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Diane Ghirardo: Architecture and Identity in Apartheid Cape Town (January 15, 2003)59:08

Dora Epstein Jones introduces Diane Ghirardo, discussing her contributions to the understanding of architecture, urbanism, and the social realm in Los Angeles. She praises Ghirardo’s books Out of Site and Architecture After Modernism for engaging not only architecture’s aesthetic aspect, but its economic and social realities.

Ghirardo begins her lecture with an explanation of the geography of Cape Town and discusses the difficulties in assessing history and the associated populations due to unavailability of official records. She discusses the history of the place in relationship to political changes and policies implemented and their role in shaping the neighborhood. The area was always more defined by economic status than ethnicity, housing a diverse population. Additionally, the urban layout and housing types changed over time. These transitions are described in order to challenge distortions that Ghirardo identifies as having smoothed over complexities and fabricating an identity for the place.

Ghirardo continues her lecture by focusing on the Bo-Kaap district, usually identified as a Muslim or “Malay” neighborhood. She relates the history of apartheid in South Africa and discusses the segregation of the population into three categories: white, colored, and native. This process was accompanied by “redevelopment” agendas which cleared and destroyed areas considered slums. Individual politicians placed value in renovating the Bo-Kaap rather than leveling it, but to justify this politically, the history of the site was revised to focus on the Muslim presence, and eliminate the memory of other populations.

Ghirardo concludes her lecture by discussing Bo-Kaap as the current center of the gay community in Cape Town, and suggests that these roots are long standing and played a role despite their absence in the narrative. The politician responsible for saving the area from demolition was reportedly gay and Ghirardo suggests that his personal investment was the motivation for his forceful protection. But in order to save the area from destruction, he helped to fabricate a history palatable to the other politicians of the day, a narrative which eliminated the diversity of the area.

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