Was appointed first Professor of Architecture at the University of the Witwatersrand (Transvaal University College) in 1921 and thus became first Professor of Architecture in South Africa. He was born at Riverton near Verulam in Natal and came to live in Johannesburg as a child in 1894. His schooling began at the Marist Brothers College, Johannesburg in 1897 but in 1899 his father foreseeing the outbreak of war moved his family to Durban. Pearse was sent to school for a year at Verulam before being sent to Weston College at Highlands near Mooi River in 1900; in 1902 Weston College changed its name to Weenen County College (TG ELLIS was a contemporary of Pearse's at this school). The family returned to Johannesburg after the war and Pearse was apprenticed in an iron foundry, but had his mind set on architecture. His brother, Arthur, introduced him to Frank BROWN and Gilbert St John COTTRILL and he was articled to BROWN & COTTRILL in 1903 for four years, studying part time at the Transvaal University College and at the Transvaal Technical Institute, the latter known as the Tin Temple, buildings erected in about 1903 for municipal affairs before the present city hall was built. He obtained a certificate from these institutes before leaving for England in 1907, accompanied by his sisters and mother (his father had died). In England he sought out EW SLOPER who had taught him architectural design at the Tin Temple and who had been a partner of Hebert BAKER. Sloper immediately found him a position with Leonard STOKES, then the President of the RIBA.
Pearse attended lectures in London at the Technical Institute, Regent St studying under AE Richardson, Banister Fletcher and CF & G Mitchell. He toured Italy in 1908 with TG Ellis who had come to England to study. On Pearse's return, having no further work with Leonard Stokes, he worked for a short time for the National Telephone Company (1908-1910) before joining Seth-Ward's office in Westminster in 1909 where TG Ellis was working and remained there until 1911. Ward was designing a number of cinema buildings for the London Cinematograph Company at the time, the first cinemas in Britain, and Ellis designed one at Oxford Circus, Pearse one at Chatham. He wrote his RIBA final examination in 1911, failed one exam but was permitted to re-sit this in South Africa the following year and became an Associate member of the RIBA in 1912.
While in England, Pearse wrote to Baker in Johannesburg (1911) asking for a job in Baker's office (BLB 23:587). According to Pearse (Reminiscences p.97), Baker cabled back 'Come at once' and Pearse returned to South Africa to work on the drawings for the Union Buildings, joining Baker & Fleming's office. TG Ellis was there at that time.
Pearse won several competitions with W GIBSON and JD ROBERTSON, fellow assistants in Baker's office. These competitions were for the Boksburg Town Hall, for a hotel at Brakpan and for a post office in Bulawayo. The three were also placed in the competition for the Governor General's residence in Cape Town (1913). In 1913 he left BAKER & FLEMING and entered into partnership with TG Ellis (cf PEARSE & ELLIS), but with the outbreak of the First World War a year later, Pearse enlisted for service, leaving Ellis in charge of the office, and in 1915 left for Britain. He joined the Middlesex Regiment and then the ROYAL ENGINEERS, was commissioned in 1916 and saw service in Mesopotamia, Egypt and India. He was twice mentioned in despatches. GEG LEITH was in Mesopotamia at the same time as Pearse who later took part in the Afghan campaign (1919). In 1920 Pearse returned to practise in Johannesburg, lectured part-time at the Transvaal University College and served on the Art and Education Committee of the Association of Transvaal Architects. His close involvement with architectural education led to his appointment as the first Professor of Architecture (1921), a Chair within the faculty of Engineering at Johannesburg University College. The newly established School of Architecture held its classes in the Tin Temple. At the start Pearse examined in all the major architectural subjects with assistance from Gordon Leith, F WILLIAMSON and H Wolseley SPICER. In 1922 the University College was granted its charter, becoming the University of the Witwatersrand. In 1923 he took part in the Conference on Architectural Education held in Durban. Pearse continued as professor until he retired in 1948, known as 'Uncle Geoff' to several generations of students. His abiding interest in history and education led to the foundation of the Department of Fine Arts at the University, and Pearse was supportive of the development of architectural courses at Pretoria leading to the foundation of the School of Architecture, University of Pretoria in 1943. A note in the Architect, Builder & Engineer (Feb 1926:5) draws attention to Pearse's scholarly undertakings in architectural history: '(Professor Pearse) is in Cape Town making studies and preparing information for books which he is engaged upon. One of which is nearly ready is on the architectural work of Mr Herbert Baker in South Africa. Another: Early Dutch Architecture and also another: Building Materials of South Africa ... we are pleased that Professor Pearse is finding time for all this important work'. Besides writing a great number of articles, Pearse had three books and a pamphlet published, of which the best known is Eighteenth century architecture in South Africa (London 1933). His work on Herbert Baker remained incomplete as did the proposed publication on South African building materials. Pearse's contributions to the architectural periodicals consistently reflect his interest in history, an interest which seems to have focused with enjoyment on material which was close at hand; his post-First World War papers on Babylonian and Chaldean architecture grew out of his Mesopotamian service. He was among the first to bring Cape architecture to a wide audience in a scholarly way. Eighteenth Century Architecture in South Africa was the result of many years research on the topic and remains an important reference work for the subject. His interest in writing enabled him to carry out duties as editor of the South African Architectural Record for twenty years.
