Bio’s of Chairmen

Brief Biographies of Past Chairs Since Inception
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JAMES WALTON 1964 - 1968

The founder and spiritual father of the Vernacular Architecture Society is James Walton, O.B.E.

Before his arrival in Southern Africa as deputy of education in Lesotho in 1947, he had made a name for himself as founder and honorary life member of the Vernacular Architecture Group in Great Britain.

After his move to Cape Town he took the initiative to start a similar association here, of which he was the first chairman and later also its honorary life president. He was also the recipient of numerous civic and academic honours.

Walton’s eleven books and over two hundred papers are all pioneering efforts in their own field, which is the study of truly ‘folk’ and not just ‘historical’ architecture and structures.
They include Homesteads and Villages of South Africa (1952),Water-mills, Windmills and Horse-mills of South Africa (1974), The Josephine Mill and its Owners (1978), Cape Dovecots and Fowl-runs (1985), Double-storeyed, flat-roofed Buildings of the rural Cape (1993).

Most appropriately Walton concluded his vernacular studies by publishing A Tribute to the Donkey, the material for which is housed, together with much of the fruits of his scholarship, in the archives of Stellenbosch University.

Though he was not a trained architect, his publications are all illustrated with his own inimitable pen-sketches, which the Society is privileged to be able to use. Click here for a full biography

GAWIE FAGAN 1969 - 1970


‘’Dit is onmoontlik om van erfenis en bewaring in die Kaap te praat sonder om Gawie se naam te noem. Sy naam en die restorasies van dorpe en geboue – klein of groot is byna sinoniem.’
He was a founder member, leading many memorable journeys of discovery in searching for vernacular heritage, which her recorded in wonderfully composed photos, and the tectonics of these simple structures have inspired the modern architecture for which Gawie is renowned, as he is for the restoration work that encompasses villages like Tulbagh and the Castle of Good Hope.” Andre van Graan

‘’His greatest contribution is his ability to translate his love for the landscape, old and new architecture, sailing, flying and great machines into a personal architectural language. By being passionate about his own life and place in the world he makes a valuable contribution to a diversity of expressions that build our national architectural identity.’’ Heinrich Wolff

‘’Hy is uit die grond opgebou … lief  vir die Sanveld, die see, en Afrikaans, die taal van die grond, van klippe, van klei, die taal van daga, geelhout en vleiriet.’’  Hans Fransen
See VASSA Special Edition in celebration of Gawie’s 80th Birthday 2005

HANS FRANSEN 1971


Art and architecture historian and author of seminal books on South African architecture such as the definitive The Old Houses of The Cape  and The Old Buildings of the Cape co-authored with Mary Cook; The Old Buildings of the Cape (2004) and Old Towns and Villages of the Cape (2006), as well as standard reference works, including Guide to the Museums of Southern Africa (1978), Three Centuries of South African Art (1982),  A Cape Camera (1994), plus his recent Erik Laubscher, a Life in Art (2009).

He has been involved in arts, culture and conservation since immigrating from Holland in 1955 – as curator of the Stellenbosch and Groot Constantia museums, assistant director of the SA National Gallery and until retirement, director of the Michaelis Art collection.

As well as a doctorate from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, he was awarded an honorary D.Phil. by the University of Stellenbosch and a knighthood by the Netherlands for his pioneering work. The fieldwork for one book alone which covers over 5 000 buildings and includes 700 photographs, required travelling 25 000 km by car and 5 000 km by bicycle. Good thing that he’s a veteran of six Comrades Marathons and seventeen Argus Cycle Tours!

GRAEME BINCKES 1972 - 1978 & 1981 - 1986


Born and bred in Cape Town, Graeme’s steadfast professional focus on local heritage and vernacular issues throughout his architectural career garnered him the Cape Times Award for his lifetime achievements and distinction in the field of the environment, culture and the arts.

He was the first director of the Cape Town Heritage Trust from 1987 – 1995, took part in the formation of Captrust alongside Dr. Anthony Hall and was instrumental in forming the National Trust of South Africa.
He  provided a thought provoking paper entitled Architectural Conservation in South Africa: The Cape Town Heritage Trust and its Proposal for a National Trust of South Africa, which considered the role and future for conservation, its legislation and the work of non-governmental organizations, and the need to integrate conservation with others facets of social life.

During his long working association with KMH Architects he was involved in the refurbishment of several historical buildings, such as UCT’s Jamieson library and the SA Library, and one of his civic legacies was taking on the Public Works Department to prevent the demolition of the Roeland Steet Gaol Gate House.
After being granted permission to attend the European Architectural Heritage Year in Amsterdam in 1975, (a rare privilege at the time) – he published Integrated Conservation, which applied international principles to local issues.

JOHN RENNIE 1979 - 1980


He’s a UCT graduate and former senior lecturer who has worked in general practice, with a bias towards conservation, in Cape Town and beyond. He’s been responsible for work to several important Cape homesteads as well as various city halls and the landmark Gilbert Scott Cathedral of St Michael and St George in his birthplace Grahamstown.

After graduating he assisted Gawie Fagan for four years and was with Revel Fox & Partners as a partner before attending the University of York Conservation Studies’ full-time post-graduate course, where he was the first South African to gain Diploma.

