusty town Amalia outside of Vryburg, in what is today the North-West Province. It may be that these early years, in this harsh near-desert environment imbued in him sensitivity for the poetics of light and shadow and an appreciation for Mediterranean architectural strategies for dealing with climate, such as the pergola and the loggia. He would recount how precious his memories of the lush green pergola in the parched 'gravel' garden of his paternal home were to him. His family later moved to Pretoria where Karel completed his high school and graduate education. A conscious objector to Apartheid, Karel, opted to complete his degree in Architecture at the University of Pretoria first before continuing to serve the then mandatory two years in the South African Defence Force architectural division. Here he refused to participate in architectural projects that he deemed to be unjust and in service of an oppressive regime. He started his professional career as Architect-in-Training at parastatal Eskom where he was very quickly promoted to senior architect within a short period of two years.

He left Eskom to enter the staff of the Department of Architecture at the University of Pretoria, quickly specialising in the architectural histories of African societies. Here he completed his M. Arch (cum laude) in 1993 and successfully defended his PhD Thesis entitled A corpus of early Ionic capitals in 2000. The new millennium brought new perspectives for Karel; he had entered into a partnership with Gerard Mark van der Waal and Dr Robert de Jong in 1999, founding a company, CULTMATRIX, in the process. It was through his work under the banner of CULTMATRIX that Karel was able to raise the bar in heritage management in South Africa. Karel, for CULTMATRIX, was the first to compose a Heritage Impact Assessment (HIA) under the then new National Heritage Resources Act (25 of 1999) for a proposed affordable housing development on Ponieskranz, outside of Pilgrims Rest. This HIA has recently been included in the Architectural Conservation in South Africa since 1994: 100+ Projects publication (2014. A Herholdt, ed.) His numerous HIA's, many for sensitive sites such as the Union Buildings grounds, remain today as standard-setting for the South African heritage fraternity. A clear theme in his work, even as consultant, is that of listening. Karel was very sensitive to the intangibles of place, culture and community, always spurring on his associates to higher levels of consciousness of these aspects.

In 2004 CULTMATRIX was commissioned to compose the Vredefort Dome Cultural Heritage Survey And Conservation Management Plan, Karel's first venture into the World Heritage Arena. He was soon invited by ICOMOS (The International Council on Monuments and Sites, an official advisory body to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee) to undertake various advisory and monitoring missions and advise in general with regards World Heritage and quickly became the 'go-to' person for ICOMOS in Southern Africa. As early as 2004 he was invited to review the ICOMOS Ename Charter on Interpretation of Heritage Sites, a charter that is now internationally accepted and implemented. He was engaged in the management of the Aapravasi Ghat WHSite and nomination and management of the Le Morne WHSite as well as the UNESCO Slave Route Monument in Mauritius, and soon became highly regarded in that country. In South Africa he contributed to Robben Island, Vredefort Dome and the Richtersveld WHSites. Stone Town of Zanzibar and Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara in Tanzania occupied him for more than five years, starting in 2008. In 2010 he was requested to advise the international community with regards the reconstruction of the Muzibu-Azaala-Mpanga Tombs of the Buganda Kings at Kasubi, Kampala Uganda and in the same year started his engagement with the heritage management and impact assessment of the new port development adjacent to the World Heritage Site at Lamu, Kenia. He was directly commissioned directly by UNESCO to conduct the Heritage Impact Assessment for the Lamu Deep Water Port project, a task during which he again stressed the value of engagement with community. In late 2013 he was tasked with an advisory mission to the World Heritage nominated Barotse Land Cultural Landscape, Zambia. Karel was committed to the idea of 'living heritage' - a continually self-modulating heritage as part of a continuum of people's engagement with their environments and played a crucial role in creating support for the UNESCO Historic Urban Landscapes approach. Karel undertook much of the above-mentioned while serving as head of department of the Department of Architecture at the University of Pretoria. Affectionately known as 'Prof' in the department, he carried out his duties here with humility and an awareness of his responsibilities, especially in nurturing the strong contextual and construction traditions of the Department.

His door was always open to staff and students alike. No one was insignificant in his eyes. He was always ready to listen, and very slow to judge. His was a leadership of support, compassion, solidarity, a seeking of solutions, grasping of future potential and seeking opportunities for advancement of others. Staff and students remember him for his kindness and warm fatherly guidance. Karel also contributed continuously to the activities of SAIA. He was passionate about the Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) process, a system for allowing of promotion of architectural professionals outside of formal academic streams, based on their knowledge and experience and chaired the SAIA committee tasked with developing this system (which is unfortunately still awaiting implementation). He served on various SAIA committees, Adjudication Panels of Awards of Merit and SACAP Validation Panels. On 14 November 2014 the Pretoria Institute for Architecture awarded him (with Prof Roger FISHER and Nicholas CLARKE) the 2014 President's Award for "their contribution to heritage in Pretoria and South Africa as well as their publication Eclectic ZA Wilhelmiens - a shared Dutch Heritage in South Africa", a book published in September of this year.

