Thursday 8 September 2016, 16.30 – 18.00

Venue: Anatomy Lecture Theatre, The Centre for Curating the Archive, Hiddingh Campus

The 1938 Johannesburg ‘Town Planning Exhibition and Congress’: Testament, Monument and Indictment

In 1938, a group of architecture students at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, strongly influenced by their youthful lecturer Rex Martienssen, organised the only town planning exhibition ever to be held in South Africa. Under the influence of Martienssen, himself a disciple of Le Corbusier and the teachings of CIAM, the exhibition was steeped in heroic modernist thought. The exhibition presented a series of utopian perspectives on and designs for South African cities. Despite including a number of radical suggestions for urban restructuring, the exhibition accepted the prevailing segregationist model of the time, and even endorsed it with a design for a ‘Model Native Township’ in apparent Corbusian style.

Whilst striking and powerful in its imagery, and suggesting a buoyant, dynamic and assertive planning community at the time, the exhibition was completely disconnected from the then recently introduced institution of ‘town planning’, which carried rather different linkages with planning internationally. Less than four years after the exhibition, disillusionment with Le Corbusier, the death of two of the prime local proponents of his brand of city building, and disputes between other prominent leaders, saw the group splinter and shortly after break up. Within a decade of the exhibition, the National Party with its ideology of Apartheid came to power, and in parallel, a planning profession with a docile, technocratic, submissive and morally-suspect face, emerged. More than forty years passed before a revival of the utopianism of the 1938-exhibiton would be seen in planning in South Africa again.

In this talk, the run-up, contextual setting, proceedings and products of the Town Planning exhibition of 1938 are described. The exhibition’s relationship with the South African town planning profession, and its historical significance and impact, are discussed. The talk concludes with a brief engagement on the absence of major planning exhibitions since the 1938-event, despite the post-1994 ‘new era’ of progressive planning thought and practice.

Mark Oranje is Professor and Head of the Department of Town and Regional Planning at the University of Pretoria. His key areas of research and consulting are planning policy, planning history, strategic planning, regional development and the interface between mining and settlement development. Over the last twenty-two years, Mark has authored and co-authored numerous academic papers, articles, chapters in books and technical reports and acted as a consultant to a number of national and provincial departments, municipalities, NGOs, planning commissions, science councils and private companies on a wide range of issue related to his above areas of interest.

For further information, kindly contact Nancy Dantas at 021 650 7151 /

See the event poster here.