The Visual University

Historic Hiddingh Campus

In September 2011, Second Year Fine Art Students were asked to engage with the historic archive that is Hiddingh Campus as part of their Core Drawing Intervention Project. Initiated by Fritha Langerman, and taught by Julia Rosa Clark, the project encourages students to engage with the contemporary and historical spatial dynamics and significances of their immediate campus environment through investigation, observation, mapping, archival research and art making.

Works of art, in the form of performance or intervention (temporary installations or disruptions), are then devised in response to this research and presented in situ across campus. Students are also asked to consider forms of documentation -ways of recording and archiving– these temporary artworks through the use of moving image, photography, text, anecdote and other means. Hiddingh Campus is centrally located on Orange Street, at the foot of Table Mountain, in close proximity to the historic Mount Nelson Hotel, Labia Cinema, Government Avenue, SA Museum, Iziko National Gallery and the Company’s Gardens. It is home to the oldest extant structure of the University of Cape Town, The Egyptian Building, now housing sculpture workshops and studios. This striking Neo-Classical building was completed and officially opened in 1841 on land granted by Sir Benjamin D'urban. It is the first building to be built for the express purpose of higher education in South Africa. Professor A.N.E Changuion, whose textbooks were some of the first published in South Africa, began the first classes in this new school location with a mere sixteen students. The University of Cape Town was actually established twelve years earlier, founded in 1829, as the South African College, a high school for boys based in the Orphanage off Long Street.

The Orange Street location of the Egyptian building had been a Zoo, in the late eighteenth century, replete with lion’s dens and a small lake that supposedly housed a hippo! After the move from Long Street in 1841, the College, saw its small tertiary-education facility grow substantially –particularly after 1880, when the discovery of gold and diamonds in the north, and the resulting demand for skills in mining - gave it the financial boost it needed.

The College developed into a fully-fledged university during the period 1880 to 1900, thanks to increased funding from private sources and the government. Over that time a number of structures where built on this Orange Street quadrant of land including, amongst others, Hiddingh Hall (funded by the bequest of Dr W. Hiddingh in 1911), The Zoology and Botany Building (at present, named the Michaelis Building housing general Fine Art & Painting studios), The Physics Laboratory (currently part of the Drama Department), The Chemistry Laboratory (now functioning as The Little Theatre), the Commerce Building (still named such, but housing sculpture studios and rehearsal rooms) and the Anatomy & Pathology Building (now known as the Old Medical School Building, home to ARC and CCA). The Quad Building, whose function has changed many times since its construction (on the site of a former slave lodge), now houses amongst other things the Michaelis Galleries.

Many of the buildings on this campus where designed in the office of famous architect, Herbert Baker, and their plans can be found in the Baker Collection, in Manuscripts & Archives.


UCT Website

The History of the SA College: 1829-1918 (2 volumes), by William Ritchie (Maskew Miller, Cape Town, 1918)

The History of the University of Cape Town 1928-1948: The Formative Years, by Howard Phillips.

In the shadow of Table Mountain. A history of the University of Cape Town Medical School. JH Louw. 1969. Struik, Cape Town. 

Hiddingh Hall library part 1
Hiddingh Hall library part 2