Concrete Oceans: The Dolos, Apartheid Engineering, and the Intertidal Zone

Publication Type:

Journal Article


GeoHumanities, Volume 7, Number 1, p.44–64 (2021)



This article is concerned with an object called the “dolos,” a concrete coastal structure developed by the South African state at the height of apartheid, in 1963. A twisted H-shape with attenuating limbs, it is formally rather beautiful, exhibiting a kind of brutal elegance, and it has been successfully used in hydraulic engineering projects around the globe. It is, nevertheless, a relatively unremarkable invention. Even in its category of “coastal armor,” it was invented 14 years after the first, French-patented Tetrapod. And yet, during apartheid and after, it captured the popular imagination of many white citizens who proudly connected with the narrative of innovation, self-sufficiency and apartheid modernity. The history of the dolos reveals a modernizing state that worked vigorously through its parastatals and research institutions to explore the material, structural and esthetic possibilities of concrete to articulate a convincing and legitimate national identity. This article joins with scholars in the critical oceanic humanities who are arguing for more-than-human, Anthropocene-directed research in the Global South, framed by Kimberley Peters and Philip Steinberg’s call to adopt a more-than-wet ontology addressing the (i) materiality, (ii) motion, and (iii) temporality of the ocean and, indeed, of ocean infrastructure.


Publisher: Routledge _eprint: