THE BROKEN TEMPLE, Bellville

Even before 1994, Anton Marais had designed the Broken Temple.  Like the architect Jan van Wijk [Afrikaans Language Monument, Paarl; The University Area Church, Pretoria], there are prophetic elements in the work.  I don’t speak as an architect, nor as anyone knowledgeable.  I speak about this because I must.

The Broken Temple, Edward St, Durbanville blvd, Bellville

The Broken Temple, Edward St, Durbanville blvd, Bellville

It has been years of driving past the Temple on Durbanville  Boulevard, Bellville.  Sometimes, I interpret the building;  sometimes, it’s just poetry.  If the columns are not Doric, Ionic or Corinthian, probably pressure from the builders, it is the pediment that seizes my attention.

Rotonda by Palladio

                         Rotonda by Palladio

The Greek pediment is probably the best-known motif in Western architecture.  From Palladio (1508 – 1580), considered  by some as the most influencial architect, the pediment became standard.  Globally, it remains the icon of the West.  I was surprised when, neighbouring curled-roof edifices in the middle of Seoul, I saw a massive building with pediment-and-pillars.

East meets West in Seoul, South Korea

          East meets West in Seoul, South Korea

Marais’s Temple has a broken pediment.  In itself this is not unusual in the evolution of the motif.  Baroque architects broke the pediment with regularity.  But the difference is – the most striking aspect of Anton Marais’s work –  that the architects of the past “broke” the pediment symmetrically.  He does not.

Architect as prophet

                               Architect as prophet

One can see the asymmetrical breaking of the pediment as playful, typically post-modern.  Would that have been Anton Marais’s motivation?  Only that?  Or is there more?   This building makes me think of a great poem or a painting:  interpretations keep descending.

Does this design suggest a break with Western culture?  In this, there are positive and negative implications.  Will Southern Africa expand creatively into something new and surprising?  “Always something new out of Africa,” says Pliny, the Roman historian.  Or will South Africa lose Western traditions and, for the foreseeable future, become facelessly international?

Architecture as paradox

                   Architecture as paradox

I think it’s the paradox of the Broken Temple that makes it an important statement.  That it is asymmetrical, a planned off-balance, takes me to the concept of perpetual motion:  is this Temple being built or is the start of ruination?  Is the mathematical perfection of the pediment in question?  This design is and remains a question.  It is faithful to the Restless Greek that, for the past two and half millennia, has haunted our thought processes, pushing for rebirth again and again, a long tradition in Western culture.

 

 © Will van der Walt

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Somerset-West  /  Les Semboules, Antibes

January, 2017

 

Images

Villa Rotonda  – Wikipedia

 Seoul image, two photographs of Broken Temple, drawing – Will

 

 Dedicated to Mike Oberholzer

 

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