As compiler of the 1978 Cape Institute of Architects “Buildings of Central Cape Town” survey John has participated in the forefront of local building stocktaking and policy development for historic buildings and also contributed to the recently published “Walking Long Street.”

His practice Rennie Scurr Adendorff, has acted as principal agent on major civic and state projects, such as the Cape Archives, SAHRA’s head office, the East London City Hall, and Vergelegen homestead in Somerset West.

DAVID VAN DEN HEEVER 1987 - 1988


Graduating in architecture at UCT in 1964, he entered own practice in 1968 and later joined GAPP Architects as a director. He serves on the CPIA Heritage Committee, Cape Town Heritage Trust Committee and until recently, the Built Environmental and Landscape Committee of Heritage Western Cape (BELCOM).
David joined the Vernacs in 1974 at a time when senior heritage architects were in practice and considers himself very fortunate to have had outstanding individuals such as Gawie Fagan, Revel Fox, Dirk Visser and John Rennie as mentors and guiding lights, who enriched and deepened discussions relating to vernacular architecture.

He recalls that then, all heritage legislation was administered by the National Monuments Council (NMC). There was no difference between the grading of monuments or sites – a monument remained a monument once proclaimed. It was incumbent for bodies such as the NMC to play a supportive role when any heritage site or building was threatened. Now, the threat lives on!

JOANNA MARX 1989-1994

Her original training in natural sciences led to many years of biomedical research and academic editing. During her time in London in the sixties she developed an abiding interest in historical architecture which she followed up once back in Cape Town, by organising many excursions for VASSA.

Recruited by the NMC, she was responsible for heritage resources management in the Great and Little Karoo, Southern Cape and Overberg. She served on committees for large projects such as the Gamkaskloof Advisory Committee and the Cango Caves Scientific Advisory Committee.
When NMC was superseded by SAHRA, the emphasis shifted from preserving individual buildings to defining, retaining and enhancing the special qualities of places and cultural landscape. She maintained contact with conservation bodies and municipal officials locally and in country towns.

Her special interest in historical technology, engineering and industrial structures led to her involvement with Mostert’s Mill: she chaired the Friends of Mostert’s Mill (FoMM), a daughter of VASSA, established in 1993.  For decades she was a member of the Mills Section of the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) (UK) and The International Molinological Society (TIMS).

STEWART HARRIS 1995 - 1997


After qualifying as an architect at UCT, he worked in Cape Town, Johannesburg and London. For over a decade he was a Research Fellow at York University’s Institute of Advanced Architectural Studies, studying architects’ mid-career learning needs and developing a programme of in-office continuing education for the building sector.
He also taught on the University’s Architectural Conservation  course and was awarded a DPhil in 1985 for his study of architects’ learning methods.

Since returning to Cape Town in 1990 he has practised as a heritage consultant, specialising in historical research of Cape architecture, carrying out numerous studies of heritage buildings and places.
He regularly leads tours around the Table Valley for the Kloof Street Library and Friends of Welgemeend, and contributes to various committees such as the City Bowl Ratepayers Association and the Cape Institute of Architects.

ANTONIA MALAN 1998 - 2001


Historical archaeologist with a PhD from the University of Cape Town, she is a Research Associate in the Department of Archaeology at UCT.  A focus on household inventories of deceased estates of the 18th and 19th century Cape Colony lead to a deep interest in vernacular architecture and the spatial development of Cape Town and its hinterland. She directed a significant transcription project capturing archival papers from the VOC period and the first decades of British rule at the Cape, in collaboration with the national archives of the Netherlands.

As a free-lance archaeologist and heritage consultant, she works closely with the Archaeology Contracts Office at UCT, teaches part-time in inter-disciplinary programmes, and is actively involved in local heritage issues, sitting on statutory heritage committees. She is responsible for the Publications Portfolio of our Society.

ANDRE VAN GRAAN 2002 – 2009


André van Graan studied architecture at the University of Natal in Durban before obtaining a post-graduate diploma in conservation studies from the Polytechnic of Central London and his PhD in Architecture from UCT for his thesis Negotiating Modernism in Cape Town: 1918 – 1948.
He worked in the field of restoration in the UK prior to returning to South Africa – where  he is an associate professor in the Department of Architectural Technology at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, and also a practising architect.

Currently the president of the Cape Institute for Architecture and the chairman of its Heritage committee, he is a member of ICOMOS South Africa as well as the newly established Docomomo chapter and serves on the board of representatives of the South African Institute of Architects.

THYS HATTINGH 2010 - 2014


Thys Hattingh grew up in Swellendam and has a passion for historical architecture, antiques and Africana, which he collects.
He first studied Marketing Management and HTML coding for website development, later completing a certificate programme in Architectural and Urban Conservation at the University of Cape Town.
He’s been balancing his theoretical knowledge with practical experience, by his participation in the restoration of historical houses in Bonnievale, where he’s involved in the historical research and restoration of a Cape vernacular farmhouse.

Wearing another cap, he researched the historical gardens of Leeuwenhof, (the official residence of the premier of the Western Cape) and managed the gardens over a period of four years, re-introducing historical elements that had been lost or neglected.
He contributed to the documentation of the history of Woodstock by compiling a publication on a row of seven Victorian cottages in Melbourne Terrace, a declared heritage site, one of which he is the proud owner.