Alan Robert LIPMAN was born Johannesburg in 1925 into a wealthy Jewish Family. He was a navigator in the South African Air Force during WWII (Lipman,ix) where after he studied Architecture at the University of the Witwatersrand. It was in 1948, whilst a student at Wits, that Alan first joined the Communist Party of South Africa. At Wits some of his class mates were Wim SWAAN, Pancho GUEDES and Monty SACKS.
After graduating in 1950 he spent a year working for the architectural division of the London County Council. Upon his return to South Africa he worked in Durban for BERNARD JENCKS ARCHITECTS until his political involvement started negatively affecting his architectural career. He and his wife, Beata, moved back to Johannesburg where Alan worked for Greaterman’s Department store, as their in house architect. As well as designing the first Checkers store he also designed the Port Elizabeth and Welkom Greaterman’s stores.
Alan and his wife Beata were both involved in the drafting of the Freedom Charter in 1955. In fact according to the Anarchist journal, Zabalaza, Beata Lipman was the person who beautifully hand-wrote the official version of the Freedom Charter. By 1963 The LIPMAN’s political involvement forced them into exile. The Rivonia Treason Trial started in October 1963 and The Alan and his wife left South Africa in early 1963. He said in his interview that his departure was an escape and that had they not left he would definitely have been implicated in the trial that saw Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu imprisoned on Robben Island for 27 years. This happens to be the same amount of time Alan and Beata spent in exile in the United Kingdom. A letter written by Professor At MEIRING, the head of the Pretoria school of Architecture at the time, recommended that Alan be allowed to study abroad (Fisher, 2003). After leaving South Africa Alan worked for both Ove Arup Associates and Fry, Drew, Drake and Lasdun in London (Fisher, 12).
Maxwell FRY and his wife Jane DREW both worked with LE CORBUSIER on Chandigarh. During my interview with Alan he told the story of LE CORBUSIER and the stolen drawings. He was working in Fry’s office when LE CORBUSIER came into the office in London, bearing in mind that the great architect did not deign to speak English and Alan didn’t speak any French, LE CORBUSIER came to Alan’s drawing board, took out a 10B pencil (as Alan described it) and started drawing all over the working drawings that he had been working on for weeks, saying something that Alan didn’t understand. Then only to have his colleague, fellow South African, Theo CROSBY, lean across his table the second LE CORBUSIER had finished and take his now improved working drawing. Alan never got the drawing back from Theo. Theo even instructed his wife months prior to his death ‘to never return the drawing to Alan LIPMAN’. Berthold Lubetkin , a Russian born architect also in London at the time, famous for his design of the Penguin pool at London zoo as well as the Highgate buildings also offered Alan a job while he was in London.
Alan’s next move was to Wales, where he began his career as an academic and socialist. He worked at the University of Wales for 27 years. Upon his retirement he was awarded an Emeritus professorship. He became world renowned for his research work and was a guest lecturer in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, India and Europe.
Before their return to South Africa, Alan and his wife lived in Kitwe, Zambia for six months. There he worked at the School of Architecture. The school was closed after a student revolt. At this time Alan was contacted by Walter Sisulu (released from Robben Island in Oct 1989) who asked him to return to SA, which he did in 1990.
The Lipman’s returned to South Africa in 1990. Alan got a job teaching at the University of Natal. He also taught in Bloemfontein and Wits later on. Alan and Beata’s friendship with people like Walter Sisulu and Nelson Mandela resulted in their move back to Johannesburg. It was in the early nineties that the Sunday Independent started looking for an architectural critic (Lipman,vii) and Alan LIPMAN started writing on Architecture for the newspaper.
In my interview with Alan on October the 2 2008 he said ‘Architecture is damnable shit’. He says that the reason he is so critical of, and writes about architecture is because he loves it so much. He also said that architects (as well as architecture) are not as important as they think they are. After all architecture is just the backdrop to people’s lives. While he does admit that there are a few Gems around, they are few and far between.
In conclusion Alan LIPMAN dotes on his 11 year old grandson, is bitterly disappointed in the ANC, whom he gave most of his adult life to, and thinks architecture is shit. He is also a fascinating character with whom I thoroughly enjoyed spending time, listening to his stories about Penguin pools, Corb’s food stained tie and how ‘You respected Nelson Mandela, but you loved Walter Sisulu’. Although I didn’t leave with all the details of the buildings he designed, dates and addresses I did leave feeling privileged to have had the opportunity to hear his stories.
Alan wrote a monthly article for the Sunday Independent Newspaper and a bimonthly article for the South African Institute of Architects.
Author unknown [Fisher, R], Worker’s Library and Museum, Newtown Architecture SA, January/February 1996 pg 17
Fisher, R. 2003 An anarchist, that’s what I am. Leading Architecture March/April 2003 pg 12.
Lipman, A. 2003. Architecture on my mind: critical readings in design. Pretoria, Unisa Press.
Newtown Management District website. 2006. Scibono Discovery centre, Miriam Makeba Street, Newtown.
South African Institute of Architects.
Author unknown Xenophobia, Nationalism and Greedy Bosses- An Interview with Alan Lipman. Zabalaza: A Journal of Southern African Revolutionary Anarchism #9, September 2008.
Interview with Alan R. LIPMAN at his home in Parktown North, 2 October 2008.
