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Tuscan villas the rage in South Africa, but many architects are appalled.
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – Long characterized by grassy hills and flat-top mine dumps, the high plateau that is the center of South Africa’s economic and political life has welcomed an unexpected addition to its landscape of late: Tuscan villas.
In recent years, Tuscany-inspired architecture has been the style of choice for many South African suburbanites and guesthouse operators seeking to add a dose of European refinement to their dwellings. Terracotta-colored walls, tiled roofs and cobblestone driveways have mushroomed across the region surrounding Johannesburg and Pretoria, even leading some to rename the South African capital “Little Tuscany.”
The “Boere Toskaans” architectural fad has not converted everyone, however. Local architects argue that the design is inadequate for the local climate, inauthentic or simply ugly.
“I think it’s horrendous,” said Kate Otten, a Johannesburg-based architect. “Tuscany itself is a completely beautiful place of the world, and what they call Tuscan architecture here is not architecture and it’s certainly not Tuscan.”
From the moment Dutch colonists settled in the Cape more than 350 years ago, South Africa’s architecture has been strongly influenced by imported styles. Some local designs developed as a result, such as Cape Dutch houses with their thatched roofs and elegant white facades. The trend has intensified recently, with architectural motifs from Spain, Bali and Provence all finding their ways in South African homes, but no region has provided more inspiration to local home builders than the homeland of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.
No one knows for sure when the Tuscan trend started, but Steve Howell says that the gaming, shopping and restaurant complex he manages has had a lot to do with it. Montecasino, located north of Johannesburg, was built in 2000 as a replica of a typical Tuscan village. The resort proved extremely popular with locals, providing them both an escape and inspiration, Howell said.
“Ever since we built Montecasino, we’ve seen a proliferation of these townhouse complexes,” Howell said. “I think we were actually a catalyst for a lot of that Tuscan architecture.”
Howell makes no apologies for the fact that the resort’s architecture, like that of any themed-casino, is fake, but he said Montecasino’s architects took extraordinary measures to make sure the result was as close as possible to the original: photographing Tuscan buildings for three months and going as far as painting bird droppings on rails for authenticity’s sake. Lesly Tshiredo, who works at the casino’s management office, has never been anywhere close to Tuscany. “But I feel like I’ve been,” he said gesturing toward the complex’s rampart.