School of Built Environment & Development Studies

PhD Study of Drawings of Colonial-Style Houses in Durban

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Dr Michele Jacobs.
Dr Michele Jacobs.

The librarian at UKZN’s School of Built Environment and Development Studies for the past 35 years Dr Michele Jacobs has been awarded a PhD for research that analysed the original drawing collection of Durban’s colonial domestic architecture. 

‘It was during the course of my work as librarian and archivist for the School that I realised the importance of documenting and describing these records in a way which would benefit architects, historians and students,’ said Jacobs.  ‘The loss of much of our domestic built heritage has added value to the drawing records that remain.’

Some of these drawings have been reproduced in various journal articles and books but a complete document analysing and describing the houses represented in the Original Drawings Collection, has not been undertaken.

Research work by Jacobs delves into the origins of various plan forms that influenced the predominantly central passage plan and its many derivatives of colonial houses and rooms therein.  The drawings also form the basis of the discussion focusing on the changes to elements that made up the colonial style, including the veranda and gable over the Victorian, Edwardian and Union periods and the Berea style.

The drawings include several of Durban’s iconic or ‘virtuoso’ houses, which have survived from picturesque suburban villas in the landscape to a highly urbanised one, and their adaptive re-use where the houses have changed function from domestic to commercial.

‘My research will be most valuable to local architectural historians, particularly those in the domestic heritage field as well as students of architecture,’ said Jacobs.  ‘Original documents such as architectural drawings provide us with a tangible connection to past architectural processes and fascinating insights into the society that constructed the houses,’ said Jacobs.

She thanked her husband, family, friends and supervisor Dr Juliette Leeb-du Toit for their support and guidance during her studies.

Jacobs advised students to: ‘Make a start!  Choose a topic that you find fascinating and in this way, your research will be pleasurable not an ordeal.’

She currently teaches the first year architecture programme on the History of Architecture while providing library support to all the lecturers, including those in design and theory. 

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