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NATION, Shelagh Suzanne

Born: 1930 03 21
Died: 2021 03 29


Reg No: 2259
Year registered: 1963

BArch 1958 (Pretoria); MArch 1985 (Pretoria); PhD (Architecture) Honoris Causa 2021 (Pretoria)

Also SS NICHOLSON (maiden name) - SS DE KOCK (first married name).

Shelagh Nation (nee de Kock, b Nicholson) was born in East London on March 21st 1930, the only child of a couple hard hit by the depression. In 1946 when she matriculated at Pretoria High School for Girls there had been a stormy interlude when the choice of a course of study hung in the balance. Her parents, unhappy with her choice of Fine Arts, and she, unhappy with their preference for Actuarial Science. Eventually, in discussion with her father and professor At MEIRING, at the University of Pretoria, she settled on architecture, was awarded a Municipal bursary covering the fees, and found herself entering, almost by accident, what was in 1947 very much a male-dominated profession.

During University vacations and at the end of the final year of study she worked first for BURG LODGE and BURG, then Erik TODD, in Pretoria. With a thesis and a set of working drawings still unfinished, she moved to the National Building Research Institute (NBRI) of the CSIR, where she researched schools from 1953 to 1956 under the guidance of Dr Doug CALDERWOOD, an experience which was to be influencial for the rest of her life as a practicing architect.

In 1956 she married Bill de Kock, moved to Pietersburg, and eventually spent some time completing the thesis and working drawings, alternated with changing nappies. She graduated in 1958, in absentia because her second baby was due and she could not travel. A few months later STAUCH VORSTER's Pietersburg office, then under the control of Louis FOURIE, offered her employment. She was with Stauch Vorster for two years, then moved to the office of Liebrecht FICK, where she stayed until 1965. At this time, Noel OLDREIVE had taken over from Louis for a year but wanted to move and Stauch Vorster offered her a position in control of the Pietersburg office, and as Associate Partner in all offices. It was then that the name of the Pietersburg practice became the last straw that prompted a change of name to the unified practice. Letterheads just didn�t look convincing when they read STAUCH, VORSTER, STERNAGEL, ADLER, SCHOLTZ, OLDREIVE, FOURIE and DE KOCK; the firm became known as STAUCH VORSTER + PARTNERS, or simply SVP.

The Pietersburg office covered an incredibly large area with projects as far as Messina (now Mussina) in the North, Alldays in the West, Tzaneen, Phalaborwa, and Nelspruit (now Mbombela) to the east and everything as far south as Warmbaths (now Bela-bela) � not to mention regular trips to the SVP 'head office' in Pretoria. This meant an incredible amount of travelling and frequent 12-hour work days to compensate for the time spent on the road. Added to this was the effort necessary to convince both clients and builders of the competency of a woman architect, a relative rarity at that time. In the next nine years projects varied in size from a tiny toilet block for a local industrial building to a cardboard manufacturing factory covering many acres of land near Tzaneen, and were of every conceivable type including shops, offices, industrial buildings, a sports stadium, an information bureau and more than 100 houses.

In 1974 Shelagh moved to the Pretoria office of SVP, and there initiated a new design and constructional approach to the design of school buildings for the Department of Indian Affairs which resulted, countrywide, in an overall improvement in schools aesthetically, functionally and in terms of cost. The use of a rationalized construction system and the 'no-waste' M290 bricks allowed the Department to build 11 or 12 schools for the amount budgeted for 10. This was followed by several schools in townships in Port Elizabeth, which used a similar approach, a technical high school in Venda and specialized schools for visually and aurally impaired learners, in Botshabelo and in Lesotho.

Shelagh was firmly convinced that correct briefing was a key to any successful project, and that teamwork was essential and inescapable. In exploring these aspects of architectural practice, she visited the American firm, Caudill Rowlett Scott (CRS), proponents of a simple but powerful client-inclusive briefing system for any building type, which embraces needs assessment, problem identification and frequently conflict resolution. She studied the system in 1978 and 1980 with Willie Peña, a partner in the Houston firm and author of the book 'Problem Seeking', realising that when a design is based on an accurate brief there is virtually no need for the architect to 'go back to the drawing board' so projects are free of delays and the expenses caused by changes to the brief, and the profit margin of the firm increases. And a really good brief is essential to a really good project. From then on she applied the concept, with considerable success, to many SVP projects. Some high-impact briefs were those for the Development Bank of Southern Africa and for IBM. And in Durban, the King Edward Hospital had a complex problem that had been dragging along for a year because the heads of the 23 departments could not agree on a brief for the teaching spaces they needed, but using the CRS system the problem was solved and the brief and detailed design were prepared within an intensive 7 days and immediately approved by the University Council.

In 1981 Shelagh and Bill de Kock were divorced and a year later she met and married a fellow architect from England, Victor NATION. She was awarded her Masters degree in 1985, with his encouragement and that of her four sons, but the main motivators for this effort were actually her partners in SVP, who wanted her to put on record whatever could be established about their founding partner, Hellmut STAUCH.