Pursuing his commitment to architectural education, Pearse was awarded a Carnegie grant in 1931 to visit Europe and North America to study the education of architects in these countries. He took six months leave from the University, leaving AS FURNER and RD MARTIENSSEN to take care of the School in his absence, as well as the editorship of the South African Architectural Record. This delegation of responsibilities had a dramatic effect on art and architecture in South Africa. The outcome his study tour was his informative pamphlet on architectural education in Europe, Canada and America which was published in 1934. On his return he continued as Professor at the School of Architecture but was involved more frequently in the design of buildings, apparently to eke out the prospect of a poor University pension, which included his own house Escott on a 100 acre estate near Bryanston, occupied by September 1936. Among other buildings with which he was involved were Escom House (Van Eck Building) from 1935 to 1937 - imploded in 1985 - and various buildings for the University such as the Dental Department, the Polio Research Laboratory, the restoration of the Great Hall of the Main Building, and the library building for the Grey University College in Bloemfontein, which became the foundation building of the University of the Orange Free State. Most of these designs were undertaken as part of a team of colleagues from the University including WD HOWIE, G CHALMERS, J FASSLER and C BRISTOL. According to WELZ documentation Pearse was instrumental in engaging him as architect for the re-design of the foyer of the Great Hall at the University (1937) and Welz claimed an involvement with the Hillman Engineering Block (1838-41), consistent with the design of the foyer.
Pearse's interests embraced all branches relating to architecture, among these interests was town planning and he was a pioneer member of the Transvaal Town Planning Association. Together with J Fassler and EWN MALLOWS he initiated a post graduate course in Town Planning at the University of the Witwatersrand. In 1951 he and P Aneck Hahn were in partnership. They were joined by C Bristol, practising as Pearse, Aneck Hahn & Bristol until Pearse's retirement.
Pearse acted as an assessor on a number of competitions. His influence in this capacity has yet to be gauged, but as an assessor and still more so as a teacher and head of the School of Architecture, Pearse won the respect of all in his field, described by his old pupil WG McINTOSH in the tributes paid to him on his death (SAAR April 1968). Above all Pearse engaged the respect and relative loyalty of his staff for he was quick to recognise talent and was supportive of his staff, even if he did not always agree with them. He designed the Presidential Badge of the Transvaal Provincial Institute of Architects in collaboration with sculptor W Hendrikz, who produced the original from which the dies were made. He was responsible for the design of the medal of the Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns and in 1964 was himself awarded this Medal of Honour for his contribution to Architecture. He was elected a life member of the TPIA in 1965 and died at his farm Haenertsburg in the Transvaal.
Pearse wrote NOTES ON THE SITE AND BUILDINGS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF THE WITWATERSRAND, click here to read them.
Hon PhD Arch UWits 1954; Professor Emeritus UWits; Past President of ATA; TPIA; TTPA; Associated Scientific and Tech Socs SA; Gold Medal of Honour ISAA 1966. (ARIBA 1912; ISAA 1927). (AB&E Apr 1921:1; ARIBA nom papers (1912) 2344; Brown 1969; Building Mar 1921:438; DSAB IV:453-4, article by D Radford; Harrop-Allin 1975; Hahn 1984; Herbert 1975; Jnl ATA Mar 1917:61; Murray 1982:170-3, ill; SAAR Mar 1925:2-5,17-22; SAAR Jun 1925:34-38, 43; SAAR Sep 1925:60-71(TPA); SAAR Jun 1926:39-41, UWits prizegiving address; SAAR Mar 1927:21-7; SAAR Sep 1927:75-79, TPA, valedictory address; SAAR Jun 1937:245-60; SAAR Apr 1968:20-2, obit; SESA 8:485, article by John FASSLER; SESA 8:524; 5:524:311, 312.)
