University of Pretoria, Hatfield Campus
When you enter the University from Roper Street you are confronted with a multi storeyed white building, similarly the one at the entrance in University Road. Should you enter from Hatfield side there is a large white building to your right. All these buildings date from the seventies and eighties, when Brian SANDROCK was official architect to the University of Pretoria. This aesthetic, called neo-Brutalism after its originators, the SMITHSONs, British husband and wife, for the post World War 2 aesthetic, seems to dominate the campus. SANDROCK himself designed the Administration Building, as well as the Humanities Tower and Engineering Tower.
However once we start to look around we find that amongst this white building aesthetic there are many other buildings reflecting many other styles.
In fact the University is like a text-book of Twentieth Century Architecture.
The 'oldest' building on campus is Kaya Rosa directly to your left as you enter from the Roper Street entrance. You will probably be told that this is Victorian. That is not strictly speaking correct. Wilhelmiens is a more accurate term, which like its English counterpart, 'Victorian' it is not so much a style term as a period. This is when the Transvaal was a South Africa Republic and Kruger imported architects from the Netherlands for service in public works. The designer was the German architect John IBLER (1855-1901), who with BEARDWOOD, had also designed the Synagogue in Paul Kruger Street, used for Nelson Mandela’s treason trial. The building was the official residence of the University and stood in Skinner Street. When in the 1980s it was to be demolished to make way for a petrol station the University had it reconstructed by the architects HOLM, JORDAAN AND HOLM.
The main building on campus, the Old Arts building at the center of the campus was built in 1909 when it was decided by Jan Smuts, then Minister of Education in the Transvaal Colonial Government, to have a campus for the Arts and Law of the Transvaal University College, then in Johannesburg, located in Pretoria. For this the Chief architect of Public Works, Piercy EAGLE undertook the commission. This was shortly after the laying of the foundation stone of what is Boys High School, where Smuts announced his intention to have a University building in Pretoria. It is in the neo-Romanesque and Cape Dutch Revival style, strongly under the influence of Herbert BAKER and a consequence of he being a follower of the Arts and Crafts tradition in its particular manifestation as Queen Anne style. The entrance to the University was on an axis that stretched through into Arcadia, across the grounds of what is Pretoria Girls High School. Over time this strong axiallity has been lost.
The City Council of Pretoria donated the piece of land which was north of the then campus on condition that the University establish a Faculty of Agriculture. To this end James DEY in Public Works designed the building in red Kirkness Brick, de rigeur for public works buildings. It is however finely detailed using a minimum of clay elements (three) and follows the Cape Dutch Revival style of Sir Herbert BAKER, a style almost synonymous with Public Works architecture of the time.
The next buildings of significance were those done by Gerhard MOERDYK and Gordon LEITH, both ex school friends and architects – sometimes associates, sometimes in friendly rivalry. The campus seems one of those places where they were rivals, and where MOERDYK gained the upper hand. LEITH designed the Administration Building diagonally opposite the new Faculty of Agriculture, which had in turn led to a new main entrance to the campus placed on axis. A drawing by LEITH in the Tukiana Collection shows LEITH inspired by the Greek Revival University of Virginia of Thomas Jefferson but here styled on his contemporary at the Cape and first Architect in South Africa, Louis THIBAULT's French Mannerism or French Revolutionary Style. LEITH had proposed a number of similar pavilions on the cross-axis of the campus, but only this was built.
Simultaneously, in 1933, Gerard MOERDYK was busy down the south side of the cross-axis with what became known as the Merensky Library. This was conceived as a monument to the Great Trek which was to have its centenary celebrations in 1938. The building was built by public subscription, Hans Merensky making the largest financial contribution, hence the building carrying his name, the second largest from the Jewish community of Pretoria, hence the six-pointed stars in the internal screens. Staff and students also contributed generously. At the time it was conceived the archeological discoveries of the golden rhinoceros and other artefacts had been made at Mapungubwe, and this influenced MOERDYK’s use of the so-called Zimbabwe Style of the building. Like the Voortrekker Monument the building had a circular cut away in the ground floor to reveal the lower level. A Foucault pendulum was meant to swing in the space but was never realized. The technology is also unusual in that although the building has the appearance of granite, this is actually a constituted stone of ciment fondue. This building was to house all Afrikaans literature ever produced but soon became too small. The ground floor was made continuous and the basement split by an intermediate concrete floorslab. The building was inaugurated for the Great Trek Centenary, hence the concrete block with wagon tracks and MOERDYK’s signature in front to the right as you face the building.
