We at the Afrikaans Language Monument are often asked about the style of the Monument. The Monument must be seen as a sculptural rather than an architectural work and therefore assigning a specific architectural style to it is not strictly relevant[i].
If one were to discuss the monument in terms of architectural style, however, elements of Brutalism will be noted in the structure. Brutalist buildings are described as “often constructed of cast concrete, which allowed for thick walls with deep recesses for the windows. Also … the cast concrete [is] often executed in rough finished aggregate, with the imprint of the casing forms functioning to create additional visual appeal.”[ii]
It must be noted, however, that there are only certain elements of this style present in the monument and that the overall style cannot be described as Brutalist. Some of the most important elements of Brutalism, such as stark lines, a blockish appearance and square or rectangular forms, are not present in the monument[iii].
Van Tonder claims that Jan van Wijk did not borrow or use any existing architectural style or elements when he designed the language monument. He is of the opinion that the design was very personal and therefore it would not have been possible to reapply this design without compromising its meaning[iv]. The use of raw concrete as can be seen in the Monument was, however, common practice during the 1960’s and 1970’s. Most monuments built in South-Africa during this time consisted of concrete as well as natural rock elements obtained from the environment[v].
Jan van Wijk’s other monuments, in particular the Irish monument, are also in many ways similar to the language monument (for example abstractness, round shapes and columns of increasing height)[vi]. The Irish monument was designed in the same period in which Van Wijk was working on the language monument and was also unveiled in 1975[vii]. Van Wijk also re-utilised the elements of amphitheatre and dome in his monument for Bishop Zulu, who died in 1988[viii].
The Voortrekker Monument at Winburg is the South African monument with the greatest resemblance to the language monument. This monument has similar abstract motives, rich symbolism, hammered concrete, a circular form and massive domes with varying heights. Although this monument was unveiled in 1969, architects had to submit proposals for its design in the same time period during which proposals for the language monument were made. The architect Hans Hallen’s[ix]design won the competition. If these two architects had in fact been influenced by one another’s work, it will be impossible to determine which influenced which.
The use of raw concrete in monuments was a world-wide phenomenon at this time[x]. Interesting examples are a series of approximately 25 monuments built during the 1960’s and 1970’s in Yugoslavia to commemorate the Second World War,[xi]and several post-modernistic monuments in America.[xii] It can therefore be accepted that the use of raw concrete and abstract forms was a fairly common practice world-wide during this time and that this trend was followed by local architects .
[i] Email ms Erna van Wijk
[iii] http://www.historicdenver.org/resources/brutalism/; Wikipedia
[iv] Van Tonder, WB: The Taal monument: An analytical study, Unpublished semester project, University of Pretoria, 1994, p 6
[v] Pieters, H: The Taalmonument: A monument for what? Unpublished master’s thesis, University of Maastricht, no date, p 26
[vi] Photos Erna van Wijk
[viii] Photos Erna van Wijk
[ix] FAK: Afrikanerbakens, Aucklandpark, 1989, p 117 – 119; Pieters p 26-27
[xi] www.retronaut.com/2011/04/yugoslav -war-memorials-1960s-1970s/