His ambitions were always aimed at the advancement of the greater good. He dreamt of establishing a fully-fledged Heritage Unit at the Department of Architecture, which would, among others, engage in vocational training of specialist restoration craftsmen, through real-world projects. His ambitions helped build the architectural drawing repository at the Department of Architecture; one of his last achievements at the department being to secure additional funding for the maintenance of the archive. Despite his academic and other engagements, Karel remained a family man, with a small but intimate circle of friends. His stoicism and courage when faced with the diagnosis of cancer was and still is an inspiration to those who knew him. His passing has been reported and mourned by UNESCO, ICOMOS International, the Commonwealth Association of Architects and ArchiAfrica. In his last formal communication to his colleagues at the Department of Architecture, Karel reiterated his belief that ...humanity is yet evolving towards greater shared values, rather than ever greater division and separation, and that we can in our time spent together have received the abilities to inspire each other to achieve incredible things to be put at the service of our fellow human beings.

Written By: Nicholas CLARKE on behalf of SAIA


Homage to Karel

Some organisations represented by those present at the Memorial Service held in the Mokha Restaurant, National Botanical Gardens, Pretoria:
Joe Addo [practitioner, Ghana]
South African Council for the Architectural Profession:
Phil Mashabane - Past President and Councillor
Ms Marella O'Reilly - Registrar
University of Pretoria:
Prof Sunil Maharaj - Dean, Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology
Prof Nico Sauer - Past Dean (Retired) of The Faculty of Science
Prof Tinus Maritz - Head of the School for the Built Environment
Prof Chrisna du Plessis - Construction Economics [past student]
SA Schools of Architecture:
Prof Alta Steenkamp - University of Cape Town [past student]
Prof 'Ora Joubert - Extraordinary Professor, University of the Free State [past colleague and predecessor as Head, UP]
Prof Amanda Breytenbach - Head of Interior Design, University of Johannesburg [past student]
Prof Finzi Saidi - Head of Architecture, University of Johannesburg [past colleague]
Prof Amira Osman - Associate Professor, University of Johannesburg [past colleague and doctoral promotee]
Prof Dieter Holm, Professor Emeritus, Architecture, University of Pretoria [past head and promotor]
Prof Roger Fisher - Acting Head, University of Pretoria
Prof Sieg Schmidt - Head of Architecture, University of Tshwane
Prof Gerald Steyn - Research Professor, University of Tshwane
Prof Paul Kotze - Past Head, University of the Witwatersrand
South African Institute of Architects
Ms Su Linning - Past Chief Executive Officer (retired)
Pretoria Institute of Architects:
Faan Nel - President [past student]
Ms Mauneen van Wyk - Executive Officer
Heritage Organisations:
Herbert Prins - South African Heritage Association, Egoli Heritage
James Ball - Heritage Portal



Roger C Fisher

Karel has been honoured by the leadership of the organisations on which he served, many of them represented by those here in attendance.

I speak of Karel as one who has known him for nigh on forty years as fellow student, architect, academic, heritage practitioner, but chiefly as friend and colleague.

Because of our long years of association, he and I have spent many hours in discussion ranging across a vast number of topics, although, with Karel, these were seldom mundane.

I wish here to honour his legacy in contributing to the underlying metaphysical stance of the the Department of Architecture at the University of Pretoria.

He joined the Department at the same time as I in June of 1986. Since Karel lived down the road from me at the time he would often offer me a lift in the morning. The intense discussions on the brief trips were most fruitful in the formation of our thinking, hence our post graduate studies and inevitably our teaching, especially in the presentation of the history of architecture coursework in which we were both engaged.

It must be acknowledged that the stimulous came from Professor Dieter Holm, then Head of Department and promotor to both of our post-graduate studies.

The title of Karel's Master's - and I choose this as being representative of his thinking - is 'Die formulering van 'n vindingsmodel vir die ekologie van die Ioniese argitektoniese kapiteel' [The formulation of a founding model for the ecology of the Ionic architectural capital].

Let us deconstruct this title into its constituent concepts:
Formulation - a strategy towards a goal, but not through a single act but a process. That was, I believe, a characteristic and abiding strategy of Karel's - the following of process but through stochastic [a word Karel enjoyed and used] means. In other words there was purpose and goals but no direct aim at a pinpoint target.
A founding model - Karel always searching for roots and guiding principles which could serve many purposes under many circumstances. His desire was to get at essences - the thingness of things.
Ecology of the artefact - for me this is the crux of Karel's thinking. It lies at the core of his contribution to the metaphysical stance of the Department of Achitecture at the University of Pretoria, and I would add his unique contribution to the discipline of architecture.

