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The use of modernism in Afrikaner Protestant Church design in Cape Town's northern suburbs
The growth of Cape Town's northern suburbs during the first few decades of the twentieth century is closely related to the socio-economic history of local Afrikaners who, during this time, left the farms to seek employment in Cape Town's industrial areas. Most of them settled in or near these industrial areas, causing the expansion of the northern suburbs. The first railway line in Cape Town, which was inaugurated in 1862, passed through Bellville on its way from Cape Town station to its terminal point in Eersterivier. The first official station at Bellville was only built in 1882, however, and a stop in Parow only followed in 1903The first Bellville town council was established as recently as 1922 (Bergh, 2009: 5-6). This is an indication of how sparsely populated this area was at the time. The Dutch Reformed Church has traditionally played a central role in the cultural and spiritual life of Afrikaners, and consequently the establishment of Dutch Reformed churches in the northern suburbs stands in clear correlation to the growth of Afrikaner populations in these suburbs (see below). Because of the low population of the Parow and Bellville areas, Dutch Reformed Church members living there were initially part of the Cape Town congregation, and, from 1832 onward, part of the newly established Durbanville congregation. It is only in April 1900 when, in the Bellville area, numbers had increased considerably, that monthly services were held in a school building. By 1920 membership had grown so much that weekly services had to be held. In 1922 a church hall with 300 seats was inaugurated (Bergh, 2009: 7-8). Local services in Parow were only instituted in 1905, with the first church building, a Neo-Gothic structure, following in 1907. In 1917 a separate congregation was established in Parow (i.e. separate from the Durbanville mother congregation), with Bellville following suit in 1934. Goodwood congregation became independent in 1926, having separated from Parow (Van Lill, 1992: 6-9; Bergh, 2009: 8). In subsequent years, as numbers increased, numerous other congregations were established after separating from these three mother congregations, most of which built Modernist churches. The first Dutch Reformed church built in the Goodwood-Parow-Bellville area was the old Parow church. This building no longer exists, but it was built in the Neo-Gothic style which had been current throughout the 19th century, and which was still, at the beginning of the 20th century, the accepted traditional style (see Le Raux, 2008: 21). The Rondebosch Dutch Reformed church, for example, was built in this style during the last decade of the 19th century. (The southern suburbs, which include Rondebosch, had developed gradually over the previous three centuries, and by the early 20th century were well established, leaving relatively few prospects for working class Afrikaners to settle there). At the beginning of the 20th century, with the emergence of a nationalistic consciousness in the wake of the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), there was a fervent search for a 'true' Afrikaans church architecture. This search was lead and directed by Gerhard Moerdijk (1890-1958) and Wynand Louw (1883-1967). They emphatically rejected the Gothic style for various reasons. Firstly, because it was designed around the Roman Catholic liturgy and was therefore unsuitable for Protestant worship, and secondly, because it is historically identified with the growth and expansion of the Catholic Church and therefore also with the persecution of Protestants, including that of the Huguenots who fled to the Cape to become ancestors of many Afrikaners (Le Roux, 2008: 22). However, if this style was indeed so offensive to Huguenots because of its Catholic associations, it would possibly not have become so popular during the 19th and zo= centuries. These Neo-Gothic churches are, in fact, unmistakably Protestant in the austerity of their interiors which could not be mistaken for a Catholic Gothic church interior with its abundantly rich ornamentation and sacred imagery. Likewise, the exteriors of these Neo-Gothic churches are distinctly Protestant in their reserved use of ornamentation. Nevertheless, Gothic churches were originally designed around the Catholic liturgy and consequently their layout does not serve the Protestant liturgy well. Here Moerdijk makes a very valid point, and one which would be taken up by subsequent architects as well as writers (see Chapter Seven below). Moerdijk, in his published writings, upholds Classicism and the Renaissance as examples worthy of following (Le Roux, 2008: 22). The resulting new style which he and Louw pursued from the 1920s onwards, and which became enormously popular, is generally referred to as sentraalbou (due to its centralised floor plan) (see Le Roux, 2008: 25-28). Later writers on Afrikaner Protestant church design tend to stress the supposed Byzantine ancestry of this type of church (see below).
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