Architects Against Apartheid (AAP)


Architects Against Apartheid (AAP)

"Ideas, talked about yet unthinkable on one day, acquire life in the next, while other ideas, which had seemed solid fact, pass out of reality." Lewis Namier in Vanished Supremacies.

The events surrounding AAP belong to what seems like a distant era when the government could summarize its policy in a striking sentence: "We lay the table and those who won't sit down can do without." (1977)

The 1980's were a period of intermittent reforms — a period of endless waiting with spectacular hints followed by draconian measures and long periods of deep freeze. All around deeply entrenched behavioural patterns seemed impervious to argument. The ad hoc reforms that did materialize were as Businness Day commented (May 1986) confined within a set of racist assumptions complemented by legislation such as the notorious Group Areas Act. It was such measures that prevented architecture from being an autonomous apolitical activity, as claimed by many in the architectural establishment or by the lack-luster reformists in the profession.

This was the period when the United Democratic Front (UDF) was mobilizing support on the 10th anniversary of the 1976 tragedy in Soweto. Many professional groups were openly challenging government policies — especially the doctors and lawyers. As a profession the architects, though, were as quiet as mice, Many were too busy nibbling away at the great apartheid cheese, preoccupied with all those structures of separate development such as segregated "homelands", learning institutions, vast complexes for the proliferating bureaucracies, police headquarters where the writ of habeas corpus did not apply, resettlements from Pageview and District Six and palaces tor tin-pot dictators.

Earty in 1986 the architect Hans SCHIRMACHER went from office to office contacting a handful of colleagues in order to do something about the situation. SCHIRMACHER, the recipient of an award of merit from the establishment was a hater of racism as well as an impatient, mercurial and flamboyant personality. Thus was Architects Against Apartheid born, metamorphosed into AAP, in an inspired abbreviation by Ivan SCHLAPOBERSKY. Immediately AAP took on a personality and momentum of its own leading to what the [then] present Editor of Architectur SA [Piet DE BEER] remembers as a "big event" occurring in his formative days. Among the core names that come to mind are Henry PAINE, Ivan SCHLAPOBERSKY, Clive CHIPKIN, Hylton SMITH, Hans SCHIRMACHER, Jeff STACEY, Berry GOULD, Lindsay BREMNER, Tony WILKINSON, Ishwar DAYABHAI and Angus GREIG. Students like Clifford ELK and Chris DE PLESSIS [sic DU PLESSIS?] were to become enthusiastic supporters. Active support in The Weekly Mail was provided by Melinda SILVERMAN a fellow Architect and sympathizer.

This informal pressure group challenged their colleagues to support radical changes to the Architects' Act of 1970 and the Code of Conduct of the Institute of South African Architects. AAP members tried to make colleagues aware of how the gross application of apartheid ideology to architecture was distorting the moral and ethical basis of the profession in South Africa. In addition, AAP was particularly disturbed by members of the Institute's hierarchy travelling overseas to put South Africa's case against expulsion from international bodies and the RIBA, arguing that the profession in South Africa did not discriminate on the basis of race and that our architectural schools were open to all, despite the fact that barely a single African graduate had emerged from these institutions. They were disturbed, too, by the Institute extending an invitation to the Administrator of the Transvaal, Mr Cruywagen, as an "honoured guest" to present the Awards of Merit.

At the end of March, AAP was finalising its famous Green Manifesto1. Soon after, this was sent out to every architect in the Transvaal, from the large cities to the remotest areas, wherever architects were in practice. In essence this Declaration must be seen as a grand gesture against the State's racist legislation and the draconian methods needed to enforce these measures. After receiving a 158 signatories calling for a "General Assembly", the Transvaal Provincial Institute under Mr AL VAN DER WESTHUIZEN, was eventually prevailed upon to call a Spedal General Meeting, but not before events were prolonged by a lengthy correspondence with a strong comic-opera flavour.

The Special General Meeting was called specifically to discuss the AAP resolution which in essence would make it unethical for architects to:

  1. Design any buildings restricted for use on the grounds of race.
  2. Design any building (other than housing) in the so-called "homelands" which would promote the policy of Separate Development
  3. Design any building which would assist in enforcing apartheid eg. police stations, law courts, prisons, etc.

The meeting which was closed to the public and the media, took place on a cold winter's day at the Great Hall of the Johannesburg College of Education in the late afternoon of 7 July 1986. The AAP resolution was a bombshell for the profession. Architects were bussed in from all over the Transvaal, from as far afield as Potchefstroom, Pietersburg and Nelspruit. All the government planning agencies were represented. The hall was filled by a capacity crowd of approximately 700 members2. Mr A L van der WESTHUIZEN, President of the Provincial Institute and Chairman of the meeting, was presiding over an event unprecedented in the history of this professional body.

To a barrage of interruptions and cries of "politics", Hans SCHIRMACHER was barely able to speak to the AAP resolution and Clive CHIPKIN to second the motion. Immediately Mr VAN DER WESTHUIZEN permitted a counter resolution from the floor which proposed in a single memorably ungrammatical sentence, that the AAP resolution "be not put". This was carried by approximately 300 votes to 200.

The meeting was brought to an abrupt halt. The victors were jubilant. The remainder left the hall bewildered. Many of those who voted against the termination of the meeting were not supporters of the AAP proposals but acted in favour of fair play. Others, from major practices, were waiting in the wings to propose amendments that "would have toned down the original (proposals)" and emasculated AAP's intentions.

Hans SCHIRMACHER, Jeff STACEY and Leon VAN SCHAIK resigned from the Institute in disgust. Others withheld payment of their membership dues or turned their backs on the Institute and its activities.

The subsequent events are worth recording as we doubt whether they have ever been published before. Two days after the meeting the Security Police visited the TPI offices at Northwards and removed a list of names of the supporters of the AAP resolution. At this stage we are not ready to reveal how the names of the supporters were identified. Hans SCHIRMACHER's home in 6th Avenue, Melville, was visited by the Security Police and for a while Hans went into hiding before leaving for overseas. Other members suffered prolonged harassment through phone tapping, surveillance, night calls, death threats at 2am in the morning and even a campaign of disinformation.

Both SCHIRMACHER and VAN SCHAIK left the country. AAP regrouped to become a foundation member of the human rights organization, the Five Freedoms Forum. AAP members realized that paying any further they decided to channel their energies to an alternative purpose. Under the Chairmanship of Ivan SCHLAPOBERSKY the members started an architectural drafting school in the Alexandra Arts Centre in Alexandra Township which has continued to give classes to the present day under the current Chairman, Clive CHIPKIN, and Henry PAINE.

In retrospect, and from the vantage point of 1994, the AAP resolution seems quite mild and the hullabaloo it caused quite unnecessary. Events have overtaken us and the revolution has happened anyway without the assistance of architects. It would be interesting to know though, how many of the indignant "fat cats" who threw out the AAP resolution or the "liberal" case putters who were spared the discomfort of voting against it on that cold winter afternoon in 1986, have crossed the threshold of the ANC offices to present their plans for the structures of the New South Africa. It nothing else, it would show how adaptable we are as a profession.


  1. The final draft is dated 3 April 1986.
  2. We were informed at the time that attendance exceeded 700, but some reports spoke of 600.