Corbelled Houses

With funding provided by the National Lotteries Commission, the NCEHT partnered with the African Conservation Trust (ACT) in a digital documentation project to record the unique Karoo corbelled houses.

  The corbelled houses are excellent examples of the ingenuity of the early pioneers who moved into the Karoo semi-desert landscape from about 1820 through to the end of the nineteenth century. They discovered that trees were sparse and set about building their dwellings using the only available material, stone. As there could be no wooden trusses to support the roof, they made use of an ancient method of construction known as corbelling. This technique was implemented by placing successive courses of flat stone, each one extending a little further inward than the layer beneath, until the walls almost met at the apex. The remaining hole over the roof could then be closed with a single slab. The corbelled buildings of the Northern Cape are the only examples in Southern Africa that still stand today and represent a special phase in the history of vernacular architecture in South Africa. However, many of these unique structures have been lost due to theft of building materials, damage from being used as shepherds housing or livestock enclosures, and earth tremors. Furthermore, since the art of corbelling is no longer practiced, many of the sites are being modernized or left to deteriorate and ultimately collapse. Digital preservation is therefore essential to record the unique architectural style.

    Northern Cape Heritage and African Conservation Trust recently worked together to document and 3D laser scan 15 examples – these models offer millimetre accurate representations of the structures. Examples of the 3D models and virtual tours of some of the houses can be found on the ACT heritage website:

Visit the National Lotteries Commission website to find out about other projects supported by the NLC.