Architecture of Bo Kaap

History: BoKaap’s character started emerging during the period of 1790 and 1840.

The houses are characterized by either Dutch or British influences. The earlier houses are situated along lower BoKaap between Dorp Street down to the foreshore. Houses are mainly semi-detached but free standing homes can also be found. The people who settled in BoKaap were craftsman, free traders and freed slaves.

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Facade: The Facade of the houses is what charms visitors the most. The entrance to the houses are elevated from the streets. Parapet’s and cornices of various shapes can be found. In the standard Bokaap house the facade would end at the top in the parapet, a molded cornice will be found directly below that. The parapet is sometimes raised to a central point, but is normally straight.

Shape of houses:

The typical Bokaap house was usually about six meters wide. L-shaped house are also found and have either a small yard or garden. Narrow passages serve as alley ways separated houses and provided entrances to the back of houses.

An unmistakable uniqueness about Bokaap houses is the ” stoeps” (front porches). The height of the stoep is usually elevated from the streets and built up from solid bricks finished with tiles or “klompjes” which is a hard brick from the Netherlands. Some stoeps have iron railings. But the stoep best serves the purpose of being a place where family and friends meet and socialize. In the old buildings of the Cape yellowwood, stinkwood, teak and pine were imported from Norway Indigenous Timber was scarce.


The windows of the older houses of Bo Kaap consisted of teak and in later years they used pine. The styles of windows either followed the Cape Dutch, Georgian or Victorian style. The Cape Dutch frame was one big piece of timber. The Victorian style frame was a frame which consisted of many divisions. The windows and external frames were normally painted green while the teak was not painted but oiled.

Door: The Cape Dutch style of houses was famously characterized by the two paneled doors. This was a door divided into two parts horizontally allowing the top section to be open while the bottom section could be closed. The Georgian style was a double door consisting of either six or eight panels divided in the middle. The outside doors were commonly painted green while the teak which they used as timber were oiled.

According to the Cape Dutch style the inside of the doors were not painted and usually had single

paneled doors. These panels and the frames were made of yellowwood with rails made of teak. These doors usually have two to four or six panels each.

FloorBefore the nineteenth century timber was also scarcely available for flooring. Hence some floors were made of peach-stones and clay. When timber was more available yellowwood was used. It was mainly used for front rooms. The kitchen and backrooms had floors made of concrete with vinyl tiles.


Ceilings were either made of teak boarding or the underside of yellowwood.


Staircases were normally made of teak.


The problem encountered with roofs was their durability against fire, wind and water. When roofs were being built in Bokaap yellowwood was used for this purpose as well. First they built the yellowwood on top of thick beams, then had a layer of crushed bricks which were concealed with three coats of shell lime and crushed and burnt shells. When there was a leakage they used train oil, tar or paint to repair them.

In the 1850’s corrugated iron was used. The Moslem Cafe in Rose Street was different to the normal roofs since after the usual brick layers it was finished with shell-lime and sea-shell in addition to a layer of corrugated iron being laid over that.

Brick: The bricks used were made of clay which was sun-dried and made in wooden moulds. Kiln-built bricks were more expensive than bricks. The hard-burnt bricks from the Netherlands were used for steps and the edges of stoeps. Thereafter the English brick was imported which was red in colour.

Stone: The local stone of Signal Hill was used for the foundations of Bokaap houses.

Foundation: Foundations were mainly made of stone rubble in mud mortar layered on the bedrock. Lime mortar served as a barrier against dampness. Shell-lime, which was burnt sea shells also served as a barrier. Because shell-lime was scarce clay mortar was used for wailing and foundations but were not very water proof.

Wall finishes

Stone or brick walls were usually finished off with paint made of shell-lime or lime wash.
Tallow or oil were considered to be good for walls.

The surface of walls were never flat and were plastered with clay which was mixed with water. Thereafter lime, limestone, slaked and mixed sand were used. Chicken wire served as a means of binding old and new bricks together. Cement was imported from 1816. Portland cement was the best-suited cement to be used since it was more water resistant and set quicker than lime.

Tiles: In Bokaap Malmesbury shale was used to pave the courtyards and stoeps.

Window Glass: All the window glass were imported from Europe and was about 200x150mm in measurement.

Metalwork: All the iron used for railings, locks, hinges, door handles of brass, escutcheon plates and bolts were imported from Holland.