Architect Focus: A Visit With Gwen and Gawie Fagan

Photos: Desmond Louw & Antonia Heil - DNA Photographers

It is the year 2018 and the only constant is change! In south Africa 80% of new business fail within the first three years of existence (, the average person changes jobs 10-15 times ( and moves about 12 times during his/her lifetime ( No matter how we look at it; we live in a rat race… therefore, when the opportunity arises to sit down with two individuals who have been married for 74 years and share a career of more than 64 years:

You stop. You breath. You learn.

The Fagans need no introduction. Gawie’s ideas concerning connecting architecture with natural landscapes was revolutionary and over the years, Gwen played an instrumental role as a historical researcher and landscape planner at Gabriël Fagan Architects. Together they share a love for the designing of new buildings as well as restoring old ones.

The Es - The Home Designed and Built by Gwen and Gawie Fagan and their Family.

In 1952 Gawie started as an architect for Volkskas Bank. Small, Afrikaans banks were built all over the country and for the next 10 years Gawie would design 50 banks! Gwen, who is a qualified doctor, worked at the military hospital during this time. Despite their busy lives and full schedule, the Fagans evolved a passion for what today would be known as organic farming, the hobby grew to such an extend that they soon had to milk 18 cows before the day could start!

The Fagans Completed the Original Restoration of Boschendal

After twelve years at Volkskas, Gawie and Gwen made the move to Camps Bay and started building their dream home, called 'The Es' (translated as “The Hearth”, a symbol of home). Not only were they creating an architectural master piece, but along with their four children they literally built their family home in the afternoons and over weekends. The whole concept of the house came to Gawie while he was sitting on an airplane. He wanted to draw it but he didn’t have a piece of paper, the guy next to him offered him his cigarette box and Gawie designed the award winning house right there and then! In just two years, the magnificent ES was completed. All plants and trees were planted by Gwen and the entire garden is waterless. When asking Gawie about architecture and trends, he states that good architecture remains timeless and we think The Es is a beautiful example of just that.

In 1969 an earthquake in the Western Cape caused great damage, and being a member of the Institute of Architecture Committee, Gawie was asked to assess the various areas affected and to identify where restoration is needed. The small town, Tulbagh, stole his heart and became the restoration project of his choice. When research was needed, Gwen got on board…little did they know that this would be the very start of them collaborating. Today, Gwen takes responsibility for all needed research prior to the start of a project, along with the landscaping component of their work.

Gawie Fagan at his self-built Home In Cape Town

Gawie highlights the restoration of Tulbagh as one of the projects he is most proud of, which in return, reveals a lot about his character and work ethos. For the Fagans it has never been about the possible exposure or monetary value of a project; their focus remains with the challenge and vision woven in each building.

Their approach seems so simple and almost too good to be true, but when looking at their body of work it is clear that Gawie and Gwen Fagan serves as an example. Despite being in their 90’s they still go to the office 5 days a week. Along with their wonderful team, they keep on working and the work keeps on coming!

In addition to their successful business, both Gwen and Gawie are writers. The topics of their books vary from flowers to architecture to their life experiences and can be ordered through their website.

Even though JNA has had the honor of working with the Fagans on numerous occasions; there was something incredibly humbling and inspiring about visiting them at their offices, surrounded by their work and spending time in their presence.

Let us never get too busy to take the time to learn from, and listen to, those who are great.

Gawie and Gwen Fagan; JNA salutes you.

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