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WIERDA, Sytze Wopkes

Born: 1839 02 28
Died: 1911 12 10

Architect


Became the first engineer and architect to the South African Republic (ZAR) in 1887. Sources give two different birthplaces for him: Nemrik, Beesterzwaag, Friesland, Netherlands (DSAB III:842) and Wynjeterp, Friesland, Netherlands (Rex 1954), which is the birthplace also found on Wierda's death certificate. As a young man he trained as a carpenter. It is not certain how he trained to qualify as an architect but he was employed by the Netherlands Railways as an architect and a chief inspector by 1886. He had entered the service of the railway company in 1866. He showed considerable proficiency at his job and was involved in the design of the Amsterdam Central Station, completed in 1889. Since he was already in good standing in the Netherlands, it is not clear why he should have wanted to leave his post. The South African post presumably offered substantial promotion and a challenge. Before he left for South Africa, Wierda was nominated a member of the Royal Institute of Engineers (Netherlands) on 8 November 1887. He arrived in South Africa in late November 1887 to fill the new position of Government Engineer and Architect to the Transvaal Republic, his former colleague, K VAN RYSSE having temporarily filled this post until Wierda's arrival. It was Van Rysse who pointed out to Kruger that an architect was also needed in the Department of Works, in order to carry out all the works on which they were embarking. Kruger promptly appointed Wierda to the two posts of Chief Engineer and Architect to the Zuid Afrikaanische Republiek. In 1895 he became Chief of DEPARTEMENT PUBLIEKE WERKEN - ZUID-AFRIKAANSCHE REPUBLIEK, given the new title of 'Government Engineer and Architect' of which he was the first bearer.

Wierda and his department designed most of the major public buildings for the Republican Government, creating a style which has since been named the Republican Style but was based on the popular Beaux Arts style of the later nineteenth century: the Raadzaal and the later Palace of Justice (both in Church Square, Pretoria), are outstanding examples of this style and are works for which he is best remembered. According to an article on the Palace of Justice (Du Toit 1978:48-55, 89) plans for this building were discussed and criticised by the judges for whom the building was intended, who recommended that the facade should be either in the Dutch Renaissance style or the Flemish Renaissance style. Wierda was obstinate: 'Omtrent de stijl moet alleen opmerken dat waneer in Oud-Hollandsch zou moeten worden gebouwd, (geen halfbakken Oud-Hollandsch) in den geest van den Vleesch-Hall te Haarlem of het Stadhuis te Middelburg of te Leiden, dit zeer duur zou worden, terwijl in de Italiaansche-Renaissance Stijl met minder kostbare motieven kan gebouwd worden en toch een tamelijk rijk aanzien kan verkregen worden' (Du Toit 1978:52), which has been paraphrased in an English version here as it being Wierda's view: 'that the true Old Dutch (and not 'half-baked' Old Dutch) would be very expensive, while Italian Renaissance would be reasonable in cost and would look well' (Lantern July 1978:89).

One of his most memorable buildings, the Staatsgimnasium (1899) has been demolished and was a serious loss to Pretoria's dwindling stock of significant historical buildings. Another loss was the decorative Klerksdorp Court House. Wierda was also responsible for the Wierda Bridge at SixMileSpruit, and for the design of the monument at Paardekraal near Krugersdorp. As the chief architect of the Transvaal Republic for fourteen years, Wierda built up a team of architects and draughtsmen who provided a high standard of design and expertise and provided the backbone of the Department of Public Works which laid the foundations for the PUBLIC WORKS DEPARTMENT of the Union of South Africa.

Among Wierda's less well-known buildings was the South African Republic pavilion which he designed for the Paris Exhibition in 1900, aptly described by Picton-Seymour (1977: 282) as 'one large spike adorned with many lesser spikes.' After the Anglo-Boer War Wierda did not return to his post as a public service architect but entered into private practice in Johannesburg in about 1903. Here he was listed in partnership with CF OBERMEYER in Loveday Street (cf WIERDA & OBERMEYER). A few years later he settled in Cape Town (in either 1906 or 1908) and died at the house of his son-in-law, CJG van Hoogstraten at Eureka in the Main Road, Sea Point. On his death certificate (in English) his profession was given as 'Head of the PWD, SAR/Civil Engineer.' He had in 1862 married Hermina (Hermke) Kamp in Holland and they eventually had four daughters.

