Was born in Berlin-Neukölln in Germany, and educated at the Staatliche Baugewerkschule in Neukölln, a technical college for the building trade and architecture. He received a certificate as a qualified bricklayer amongst his other skills. His father, Emil, was a well-known mosaicist who travelled internationally to carry out mosaic work. Wagner first worked for OR Slavisberg, a Swiss architect who lived and worked in Berlin. But the German post-war economy was not encouraging and Wagner had a desire to travel. In 1928 Hermann KALLENBACH arrived in Berlin to find staff for his office in Johannesburg, wanting two Germans and two Scotsman (according to Wagner) to carry out the extensive new bioscope programme for Kinemas, a rival to African Theatres, buildings which Herbert (1975) noted as being in the forefront of modern architecture in South Africa. Wagner travelled to Cape Town from London and joined KALLENBACH, KENNEDY & FURNER in Johannesburg in October 1928: 'Kallenbach was the head and saw work came in, Kennedy was the technical man and Furner was the architect' (Wagner 1990.)
A short time after his arrival in Johannesburg he met Rex MARTIENSSEN (probably in about 1929 when Martienssen worked briefly in Kallenbach's office) who invited him to speak on modern German architecture at the School of Architecture, University of the Witwatersrand, a talk attended by Professor GE PEARSE. The first works he designed were the Plaza Cinemas in Pretoria and Johannesburg and Cape Town. The rise of Hitler in Germany caused Kallenbach's attitude to Wagner to change, according to Wagner, and in 1932, when his contract with the firm had expired, he found himself jobless. But with AS Furner being abroad on a visit (1932), there was no-one left in the office to execute sketch plans. Wagner was re-employed.
In 1934 he married and spent five months in Europe, returning to South Africa to write his professional practice examinations later in the year. Gordon LEITH invited Wagner to join his office and in 1935 he did so, being made a junior partner in GORDON LEITH & PARTNERS in 1936. His first work for Leith included the working drawings for the Johannesburg General Hospital (1935) and the Chamber of Mines Hospital in Cottesloe, the latter he recalled as a pleasant job since no expense was spared and the project was started from scratch. He designed the extension to the Johannesburg Technical College adjacent to Park Station and remained with Leith until 1939.
With the outbreak of war and realising that his presence as a German in the office might prejudice incoming work and his ability to give directions on site, he left the office voluntarily. For three years he lived on farms near Standerton. He did odd building jobs before being appointed foreman on a municipal housing scheme in Standerton. This job ended in an unfortunate way but after the war the municipality apologised and gave him work to carry out as an independent architect in private practice. Work in Standerton hardly paid and the practice survived on work from the PUBLIC WORKS DEPARTMENT, such as post offices, hospitals and alterations to the local revenue office, and work from the Transvaal Provincial Administration (schools and hostels). He designed the Hotel Toristo and Toristo Motors in Standerton before 1955, as well as the Dutch Reformed Church building (Weskerk) in Charl Cilliers St, Standerton (1955) and a number of churches for the Methodists in Standerton and Volksrust and for the Lutherans in Nelspruit and Ermelo. Buildings for Barclays and the Standard Bank throughout the Eastern Transvaal also became his responsibility. Among his later works were the post office and telephone exchange at Volksrust (1966).
In 1978 Wagner's wife died but Wagner continued to practice until about 1985 from his offices in his house in Standerton where he retired.
ISAA 1935; TPIA. (ISAA mem list; UWA [Leith]; Wagner 1990)
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.