Share this record

Contact Artefacts
please if you have any comments or more information regarding this record.

MORGENSTERN and MORGENSTERN

Established:

Architect


This is the husband and wife team of Jacques MORGENSTERN and Riva MORGENSTERN.

The practice submitted the Fourth Premiated Design in the Johannesburg Civic Centre Competition, 1962, placed equal fourth with Jack BARNETT and F Lamond STURROCK and with MOROSS & GRAFF.

Ref: Johannesburg Civic Centre Competition 1962, Supplement to the South African Architectural Record, City Council Johannesburg, January, 1963.

[Submitted by William MARTINSON]

In 1954 they won the Model House Competition run by The Star newspaper for House Morgenstern together with Gilbert HERBERT.

The photographs were sent to us by Omi Morgenstern Leissner, the youngest daughter of Jacques and Riva Morgenstern.

______________________

Obituary

With great sorrow, I announce the passing of my dear parents, Riva (formerly Borkowf) and Jacques Morgenstern, on 26 October, 2011 and 27 January, 2013, respectively. Both died at home, in their apartment in Jerusalem. They are survived by six daughters and families, including numerous grandchildren and great grand-children, all of whom reside in Israel.

Jacques and Riva were both Jewish immigrants. The family of Riva (b. 6 January 1925) left Lithuania owing to increasing anti-Semitism, when she was a young girl. Jacques (b: 18 June, 1924) was Polish born but his parents moved to Belgium when he was a baby. In May 1940, his family narrowly escaped the ensuing Nazi invasion, fleeing across Southern Europe. En route he sold his paintings to augment the family income. In Lisbon, they were able to board a ship bound for Lourenço Marques (Maputo) arriving finally in Johannesburg when he was seventeen.

In the 1940s, they met at the Wits Department of Architecture, where they were enrolled, and they were married in December 1950, following their respective graduations. Over the next two years, they studied Town Planning together, earning their Diplomas in 1952. Riva was proclaimed as "The first woman in the Union to receive a Diploma in Town Planning."1

Meanwhile, Jacques was asked to lecture in the Department and by 1952, he was a full-time, permanent staff member. In 1956, he resigned from full-time teaching in order to assist his ailing father in managing his affairs, though he continued to function as a part-time lecturer and external examiner for some years to come. In 1959, he was one of STUDIO SEVEN who designed the John Moffat Building, which was to house the Faculty of Architecture and the Department of Fine Arts on campus.

Concomitantly, the two established a joint architecture practice which they named Morgenstern & Morgenstern. In the initial stages, they took on co-partners Gilbert HERBERT and Kouang Chien TOUNG respectively, both of whom left South Africa in the early 1960s. Architecture projects undertaken by the practice included the designing (or face-lifting) of numerous private residences, apartment blocks, shopping centers, synagogues, petrol stations and office blocks primarily in the Johannesburg area. The practice made frequent, "trade-mark" use of abstract stone panels sculpted by Edoardo Villa as friezes.

Prizes earned over the years included the prestigious once-in-ten-years award of the Transvaal Institute of Architects for the design of their own home in 1964. "House Morgenstern," built upon the scenic northern slopes of Linksfield Ridge and inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Waters, attracted repeated attention of the local media. One journalist dubbed it, the "house that belongs to a hill."2 Another declared that "A Johannesburg housewife, Mrs. Riva Morgenstern, was the co-designer of a house which has won an award for the most outstanding house built in the Transvaal since 1955."3

To be sure, the declaration attests to the prevalent attitude towards women architects at the time, as described by Adéle SANTOS , "I was socialized to believe that women were artistic, not analytical. We weren't 'big thinkers.' We could design kitchens, but not be planners."4 Accordingly, and even within their co-practice, there appears to have been divisions along traditional gender-role lines. Certainly my mother was responsible for the finer details of the House interior, though it is unclear why that equals lower esteem.

To the family, of course, the House was more than an art piece, it was home. And "Mrs. Riva Morgenstern" was far more than "designer" or "housewife", she was a compassionate wife, a fearless mother and more generally though unfailingly chic and unpresumptuous at the same. These qualities appear to have reflected in her art too - friend and colleague, Manfred Marcus once wrote how he "admired Riva's working drawings of bacterial dimensions testifying to her abhorrence of all showiness."

Jacques' work, in turn, was toted as reflecting "his independent spirit which will not bow to any rules but those of his own conscience." Marcus also expressed his admiration of "Jacques' intellect, his good humour" (and "his ability to perform Flemish folk songs"). To be sure, notwithstanding his professional accomplishments, the prevailing impression he appears to have made upon the friends, colleagues and ex-students who came to comfort us in mourning the loss of our great tribal chief, was that of a gentleman, fondly termed in Yiddish - a true mensch.

  1. S.A.Jewish Times (March 28, 1952), p.4.
  2. "House that belongs to a hill: husband and wife get award for dream home," Rand Daily Mail (26 March 1964), 8, 9.
  3. "Best House in 10 Years: Win for a city couple," The Star, Johannesburg, 29 October 1965, p.41.
  4. MITnews

(Omi Morgenstern Leissner, youngest of six daughters - February 2013)

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.

Books citing MORGENSTERN and MORGENSTERN

Greig, Doreen. 1971. A Guide to Architecture in South Africa. Cape Town: Howard Timmins. pp 154