Sixty-one regional winners were entered into the Corobrik SAIA Architectural Awards. Six projects received Awards for Excellence, the highest distinction that SAIA can confer on a project in South Africa; the research project, Nzasm Footsteps Along The Tracks, The Identified Extant Built Residue of the Nederlandsche Zuid-Afrikaansche Spoorweg Maatschappij (1887 – 1902) by Nicholas J Clark & Roger Fischer assisted by Siphiwe Simelane, University of Pretoria, was one of them.
This research work deals with, essentially, the rail infrastructure built by the Nederlandsche Zuid-Afrikaanse Spoorweg-Maatschappij in the former Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek over a period of thirteen years.
The bulk of the population might never think twice about the public and private infrastructure that they use daily. It is just accepted as part of the world that we inhabit. However, we might complain if it is not there or when it does not function properly. Infrastructure is, thus, mostly ‘invisible’ to most people. Why then this kind of research? Why then would the researchers draw our attention to the rail infrastructure that was built during this time? As partial answer to these questions it can be stated that it was precisely such ‘invisible’ actions as this that, coupled to the development of the mineral riches found in the Witwatersrand region, that set the foundations for South Africa’s modernization and entry into the world economy, beyond mere agricultural production. In other words, this infrastructure creation changed South Africa forever. Furthermore, large sections of this rail infrastructure are still in daily use assisting the country in its export trade while, sadly, significant parts of this legacy are allowed to decay. This reality of decay and neglect can take the away the possibility that the infrastructure can be used for the benefit for all. It simply needs an act of will to turn this tide around. This is what this important research publication suggests and pleads for.
This work was undertaken with the material support from the Dutch Government and by staff and students from the Department of Architecture of the University of Pretoria. It follows on from their important and respected publication called; Eclectic Wilhelmiens. Collectively these two publications form an intellectual unity that have created a trusted source of knowledge that did not exist before in this form.
This second publication being considered here is essentially a detailed inventory of the artifacts, big or small, that still exists. The publication describes and lists their importance and current condition. The impressive attention to detail with which this has been done, can only be admired. This systematic work has now been converted into an electronic format that is available to researchers and the general public. The research has also been presented locally and internationally. This work also sets a standard in international cooperation in the generation of knowledge. It is a kind of knowledge that, not only enrich our local discourse and methodologies, but also the international understanding of the effects of this kind of infrastructure.
What is also noteworthy regarding this excellent research project is how much we all can learn from it in order to understand our current infrastructural position and that which might come in the future.
The Corobrik SAIA Architectural Awards were held concurrently with AZA18, Africa’s premier urban cultural festival focused on architecture.