He used the word 'ecosystemic'. He did not coin the term, but borrowed it from the discipline of psychology, the field of his wife Terri Bakker, and I am sure through her influence instrumental to his thinking. It is since used and still there in the stated ethos of the Department.

It implies that:
nothing exists in isolation
all things emerge from the environment of their creation
hence all things reflect the mind of their creator
something of the thinking of the ideas and mind of their creator is embodied in the artefact
if one can decode the artefact one can access the meaning conveyed therein
in finding meaning one can reanimate the past in the present
in making that meaning explicit the past enriches and makes more meaningful the present.

I believe that his concern with matters of heritage was not so much that of an archaeologist but as a humanitarian. For him history was not an abstraction of a dead past, but a distillation of and an extraction from the past into the living present. He wished to understand the past and its peoples profoundly, but so as to discern our appreciation of present peoples, both for their common humanity and richness of diversity.

This Karel did - gently, with dignity, deep humanity and I would add humility but with a hugely intelligent mind, great caring and commitment.

We feel the loss, the great vacuum of someone gone from the world of architecture and its education but in particular, and more importantly, our world.

Karel was taken too soon - as encumbant Head of the Department of Architecture at the University of Pretoria. But at whatever age and whichever stage of his life yet to be lived that would have been true.

We mourn the loss, miss his presence but celebrate his life and perpetuate his spirit and his ethos.

Thank you.

Roger C Fisher



An excerpt from the many tributes received from colleagues and friends from close by and afar alike:

"Most of us who knew him, will feel the emptiness and the void he has left in our hearts"

"He was a calm, soft-spoken and articulated personality, seldom agitated, always seeking common ground on which to build trust and relationships."

"An ideal professional for working in a multi-cultural context where much hinges on clarity and mutual understanding"

"Multi-talented, cultured and distinguished man"

"Deeply missed by those he touched with his life"

"Voorbeeld van innemendheid en meelewendheid"

"Steady, steadfast and quiet presence" "Generous with his time"

"Dedicated his life to everything he touched"

"Acute mind — quiet and diligent presence"

"Warmest most thoughtful person I have met in a long time"

"Looked to for inspiration and guidance"

"With us he has always defended values of respect, understanding and dialogue."

"May I also join the chorus of hundreds of colleagues and friends, who will mark this day with great shock, misery and heavy hearts"


Robert de Jong

It is with great sadness that I wish to inform the Australia ICOMOS Secretariat about the passing away of Prof Karel Bakker on 19 November 2014. Karel was a full professor at and head of the Department of Architecture in the Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology at the University of Pretoria. He was also recognised as a heritage expert through his work for the International Council for Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), the UNESCO World Heritage Centre and ICCROM.

Through his involvement with these bodies he had the opportunity to meet with and work together with members of Australia ICOMOS and other Australian heritage practitioners. He was also a member of the Editorial Board for Historic Environment.

On a personal level I experience the immense loss of a great friend, respected colleague and valued business associate.

Robert de Jong (Australia ICOMOS accessed 2014 12 02)



The World Heritage Centre expresses its condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Professor Karel Bakker from the Department of Architecture, University of Pretoria (South Africa), and a long-time collaborator on World Heritage, who passed away on 19 November 2014.

Prof. Bakker contributed to numerous World Heritage missions, Heritage Impact Assessments, training workshops, meetings, and publications, which raised the bar high for heritage conservation, especially in the Africa region. He was instrumental in developing and raising awareness about the Historic Urban Landscape approach, which was adopted by the UNESCO General Conference as a ‘Recommendation’ in November 2011.

Karel will be greatly missed by the World Heritage Centre and by the World Heritage community, who have looked to him for guidance and inspiration over the years.

(UNESCO News accessed 2014 12 02)

Books by BAKKER

Bakker, Karel A, Clarke, Nicholas J & Fisher, Roger C. 2014. Eclectic ZA Wilhelmiens : A shared Dutch built heritage in South Africa. Pretoria: Visual Books

Entries in books by BAKKER

Bakker, Karel. Singita Lebombo-Sweni Lodges. In 10 years + 100 buildings : Architecture in a Democratic South Africa. 2009. Bell-Roberts Publishing

Bakker, Karel. Ella Street Houses. In 10 years + 100 buildings : Architecture in a Democratic South Africa. 2009. Bell-Roberts Publishing

Bakker, Karel. Reflection on World Heritage practice. In Festschrift in honour of O.J.O. Ferreira. 2010. Adamastor

Bakker, Karel. The 'Departement Publieke Werken'. In Eclectic ZA Wilhelmiens : A shared Dutch built heritage in South Africa. 2014. Visual Books