During her overseas visits she became involved in the field of 'recycled' buildings, carrying out studies in the USA, Canada and the UK. There she also researched libraries and resource centres, instructional spaces for the teaching of computer science, then almost in its infancy, and the management and marketing of architectural practices, for application within SVP.

Shelagh retired from SVP in 1992 and before the end of that year was offered a year's employment with Boutek (once NBRI) at CSIR carrying out research into schools, which she accepted with alacrity. This was extended, year by year, until she managed to 'replace herself' and retire at the end of 1999, to Aurora in the Western Cape, where she found that retirement was a theoretical concept, and became involved with various projects, workshops and mentorships, as well as membership of the Heritage sub-committee based in Velddrif.

During the years with SVP and CSIR she published a number of articles and reports, both technical and historical, served on committees for ISAA, PIA and SAPOA, helped to deliver in-service training courses for ISAA, worked with the International Union of Women Architects and delivered papers at conferences in South Africa, Denmark and Australia. She also worked on projects as a consultant with design input in Botswana, Lesotho, Zambia, Mocambique and Namibia.

While serving on the PIA committee in Pretoria she initiated architectural familiarisation workshops in schools in Mamelodi and Atteridgeville, with the idea that these children, from years 11 and 12, might eventually be clients or possibly even become more involved in the fields of architecture, engineering and building. The success of these workshops led to them being extended to other venues, including the Grahamstown Festival. A particularly successful mentorship in about 2005 at the LEAP school in Cape Town led to four learners winning a National competition and one of the four continuing into the field of civil engineering.

She won no awards for architecture, but felt that her contribution to the built environment and to the pleasure and satisfaction of her clients in their projects was reward enough quite apart from the fact that she did not for a moment regret her choice of architecture as a career.

Curriculum Vitae


Bachelor of Architecture, University of Pretoria, 1958
Master of Architecture, University of Pretoria, 1985
Retired (more or less) 1999
Honorary member Pretoria Institute for Architecture, ISAA
SACAP member (Reg. No. 7493)


OrganisationPeriodFocus/ Key Projects
Research assistant CSIR (BOUTEK)1953 - 1956Research Architect in Education and Community Buildings
Lieb Fick Pietersburg Stauch Vorster Architects1958 - 1965Design architect for various building types, mainly residential, business and industrial
Associate partner Stauch Vorster Architects1965 - 1992Design architect, public and private sector buildings, all types, mainly Education and Residential
CSIR, Division of Construction and Building Technology (BOUTEK)1992 - 1999Research Architect in Education and Community Buildings
Private Consultant2000 -Local buildings and Heritage SA


Researcher into various aspects of buildings for education, primarily planning and design, accommodation, guidelines, broader aspects of planning, positioning, catchment, options;
Briefing for design and planning; needs assessment, all building types
Working with communities, especially through workshops on needs assessment, problem Identification, conflict resolution.
Norms and standards for education;
Libraries and resource centres for education;
Provided needs assessment and design input into projects in South Africa, Zambia, Lesotho Mocambique and Namibia.

Author and co-author of a large number of research and project reports, journal articles and conference papers presented at national and international conferences.

Occasional examiner (design and technical) at UP and Technikon.

Occasional presenter of workshops on architectural familiarization and mentor to students.

Member of Heritage SA sub-committee for Velddrif, Aurora, Redelinghuys, Dwarskersbos.

Letter from Shelagh's two sons, 2021 03 04

Dear friends and loved ones of Shelagh

It is with great sadness that we write to inform you about the passing of our mother, Shelagh Suzanne Nation, who died on Monday the 29th of March, 2021. Shelagh suffered a stroke in January of this year, from which she was making a strong recovery, but on Friday the 26th of March she was readmitted to hospital after another stroke which incapacitated her. Her presence will be sorely missed.

Shelagh lived a full and long life, and had just celebrated her 91st birthday on the 21st of March. Her contributions to the field of architecture are being recognised through the awarding of an honorary doctorate in architecture (D.Arch Honoris Causa) from the University of Pretoria, which will be officially conferred on the 21st of April. She had also just self-published three books, including studies on the work of Helmut Stauch and Fred du Toit, and her autobiography. She spent her last years surrounded by family and friends in Cape Town, working on her artistic practice and the development of her various writings.

Shelagh leaves behind her two sons Etienne and Jean-Pierre, grandchildren Gillian, Schienne and Benjy, and great-grandsons Gabriel and Bruce. We know that she has friends all over the world, and the only means of contact that we have is via this email account, so we ask that you pass on this information to anyone who should know.

There will be no formal service, but a memorial will be held in due course, and we will arrange that people based outside of Cape Town will be able to tune in via an online platform. If you would like to attend the memorial in Cape Town, or take part online, please let us know and we will share the details once they are confirmed.

With much love,
Etienne and Jean-Pierre

List of projects

With photographs
With notes

Peter Mokaba Stadium: n.d.. Polokwane (Pietersburg), Limpopo - Design Architect

Articles by NATION

NATION, Shelagh Suzanne. 1985. The Background, Architectural Philosophy and Work of Hellmut Wilhelm Ernst Stauch. Unpublished thesis

NATION, Shelagh Suzanne. 2011. Some reflections on Helmut Stauch. Unpublished