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Unstitching Rex Trueform. The Story of an African Factory.

Unstitching Rex Trueform. The Story of an African Factory.

Winner of the L'ERMA-C Prize (1st Ed.)

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This dissertation is an interdisciplinary study of the Rex Trueform garment manufacturing factory in Salt River, Cape Town. It follows the narrative of the site from the date of completion of the first factory in 1938 up until conversion of the site into an office park in 2013. Architecturally, the buildings are key works by pioneer modernist architects, Policansky, Andrews and Niegeman. The analysis of the form and the space of the buildings is interlocked with an analysis of the conditions within which these distinct buildings were conceived and built. As 20th century industrial buildings in Cape Town, they are representative of a particular kind of modernity, one that is entangled with constructions of race, class and gender. The dissertation looks at how particular notions of race, class and gender were constructed, materialised and inscribed in the architectural form and space.

The buildings are a primary archival source, but conversational interviews with exworkers begin to give a glimpse of what it was like to work for Rex Trueform, considered as a significant company in the clothing manufacturing industry.

Visual material, drawings and film footage, tracks the architectural development of the site, linking it with key moments in the political life of South Africa. This raises questions around the relationship between the apartheid state-endorsed white capital and disenfranchised black labour. Race and identity is a key theme, questioning the role that industry, sociology and apartheid played in the constructions and stabilising thereof with the Cape factory as a primary site. The buildings, situated both in the historical time as well as in the contemporary postapartheid framework, offer multiple readings of how space and architecture contributed towards ascribing identities onto people and how these ascribed identities were and are being contested and disrupted. The dissertation thus raises questions of how the modern city of Cape Town was produced by looking at some of the socio-political conditions under which Rex Trueform, a major industrial site, was developed.

Introduction
Following the archive
Chapter outlines

1. Building Settler Modernity: the Rex Trueform factory 1937 - 1944
Towards a new architecture for Salt River
Vacant Land
A façade of functionalism, a taxonomy of race
The Factories Act and racial segregation
Factory rebuilt in 1944
Rex Trueform mural art as an expression of hybridized identity

2. Building apartheid Modernity: the Rex Trueform factory 1948 - 2009
A space to produce, a space to administer
A double stair, a double entrance
Change rooms for one thousand workers
Labelling space, ascribing race
The new factory is on the right. Smaller building on the left is the old factory
Confidence in the future of South Africa
The Nelson Touch
Rex Trueform office park, modern offices in an iconic building

3. Is she coloured? Rex Trueform and the construction of Cape identities
The Policanskys
The Gools and Abduraghmans
Cissie Cool, Max Policansky and competing versions of modernity
Rex Trueform glamour girls and localized senses of beauty
Let it be, set it free

4. What makes the factory tick? Time, labour and the disciplining of bodies.
Model employers, model workers
The Cape Factory as a field of racist social science

Conclusion: The contemporary factory as a specter of an intricate past
References and sources

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