Hon Mem SA Assn Eng & Archts 25 Apr 1894. (Allen 1971; Benjamin 1979; De Jong et al 1988; DSAB III:842-3; Greig 1971; Lantern July 1978; Longland's Tvl & Rhod dir 1903; Pretoriana Apr 1954:5-13; Pretoriana Apr 1962:18-29; Restorica Jun 1977:40-1; Rex 1974; Rosenthal 1966; SAAE&S Jnl 1892-4:135; SESA 4: 385; 10:606; 11:433; S v d Stel Bull Apr 1969:47; S v d Stel Bull Jun 1970:22; TAD MHG 19316)

Work as an employee of the Department of Public Works: Pretoria: Raadzaal/Staatsgebouw/Gouvernementsgebouw/Government Buildings), Church Square (NM 1968) (Greig 1971:190-1; Dunston 1975:24; DSAB III:843; Rex 1974: 422-432; Oberholster 1972:301-2) 1887, 1889-92; Klerksdorp: Court House (dem c1968) (Greig 1971:53; Rex 1974:404, 405, 406) 1889-90; Krugersdorp: Court House (Greig 1971:166; Restorica 1977:40-41; Rex 1974: 404, 405, 406) 1889; Pretoria: Volkshospitaal (DSAB III:843; Rex 1974) 1890; Government Printing Works, Bosman St (DSAB III:843; Rex 1974) 1890; Lion Bridge, Arcadia (DSAB III; Rex 1974) 1891; Boksburg: Landdrost's Bldg (Magistrate's office) Kerk St (Greig 1971: 87; Rex 1974) 1890; Krugersdorp: Paardekraal Monument (DSAB III:843) 1891; Bethal: Magistrate's Office, Mark St (Restorica 1982:9-11) 1891-3; Johannesburg: Telephone tower, Plein Sq (Picton-Seymour 1977:327) 1893; Pretoria: Staatsmeisjeskool (DSAB III:843) 1894; Palace of Justice, Church Sq (DSAB III:843) 1896-1900; Staatsmodel School, Van der Walt St (Greig 1971:190-1; DSAB III:843) 1893, 1896-7; Potchefstroom: Landdrost's Bldg, Post and Telegraph Office, Greyling St (Picton-Seymour 1977: 356, 358) 1896; Johannesburg: Post Office, Rissik St, see WERNER, HC (Greig 1971:132) 1896-7; Fort, Kotze St, with Commandant A Schiel and GH van Winsen (Lantern Dec 1966:85-88; Greig 1971:131-2) 1896-9; Police Station, Marshall Square (dem) (Benjamin 1975:51-3) 1899?; Rustenburg: Landdrost's Office (Picton-Seymour 1977:356; Rex 1974:403) n.d.; Pretoria: Military College, Roberts Heights (Voortrekkerhoogte) (Picton-Seymour 1977:356) c1899; State Artillery Barracks (DSAB III:843; Picton Seymour 1977:279) 1895-8; Staatsgimnasium, Bosman/Proes Sts (dem c1969) (S v d Stel Bull 1970:22; DSAB III:843) 1899; Johannesburg: NGK Sunday school, Princess St, Troyeville (RAU doc) 1903; Pro-Gymnasium, Becker/Market St (RAU doc) 1903

All truncated references not cited and linked below are those of Joanna Walker's original text and cited in full in the 'Bibliography' entry of the Lexicon.

Writings about WIERDA, Sytze Wopkes

Allen, Vivien. 1971. Kruger's Pretoria: buildings and personalities of the city in the nineteenth century. Cape Town: Balkema. pp 51, 111
Bakker, Karel A, Clarke, Nicholas J & Fisher, Roger C. 2014. Eclectic ZA Wilhelmiens : A shared Dutch built heritage in South Africa. Pretoria: Visual Books. pp 2, 4, 5, 7, 15, 16, 17-23, 25-30, 35, 40-47, 72-81, 83, 87-89, 91-92, 96-97, 100, 103, 136, 138, 140, 157-164, 195, 198, 204, 208, 209
Dunston, Lola & Dunston, Tom. 1975. Young Pretoria 1889-1913. Pretoria: Dunston. pp 24
Greig, Doreen. 1971. A Guide to Architecture in South Africa. Cape Town: Howard Timmins. pp 53, 87, 131-132, 166, 189, 191-193
HSRC. 1977. Dictionary of South African Biography Volume III. Pretoria: Tafelberg for The Human Sciences Research Council. pp 842-843
Longland. 1979. Longland's Pretoria Directory for 1899 (Reprint No. 85). Pretoria: The State Library. pp 222
Meiring, Hannes. 1980. Pretoria 125. Cape Town: Human & Rousseau. pp 14, 16, 24, 48, 52, 54, 56, 60, 64, 70, 74
Picton-Seymour, Désirée. 1989. Historical Buildings in South Africa. Cape Town: Struikhof Publishers. pp 148, 149, 155, 163, 165, 166, 168, 169, 178, 179
Potgieter, DJ (Editor-in-chief). 1975. Standard Encyclopaedia of South Africa [SESA] Volume 11 Tur-Zwe. Cape Town: Nasou. pp 433
Rex, Hermann Moritz. 1974. Die Lewe en Werk van Sytze Wierda in Nederland met verwysing na sy betekenis vir die Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek. Pretoria: Unpublished Ph.D. pp All

List of buildings:

NG Kerk Sunday School: 1903. Troyeville, Johannesburg, Gauteng
Pro Gymnasium: 1903. Johannesburg, Gauteng