Thursday, July 19, 2007

Pretoria – a face brick heaven!

Pretoria used to give me the creeps! Pretoria was in my mind a white Boer place only, and a gust from the Apartheid past. I’m myself part of a mixed couple, and had quite a few incidents on my first trip to SA in 2000. Enough to become a racist myself… to the extent that I thought every single white person here was bastards from the Apartheid period. Now I’ve overcome that part (way over it, so don't worry!), and actually got some Boer friends, and thoroughly enjoy oxtail potjie. Pretoria still gives me the creeps though, and I’ve been wondering for a long time why?!

We have family in Pretoria, and had stopovers there on our once a year trips to South Africa. On these trips I have obviously developed an impression. I must stress though that this has nothing to do with our family in Pretoria (they are very nice and loving), and neither the area they live in (Waterkloof). Just the surrounding areas… I think?!

A couple of years ago though, I started to notice the extensive use of face brick in South Africa, and especially Pretoria. Face brick gives me an old fashion feeling… 70’s or thereabout I believe. I used to live in a face brick apartment block in Norway from the age of 4-8yo. They don’t make them there any more, coz it’s out of fashion. I guess my Norway trends are stuck in my head… and have a hard time adjusting to the building fashion here in SA.

I see all the vast fields with hundreds of identical houses. Small and basic low cost housing in some places, and fancier and more expensive in other places. All of them are in face brick though! It reminds me of the apartment blocks in Hungary. Our taxi driver from the airport pointed it out and said in a very dry tone of voice; “Russian Architects”! Russian architects and anything to do with Russia have a very low standing in Hungary and the other East Block countries. That was the communist regime inheritance in Eastern Europe. But hey, South Africa and ANC have got some solid communist roots too! Maybe the Russian architects came to SA also? Maybe some of the communist support from mother Soviet Union, or a major substantial part of it, was in fact building technique know-how?! Face brick experts!!

Why the hell did they have to make it all in face brick though?! South Africa must be extremely rich on resources needed for face brick production, never mind gold, platinum and diamonds! This is not a past phenomenon in South Africa. All over the place you see new complexes coming up in face brick. Not only low cost subsidized houses. In up market areas they also use face brick extensively?! ANC is still in power you see, and the communist engineers and face brick experts are not yet retired. The natural resources are far from exhausted either.

Reuben is a good friend and family member. A couple of years ago, I remember a property discussion with Reuben. A guy in the neighborhood had put up a massive big house, and the whole bloody thing was in face brick. About R2 a brick he said in complete awe. The number of face bricks was obviously a statement of wealth. Only I didn’t get it. The house belonged to an Indian fellow. That makes sense, as Indians are generally quite status oriented I’ve noticed. Their cars are usually styled up with everything available on the market… So a rich Indian guy’s house should of course be in face brick! Tons of face brick!!

I happened to mention my view on face brick for my wife some time ago. I think she saw my passion about it. Since I mentioned it though, she has also developed distaste for face brick. This is currently making things hard for us, as we are looking to find a place closer to her work in Hatfield, Pretoria. Except from the abundance of face brick, we don’t really know the area very well, so agents are taking us around for house viewings. By now we’ve seen a lot of Pretoria, only to confirm the vast use of face brick. We’ve actually been on the verge of ruling Pretoria out all together. Centurion is another place we’ve been trailing with agents. It’s closer than Fourways where we live at present. Centurion is yet another face brick heaven though!

Never mind my personal taste (coz I think it is damn ugly!!) but look at it fashion wise. Fashion comes and goes. It might not be as frequent fad as with clothes, but still. Face brick houses in South Africa, counting from the numbers, must have been built intensively since the 70’s at least. It never stopped though. It carried on and on, more and more face brick. If face brick was fashionable for a decade only (+/-), and gone in the mean time, then it would have been retro by now… and surly fashionable for some people yet again. But no – it’s been bloody 40 years of face brick only. Fashion doesn’t last that long, am I right?! 40 years of face bricks, that’s a hell of a lot if you put all of it in one pile. I wonder how long it took to build the pyramids in Egypt?! Those pyramids would be puny compared to the face brick mountain in this country. They should make the face brick towns in this country a new wonder. How sad that the voting for the 7 new wonders are over!! A wonder should be something positive though, so maybe it’s a good thing I wasn’t carried away earlier.

I know that face brick is low maintenance, but it still doesn’t justify it for me. We have decided to move “closer”, or in the “direction” of Pretoria though. I reckon it’s about 99,5% probability that we move into a face brick house. When we eventually buy a house, hopefully within a year, I reckon it’s about 90% chance that will also be a face brick house. You just can’t escape it!

In retrospect:

Since publishing this article I have tried not to think too much about face brick. On Saturday though, we were driving to Centurion... and had a relapse on the face brick subject. Somebody pointed out to me; "See Jonny, they're building a face brick house". I was pretty unaffected - really! A few seconds later though, when we passed another two towering face brick developments, I could feel the blood pressure rise again. What strikes me is that you don't have to look very hard to find a face brick house... or a new face brick construction site. It's right there in your face all the time!! Maybe that's how the inventor of face brick was visualizing it too?! He had a clear vision of making "the brick" that would replace everything else on the market and become the Coca Cola or Microsoft (in lack of a good enough example!) of construction. Vast areas with face brick houses as far as you can see... reminding you no matter where you turn. In your face all the time basically - and thus FACE brick!! I must admit that it's brilliant. Never mind Bill Gates and Donald Trump. I expect that this yet unnamed face brick king will top the richest man rankings any time soon!!


Anonymous said...

I don't think it's fashion, I think it's because it's cheap.

Jonny said...

Cheap when building also, or rather in the long run without any maintenance and stuff?! Hmmm... but I remember Reuben saying R2 a brick like there was a cheaper alternative..? Maybe I misunderstood. I will get to the bottom of that shortly!

Btw! I'm not THAT much against face brick... It's just.... boring. At least when there is so much of it everywhere.

Sleepless... on the way said...

I get the picture. But, as Salsa King would tell you, if you want to see genuine retro style, check out airports and other works of crucial infrastructure in the US.
As an Indian cabbie in NYC once said: "In this bloody country they don't know how to build anything properly" - and coming from a Delhi-born gentleman, you gotta take that seriously!
So, facebrick might just be the notch up communism has on capitalism. In any event it's a great equalizer: both rich and poor use it liberally. And finally, compared to Norway, at least you won't get termites eating up your wooden house...

Graham said...

In my previous life I lived in th Eastern Suburbs of Pretoria, not in a face brick house though. For me, its a maintenance thing. Cost of paint and labour in the log term is very expensive. Drain pipes, I can remember when new hoses had no drain pipes, and I thought that was "cheap", now its standard

Jonny said...

I guess it all boils down to maintenance and cost!

We found a new place BTW!!! We are very excited about it! Think the area is called Brooklyn... and you know what. It's NOT facebrick!

Anonymous said...

Congrats on the new place!!

2 bits of 2 cents.
Pretoria is a city i love, contrasting sharply with jhb, the air is different. To me it's africa, both as doorway and capital city. The people are friendlier, and more down to earth.

Enjoy staying there :)

I'd also double on the facebrick being low maintenance. No painting every 5 years, almost impossible to dirty it (i'm thinking kids and crayons) and has a warm feel, as opposed to a cold hard flat wall. Both the texture and the colours have character, and it's truly neutral, rich and poor alike use the exact same stuff.

Jonny said...

Thanx man! Think we'll enjoy it!!

Ok ok! I'm buying it. It's cheap, low maintenance, neutral and socialist and whatnot, haha. Ask me next year and I'm sure I'll love it! :-)