Memorial garden for Laurens Jan van der Post

Design architect Alida Steward

Charles, Prince of Wales, considered him a mentor and appointed him godfather of his son; Carl Gustav Jung knew him as a personal friend; the Bushmen named him “the White Bushman” … the man: Laurens Jan van der Post – born in Philippolis, South Africa, December 13, 1906, the thirteenth of fifteen children. Van der Post’s relatives believed that no other place on earth was better suited as the final resting place for him than Philippolis. During February 1998, in contemplating a memorial service, the idea for a memorial garden came to the fore. On April 4, 1998, the garden was inaugurated.

van der post philippolis



Both in peacetime and in war he led an extraordinary and eventful life and one of great significance for our time. He served with distinction in the British army during the Second World War and spent three years in a Japanese prison camp. After the war, he returned to active service as a member of Lord Mountbatten’s staff in Indonesia. Since 1949 he took part in many official expeditions and missions to Africa, in search of the Bushmen. As a young boy, his grandfather told him stories of them hunting the Bushmen. This moved him to promise repentance and to “give something back” to the Bushmen. Laurens van der Post was appointed Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in 1947 for service in the field and in 1981 he was awarded a knighthood. He spent most of the final years of his life in England and died on December 16, 1996 at the age of ninety. During his life he published 25 books.
Throughout his life he regarded life as a journey and saw “… man, on his journey from the cradle to the grave,” In designing the Memorial Garden it was important to capture and symbolize this belief. The Garden also had to pay tribute to his philosophy of “Meaning transfigures all”… in a concrete, tangible manner.

Location of Philippolis
On entering Philippolis via the northern main road one encounters the site, a transition from landscape to town, as well as a significant link between the former township, Poding-Tse-Rolo and the town of Philippolis. This site was formerly the main pedestrian route, linking the two areas.
As a backdrop, there is a clearly defined hill to the East the church where Laurens van der Post was baptized to the South, and a “transparent air, which give the forms a maximum of sculptural presence.”

The concept of this Memorial Garden is life as a journey. In this context ‘journey’ has multi-dimensional aspects. A straight line of columns indicates the physical journey as the first dimension. This serves as the datum, regulating and organizing the architectural elements. At the same time the datum (columns) puts emphasis on the East – West axis, linking Poding-Tse-Rolo and Philippolis. These columns accelerate towards the gateway with “happenings” along the route. These happenings consist of Philippolis (water), Japan (gravel), Kalahari (Kalahari sand) and England (roses), symbolizing different stages and journeys during his lifetime. The second dimension, the journey of the soul is expressed as a segment of a circle, thus indicating repentance, growth and development as never-ending processes.
Near the middle of the Memorial Garden, the two paths converge to form a gateway, - the third and foremost dimension, becoming the bridge or link between the two journeys. As focal point in the project, the visitor must interpret the entrance/exit. In the words of Laurens van der Post “Birth, as it were, seen from without, was an exit, and death . . . and entrance into a new universe of meaning.” consequently birth, or death, can be experienced as either an entrance or an exit, depending on your position. Therefore, in the layout, the approach (entrance/exit) is either from Poding-Tse-Rolo or Philippolis. Situated in the centre of the gateway is the orifice – the moment capturing the time slot between life and death. The urn with the remains of Laurens van der Post is positioned here, suspended between life and death, heaven and earth. In another dimension, Laurens van der Post becomes in death, as in life, the physical liaise between black and white, between Poding-Tse-Rolo and Philippolis. Again the East – West axis between the two parts of town is emphasized. Central to the gateway is the drinking fountain, - a way of giving something back to the community. Water for purification and love, “… that rain which is forever the image of love in action. ”Indigenous tress, namely a local Willow (Vaderlandswilg) and the Wild Olive (Olienhout) provide shade and blend the Garden into the natural surroundings. Similarly a prodigal son is linked to the continent. On the northern side of the gateway, the bench – facing the Kalahari – invites a moment of rest and meditation. Laurens van der Post believed that “… all stories in the short run may have to go through darkness and death …’ but in the end’ … will be joined inevitably with the last great story of all, and its happy ending.