Fonds BC1295 - Vivienne and Derek Japha Papers

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Vivienne and Derek Japha Papers


  • 1970-1999 (Creation)

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Extent and medium

149 archive boxes and architectural drawings

Name of creator

Biographical history

Name of creator


Biographical history

Vivienne Spencer was born on 4 March 1945 in Wellington, New Zealand. She matriculated in 1962 from Ellerslie High School and obtained her Bachelor of Architecture degree from the University of the Witwatersrand in 1973. She won the Cape Provincial Institute of Architects prize for best work in her fifth year. From 1973 to 1980 she worked in the offices of Revel Fox and Partners. She married Derek Japha on 28 May 1974. In 1976, she and Derek had their first child Jonathan. In the same year, she began working with Derek on architectural commissions and joined the staff at the UCT School of Architecture as a part-time lecturer and studiomaster. She remained at UCT, lecturing also in the Department of Urban & Regional Planning and being a studiomaster there. Her main research interests included housing issues and urban conservation. She died tragically in a motor accident in China in 1999.

Her fascination with the architecture of the small towns of the Cape naturally led her to frame a sequence of architectural history and theory courses in the School in such a way as to expose students to the architecture of settlements such as Worcester, Swellendam, Caledon, Montagu and Stellenbosch.
As Vivienne noted in an article she wrote in 1993, it was natural for her to return professionally to the small town environments where she had spent much of her early childhood and which she had always considered to be very special. In the process, she pioneered the systematic measurement and recording of a great number of notable Western Cape buildings, most of them dating from the 19th and early 20th centuries, in a way which was instructive and enjoyable to very many students over the years.
The considerable body of work that her courses produced sparked a broader interest in conservation planning and led to research-based practice with Derek and colleagues.
A series of conservation and development planning reports were produced for parts of Cape Town as well as for a range of Western Cape towns, such as Franschhoek, Montagu, Prince Albert, Graaff-Reinet and McGregor.
During the early 1990s Vivienne and Derek co-authored important papers and essays on the development of Montagu, recognised internationally, and they convened a national Urban Conservation Symposium which did much to stimulate the thinking for the framing of conservation and development strategies for older settlements in South Africa.
A national research project on Mission Settlements, funded by the Department of the Environment and Tourism, was undertaken as part of the research programme of the Conservation Research group that Vivienne did much to establish in the School of Architecture and Planning and this led to a number of publications.
These efforts were recognised in 1989 with the award of the Cape Times Centenary Medal for professional work in the conservation field (with D Japha and F Todeschini) and again in 1995 with a similar award to the mentioned Conservation Research Group in the School.
In 1990 Vivienne Japha was appointed Senior Lecturer in the School of Architecture and Planning and she received ad-hominem promotion to Associate Professor in 1997. Increasingly, Vivienne's activities spanned three areas which mutually supported and stimulated each other: those of teaching, practice through research and policy formulation and institutional involvement.
In recent years she became increasingly active in the affairs of the Cape Institute of Architects, the South African Institute of Architects and international organisations promoting architecture, such as the African Union of Architects, the Commonwealth Association of Architects and the International Union of Architects.
She was Vice President of the Cape Institute of Architects from 1993 to 1996 and President from 1996 to 1998. She was also Vice President of the South African Institute of Architects from 1996 to 1998 and President of the national Institute from 1998.
At the time of her death she was also Vice President of the Commonwealth Association of Architects and Chair, Board of Education, Research and Training of the African Union of Architects. Vivienne's professional initiatives at these and other levels were too numerous to mention here.
Her passion for heritage identification and management had led her to be active on many committees and institutions, such as the National Monuments Council, of which she was a Council member, appointed by the Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology, since 1996.
She was also the Chairperson of the Built Environment Committee and of the Western Cape Regional Committee of the National Monuments Council. In all these capacities she brought her particular brand of considerable knowledge and understanding of architecture and its relation to society to bear on the twin issues of conservation and development.

Archival history

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Donated by Professor Derek Japha.

Scope and content

Records of architectural and heritage associations, including the Cape Institute of Architects, the Institute of South African Architects, the National Monuments Council, the International Association for the Study of Traditional Environments, and others.

Conservation studies of several Cape towns and areas of Cape Town.

Mission settlement studies.

Architectural projects undertaken by Vivienne and Derek Japha; includes architectural drawings.

Lecture and course notes for teaching at the School of Architecture, UCT.


System of arrangement

Conditions governing access

Contact University of Cape Town Libraries: Special Collections for information about accessing this collection.

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Language of material

  • English

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Finding aids

Only a high-level description of the collection is maintained in AtoM. The collection is undergoing further arrangement. The finding-aid is consequently not currently available on-line but can be made available to users on request.

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