Telephone discussion with Henry PAINE on the 9 of October 2008.
(unless otherwise stated all information was acquired during the interview with Professor Alan Lipman on 2 October 2008).
[Jennifer BRADLEY. 2008. Third year project, University of Pretoria School of Architecture]
For more information on AR LIPMAN visit the South African Institute of Architects website.
Recipient of the Medal of Distinction from the South African Institute of Architects in 2004.
28 January 2013
Professor Alan Robert Lipman
1925 - 2013
Architect | Anarchist | Academic | Teacher | Writer | Critic | Activist
On 27 January 2013, South African architect, Alan Lipman, passed away peacefully at his home in Johannesburg. He is survived by his wife of sixty-four years, Beata; children Jane and Peter; and grandchildren Martha, Caitlin and Joshua.
Lipman inspired generations of architects, locally and abroad, not only to appreciate the moral potential of architecture, but to question the status quo, rigorously and with integrity. As a student, he chanced upon the maxim "Resist much, obey little" by Walt Whitman, which informed both his thinking and his life.
Lipman was raised in Johannesburg and Vrede, and served in the South African Air Force during World War II. He then studied architecture at the University of the Witwatersrand with peers Wim SWANN, Pancho GUEDES and Monty SACKS. Lectured by Carl PINFOLD, Angus STEWART and Johnny FASSLER, among others, he was strongly influenced by LE CORBUSIER and Walter Gropius, as well as "less rigid modernists" like Frank Lloyd Wright and Alvar Aalto, and the work of George Bernard Shaw.
Lipman graduated in 1950 and worked in Durban and Johannesburg, often for Indian and African clients. First a member of the South African Communist Party (SACP), Lipman later joined the ANC and took part in militant anti-apartheid activities. He and Beata worked alongside Walter Sisulu and Nelson Mandela in the Struggle – Lipman was instrumental in drafting the Freedom Charter in 1955, and Beata did the actual lettering of the original charter.
In 1963, in response to their political activities and socialist ideologies, the Lipman family was forced into political exile.
In Britain, Lipman worked for Ove Arup Associates and influential Modernist practice Fry, Drew, Drake & Lasdun. There he participated in a weekly ritual that he subsequently considered an essential part of an architect's ongoing professional education. "At both those firms we would take Friday afternoon after lunch, all sit down and, in rotation, explain what we were working on to the whole office – and they were both big offices.
"We would be severely, deeply questioned. It was both terrifying and heartening. We discussed architecture and the world. We invited people to come and talk to us. So there was that awareness and alertness and sharing with colleagues."
Lipman then took up a post at the University of Wales in Cardiff. While there, he linked his research on architecture to studies in sociology; and became involved with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). Upon his retirement, after a distinguished career spanning two decades, Lipman was conferred the title Professor Emeritus.
In 1990, he and Beata were persuaded by long-time friend and 'political father', Walter Sisulu, to return to South Africa and the couple moved back to Johannesburg. Lipman resumed his teaching, writing and research, and collaborated on two major projects as well as a number of schools and clinics.
His architectural achievements over the last twenty years include a SAIA Award for Excellence for the Workers Library and Museum in Newtown in 1996, in association with Henry PAINE; a SAIA Award for Excellence in 2004 for the Africa Centre for Health and Population Studies at Somkhele in Kwa-Zulu Natal, with Steve KINSLER and Derek VAN HEERDEN of EAST COAST ARCHITECTS; and a SAIA Medal of Distinction in 2004.
In recent years, Lipman has been resolutely critical of contemporary society and architecture. "I'm deeply, deeply offended by what passes for architecture in South Africa. Not only is this culture decadent, but the society is decadent around it. And, as far as I am concerned, architecture is an outward manifestation of social relations."
Throughout the difficult experiences of a questioning and principled life, Lipman was sustained by the dictum 'pessimism of the mind, optimism of the will'. In his book 'On the outside looking in' he commented, "Despite all that, I've been fortunate: all has not been gloom, exploitation. Upsetting as they have been, none of these experiences has overwhelmed me."
Alan Lipman lived and worked with fervour, generosity and integrity. The world is a poorer place without his wisdom and humour; yet his memory will continue to inspire enthusiasm for architecture, commitment to truth, and respect for the human spirit.
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WITSReview, July 2013. pp 58-59
AA celebrated architectural scholar who explored the moral potential of architecture in society, Alan Lipman, 88, died at home in Johannesburg on 27 January 2013. An ardent anti-apartheid activist, Lipman had been a member of the Communist Party and later the ANC, affiliations that drove him into exile in 1963.
He was born in Johannesburg on 6 June 1925. He served in World War II and then studied Architecture at Wits, graduating in 1950. He practised in the UK and then in South Africa, in Durban, and as Chief Architect of Greatermans Stores in 1961. His writing during this period on architectural theory broke new ground. A banning order drove him to exile and he began an academic career at the University of Wales. Here he undertook seminal research exploring parallels between architecture and sociology. He retired in 1989 as Professor Emeritus.
Lipman returned to South Africa in 1990 and continued writing on architecture as "an outward manifestation of social relations". He collaborated on projects, earning accolades from the South African Institute of Architects, among others, and an honorary doctorate from Wits (1998). He leaves his wife, two children and three grandchildren.
Submitted by William MARTINSON