THE UNION BUILDING

 

SIR HERBERT BAKER

 

Herbert Baker was born on 9th June 1862 on the family farm in Cobham a small village near Kent in England. He was the fourth son of Thomas Henry Baker. As a boy walking and exploring the historical ruins found in the area were his favourite pastimes.

 

Bakerís father could not afford to send his nine children to school as a result Bakerís primary school education was not up to standard when he finally attended public school. Baker soon caught up and trained as an architect at the Royal Academy and Architectural Association and qualified in 1891.

 

In 1892 Herbert Baker arrived at the Cape of Good Hope. Soon after he arrived he met Cecil John Rhodes who sent him to Greece, Italy and Egypt to further his studies in classical Architecture. After which he returned to South Africa and began work in the Transvaal (now Gauteng).

 

Herbert Baker was a founder member of the Institute of Architecture in South Africa. He initiated many scholarships and completions and did much to further the building industry in South Africa.

 

Herbert Baker left South Africa for New Delhi, India in 1912. He was knighted for his design of the Legislative Building in New Delhi, Soon Afterwards Sir Herbert Baker returned to England where he continued practicing architecture until his death at eighty-four in the same house he was born in.

 

THE UNION BUILDING

 

FIGURE 1: The Union Building.

(www.op-reis.com/06%20afrika/ zuidafrika/pretoria.htm

)

 

 

In 1910 Herbert Baker was commissioned to design the Government Building of the Union of South Africa (which was formed on 31st May 1910) in Pretoria. Pretoria was to become the administrative centre for the new government. In November of 1910 the corner stone of the Union Building was laid.

 

Baker chose Meintjies Kop as the site for the design; he envisioned the design overlooking Pretoria in the same manner as Acropolis city of Athens, Greece. The site has a clear view of Salvo Kop. The site was a disused quarry; the existing excavations were used to create the amphitheatre. Ornamental pools, fountains, sculptures, balustrades and plants can be found within and surrounding the amphitheatre.

 

The design consists of two identical office blocks (Figure 1), which are joined by a semicircular colonnade forming the backdrop of the amphitheatre. The colonnade terminates on each side in two towers. The colonnade serves to unify the two blocks, symbolic of the union of the two white cultures (English and Afrikaans). The centre of the design is typically undemonstrative (Keath, p177) Baker rather emphasises the blocks on either side of the central entrance. Each offices block contains three inner courtyards providing light and air to the offices. Each block has a basement and three floors above ground. The central curved building behind the colonnade houses the committee rooms, a library and conference rooms while the basement contains the kitchen, dinning rooms and lounges.

 

The interior is treated in the Cape Dutch Style: carved teak fanlights, heavy doors dark ceiling beams contrasting with white plaster walls and heavy wood furniture.

 

Baker used indigenous materials as far as possible. The granite was quarried on site while Buiskop sandstone was used for the courtyards. Stinkwood and Rhodesian teak were used for timber and wood panelling. The roof tiles and quarry floor tiles were manufactured in Vereeniging.

 

The Union Building was completed in 1913, after Herbert Baker had left for New Delhi from where he returned home to England.

 

THE WOMENíS MONUMENT

 

The commission for a high-profile memorial commemorating the Women's March to the Union Buildings in August 1956 was awarded to the artist-architect collaborative team of Wilma Cruise and Marcus Holmes.

The design of the memorial is sensitive to the ideals and plans of Bakerís Union Buildings The design consists of an 'imbokodo' or grinding stone(Figure 1), placed in the vestibule of Bakerís design. The stone refers to the rally call used by the 20 000 women attending the March: "Wathint' Abafazi, wathint' imbokodo!" (Strike the woman, strike the rock).

FIGURE 1: The imbokodo or grinding stone (http://artthrob.co.za/00aug/news.html#monument

)

The imbokodo will rest on an octagonal base of bronze plates which is in keeping with Bakerís use of material and central architectural motif. The imbokodo, as a grinding surface for maize, represents sustenance and nurture, while the bronze plates represent earth and fire.

As one approaches the imbokodo, an infrared beam triggers 'the whispered voices' of history, the rallying cry softly repeated and echoed in the 11 official languages. The site is approached up two sets of stairs. Onto the stair risers Cruise and Holmes have imposed text in raised bronze letters, taken from the protest letter 'The Demand of the Women of South Africa for the Withdrawal of Passes for Women and the Repeal of the Pass Laws'.

 

FIGURE 2: The text imposed on the stairs.. (http://artthrob.co.za/00aug/news.html#monument

)

 

 

 

RESOURCES

HARTDEGEN, P. 1988.Our Building Heritage: An Illustrated Guide. Halfway House: Ryllís Publishing Company.

KEATH, M. Herbert Baker: Architecture and Idealism 1892-1913 The South African Years. Gibraltar: Ashanti Publishers.

SMITH, KATHRYN. ĎWilma Cruise and Marcus Holmes Awarded Commission for Women's Memorial at the Union Buildings, Pretoria.í
http://artthrob.co.za/00apr/news.html#cruise

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