Lookbook: Inside Cape Town's modernist textile factories

An Open House Architecture tour offers a rare glimpse inside the iconic buildings that were at the centre of the city's rag trade.

The rag trade played a significant part in the economic, social and political history of Cape Town, so it is little wonder that the industry's impact can also be felt in the urban fabric.

"The clothing industry in Cape Town, and the buildings that it produced, played a significant role in the particular way that the city of Cape Town developed in terms of race, class and identity," says architect Ilze Wolff, whose Open House Architecture (OHA) runs special tours of significant buildings in the city. "The modern industralisation of Cape Town, together with state endorsement, spawned buildings that would ultimately became functionalist testimonies to the manner in which white industry and black labour shaped the social fabric of the city." 

Three of the Cape's iconic clothing factories by Andrews & Niegemann, a firm of architects practising in Cape Town from 1939 to 1999, were opened up to members of the profession and the public for OHA's most recent tour. Wolff, who is also the curator of the architecture and spatial design sector of Design Indaba Expo 2015, led the tour through two Rex Trueform buildings and House of Monatic, all within a stone's throw of one another in Salt River. 

The buildings, some of the practice's most well-known, are prime examples of modernist, industrial architecture in South Africa. Wolff says the production of modern architecture in Cape Town, particularly during the period of 1935 to 1960, "was inextricably linked to industry, economy and capitalism, the nature of the resultant buildings being less 'high-art' objects as is the case with its European counterparts." 

Flip through our Lookbook above for a visual journey through these historic buildings.