Publ: In Mesopotamia, Jnl ATA Sep 1917:38; A member in the Middle East, Jnl ATA Dec 1917:113-5; Babylonia or Chaldea, publ in 2 pts(1) Building Sep 1921:510-16, (2) Building Dec 1921:529-35; Civic architecture, (inaugural lecture), Building Jun 1922:37-41; Sir Christopher Wren, Building Nov 1923: 21-30; The Bloemfontein art conference, SAAR Mar 1926:17-8; The Pretoria Town Hall competition, SAAR Jun 1926:35-7; Reviews, SAAR Sep 1926:69; The architect, past, present and future, SAAR Dec 1926:89-94; Memorandum on architectural education in South Africa, SAAR Mar 1917:12,13; Herbert Meyerowitz, SAAR Mar 1928:11-12; Carnegie gift to the University of the Witwatersrand School of Architecture, SAAR Mar 1928:20-1; The temple of the gods - Buddhism, SAAR Mar 1928:22-4; Architectural education, SAAR Dec 1928:154-76; The value of architecture as advertisement, SAAR Jun 1929:77-80; The year in review, SAAR Jan 1932:3-5; Impressions from America, (abstracts from Pearse's letters from America) SAAR Mar 1932:55-7; Letters from Pearse, SAAR May 1932:125-7; Architectural criticism, SAAR Sep 1932:225; My impressions of American cities, SAAR Sep 1932:226-33; Eighteenth century architecture in South Africa, Batsford, London. 1933; The year in review, SAAR Jan 1933:3-4; Editorial SAAR Mar 1933:50-2; American universities - with particular reference to their schools of architecture, SAAR Jun 1933:139-45; South Africa House, London, SAAR Aug 1933:191-3; Holland and the world of Dudok, SAAR Sep 1933:213-18; Eighteenth century architecture in South Africa, publ in 2 pts (1) SAAR Nov 1933:265-75; (2) SAAR Jan 1934:25-7; The library, University of the Witwatersrand' SAAR Aug 1934:93-101; The Johannesburg art gallery, SAAR Jun 1934:145-57; The evolution of the home, SAAR Oct 1934:261-6; The new magistrates' courts, Johannesburg, SAAR Nov 1934:288-9; Architectural education: a survey of the problem in South Africa, the United States of America, Canada and Europe etc., Pretoria. Carnegie Corporation visitors' grants committee, 1934; Architecture and quantity surveying, Die loopbaan-gids/The careers guide, Jan 1934 cf ref AB&E Jan 1934:9-10;
Pilgrimage to the Cape by four architectural students, SAAR Feb 1935:28-37; Modern methods in practice, SAAR Feb 1936:33-4; Town planning in Johannesburg, SAAR Sep 1936:333-42; Architectural education, AB&E Feb 1937:8-13; The architect in the
renaissance, SAAR Nov 1937:467-79; Franklin Kaye Kendall, SAAR Jan 1937:46-7; Capetown's new foreshore scheme, SAAR Jan 1938: 547-9; Co-operation between building societies and the architectural profession, SAAR May 1938:161-6; A survey of town planning in South Afica, SAAR Jul 1938:231-42; Sir Edwin Lutyens, 1869-1944, SAAR Mar 1944:60-3; Mr JE HARRISON, obit, SAAR Jan 1946:27-8; Mr F Williamson, obit, SAAR Jan 1946:28; The Cape of Good Hope, 1652-1833; an account of its buildings and the life of its people, Pretoria, Van Schaik 1956; Eighteenth century furniture
in South Africa, Pretoria 1960; Reminiscences of Pearse, unpubl, 2 vols UWA;
Other electronic resources
UPSpace at the University of Pretoria: Pearse Collection
Recipient of the Gold Medal Award from the South African Institute of Architects.
All truncated references not fully cited in 'References' are those of Joanna Walker's original text and cited in full in the 'Bibliography' entry of the Lexicon.