After this MOERDYK was to receive many more commissions on campus and on the Medical campus, for example the Pathology Building and School of Dentistry. He was at the same time Chairman of the University Council, one of the longest serving.
With the war years a need was felt to have a programme in Physical Education and the Physical Education (now the Fine Arts Building) was designed. It was a good number of firms in collaboration, led by BURG LODGE BURG, who did the School of Theology, south of the Merensky Library. The design architect was Basil SOUTH, a gentle giant of a man who taught in the newly established School of Architecture (1943). The building shows all the restraint that goes with the war years, although finely detailed. The project was never completed.
After the War the building programme continued with the additions of the Chemistry Block and Botany Building, both from MOERDYK's office, now in partnership with WATSON. The Chemistry Block in its use of yellow face brick shows the strong influence of Dutch Modernism of the Amsterdam School, MOERDYK’s office having become a haven for a number of Dutch émigré draughtsman escaping the ravages of war. An interesting adjunct is the cantilevered concrete fire escape designed by Carl (Gus) GERNEKE while a student in Moerdyk’s office, the first such engineered reinforced concrete structure in South Africa.
The Botany Building also shows Dutch influence, although the lights and windows remind of Frank Lloyd Wright, and the entrance hall is singularly South African with its basket weave patterned brick floor and circular wagon-wheel ceiling above.
But a new spirit was abroad. The exhibition 'Brazil Builds' held by the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Pretoria had established an independent School of Architecture in 1943, and there this movement held sway. The buildings flanking the central lawn and lower cross-axis all demonstrate this aesthetic. But none so daringly as the Aula, done by a newly graduated Karel JOOSTE in the employ of NEL and MEIRING. It clearly expressed auditorium is the defining element, and the way the materials are exposed and juxtaposed must have been daringly innovative for its time. Unfortunately the concrete ribbon-stair that led from roof terrace to lower courtyard was demolished when this was covered in to extend the cafeteria space.
The buildings opposite of the Mathematics Block (north), Geology Block (north-west) and Mechanical Engineering Workshop (west) are all in the so-called 'Little Brazil' idiom, with deep-set windows and external brise-soleil shutters. The gardens behind the Geology Block are also executed in the style of the supreme Brazilian modern landscape architect, Roberto BURLE MARX.
The sixties saw the rise of Brian SANDROCK as architect to the University. His buildings are all expressionist of their technology, he favouring a highly engineered approach. The Administration Building at the corner of Lynnwood and University roads is his masterpiece. The entire West wall is a monolithically cast concrete panel suspended on rubber buffers to isolate the sound of the road and railway line from the offices of the rectorate. The abstract patterning on its façade is reputed to have derived from his staff attempting to extricate a moth from the still wet plaster-of-paris on the scale model he was to present to the University! He liked it, and rejected proposals made by various artists and there it is to-day. His other buildings have been mentioned at the start of the article. Sandrock’s era where he was controlling architect for the campus saw the building in the eighties of the New Merensky (TECTURA Architects) and the second Humanities building (TECTURA Architects), which located the University on the newly acquired CBC School grounds.
On this part of the campus in the nineties the University commissioned Samual PAUW to provide for a new building for the Faculty of Economics. What was asked for was another tower to match the Humanities Tower. Sam PAUW however persuaded the University to consider a low strung-out building, the one that he subsequently designed. This has the distinct style of the post-modern period, with reference to other style elements to be found on the old campus, particularly the neo-Romanesque of the PWD Old Arts Building and MOERDYK's Club House. It received an Award of Merit from the Transvaal Provincial Institute in 1994.
The new century has seen the addition of a new building for the Faculty of Law. This building was awarded on the basis of a limited competition, the commission going to KRUGER ROOS, Pedro ROOS and Martin KRUGER being Tuks alumni, though now based in Cape Town. It brings to the campus the aesthetic of the New Modern, a building of crisp clean lines, its architecture clearly expressed, while taking due regard of climatic concerns. It recently received an Award of Merit from the Pretoria Institute of Architecture.
One should not fail to mention the Universiteitsoord Church designed by Jan VAN WIJK. He was of the first graduates (number four) from the School of Architecture. One can see in the expressionistic forms the influence of the Taalmonument he designed at the Paarl. He died in 2005 but this building, as many of his others, remains his enduring monument.
[Roger FISHER, December 2010]
Administration Building (first)
All truncated references not fully cited below are those of Joanna Walker's original text and cited in full in the 'Bibliography' entry of the Lexicon.