University of the Witwatersrand Campus
NOTES ON THE SITE AND BUILDINGS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF THE WITWATERSRAND
by G.E. PEARSE
When I joined the University College some of its buildings were erected or being erected.
The College was badly advised about these buildings. Major O'Hara, the Mayor of Johannesburg, was on the University Committee and offered the services of the then City Building Surveyor, Mr EH Waugh, as adviser.
The Municipality had donated a site of about eighty acres at Milner Park for University purposes and the Government had donated a site for a Medical School next to the Institute of Medical Research but Mr Hofmeyr, I was told, foolishly thought it was too large and only took about a quarter of the site.
In 1918 soon after the ground at Milner Park was formally handed over a competition was held for the layout of the site. The assessors were Mr EH WAUGH, Mr DA McCUBBIN, architect to the [South African] railways, neither of whom were highly qualified or experienced and the Principal, Mr JH Hofmeyr.
This competition was won by Messrs LYON & FALLON of Cape Town. The sites for the main buildings and the residences and principal's house were accepted but the layout scheme was abandoned later as being entirely unsuitable.
In the same year a competition was held for the University Residences and Principal's House at Milner Park, the assessor being Mr EH WAUGH and the winner, Mr John PERRY of Cape Town. These buildings were very extravagant and costly in design and only a portion of each of the residences was erected. The work on these was put in hand immediately and soon after I was appointed to the Chair they were occupied by men students in College House and women students in Dalrymple House. The food had to be cooked in the former and wheeled across to the latter. The Principal, Mr Hofmeyr, was Dean at College House and Miss M Hodgson, later Mrs Ballinger MP, was in charge a t Dalrymple House.
Sunnyside, a large house in Parktown, which had been Lord Milner's residence, was presented to the University and men students were also housed there with Professor Paine, Professor of Physics, in charge.
In 1920 a competition was held for the three main buildings on the University ridge on the sites shown on the layout to house Administration and Arts in the central block and Science and Engineering in the two flanking blocks. The assessors were Mr EH WAUGH, Mr WH STUCKE and Mr Hofmeyr. The competition was won by Mr Frank EMLEY of Johannesburg and strong exception was taken by the competitors to the award as the winning design did not comply with the very rigid conditions of the competition. The architects placed second, Messrs COWIN & POWERS, decided to take the matter to Court. The University College Council asked the Association of Transvaal Architects to arbitrate and on their advice it was agreed to appoint Messrs. Frank EMLEY, COWIN & POWERS as joint architects for all the University buildings, a most unfortunate decision. The Council then decided to erect the building to house Geology, Botany & Zoology first as these departments were most uncomfortably housed in the Tin Temple. The present site was selected for this building. The main buildings in Mr EMLEY's design were to be in brick with stone dressings and it was decided to erect the first building in brick with pre-cast facings. Mr WAUGH, now consulting architect, suggested that the facings should be tinted red, using ‘jeweller’s rouge’ for the purpose. This was done but the effect was unfortunate and the blocks were eventually painted over. The planning of this block, for which COWIN & POWERS were responsible, was particularly bad especially the laboratories with their semi-circular leaded windows and west lighting.
Mr EMLEY's health was very bad at this time and he wrote to Professor Reilly of Liverpool University asking if he could send out one of his graduates to assist him in the work as he was not very happy about the partnership that had been thrust upon him. Mr F WILLIAMSON, a graduate of Liverpool, who had had some practical experience in the office of McKim, Mead & White, one of the leading firms of architects in New York, came out and took charge of the work. He was responsible for the design of the three main buildings and recommended that they should be faced with pre-cast concrete blocks and this was agreed to.
In the design of the first Science Block two small museums were provided, one on the ground floor for Zoology and one above for Botany. A deadlock arose when the Professor of Zoology, Dr Fantham, refused to use his museum unless it had top light and the Professor of Botany, Dr Moss, refused to use a museum unless it has south light. The Principal asked me if I would meet the two Professors on the site, discuss the plans with them and agree to anything within reason. I had never met these two men before. Professor Moss was a very aggressive little man with a shock of white hair that stood up from his forehead and with his profile gave an impression of a white cockatoo, which I believe was his nickname. Professor Fantham was rather swarthy and when he spoke he showed his teeth in rather a snarling expression. I tried to reason with him by pointing out that a top lighted museum was a thing of the past and by using windows high up and between the cases on three sides one could get better results. He refused to discuss the matter with one so ignorant and eventually got his own way and the unfinished block was the result. Professor Moss refused to use another room for his purpose because it faced north with the result that most of his specimens were kept locked up in packing cases and deteriorated badly.
I also crossed swords with Professor Moss on the question of trees. He, Professor Watermeyer and I were appointed as a committee to lay out the grounds. Professor Moss had already got busy and planted a hakea hedge round the grounds in spite of my advice with the result that it was soon infested with the Australian bug and had to be destroyed in a few years. He also selected deodars for planting along the Hostel drive. These, while very decorative were not suitable for the parking of cars beneath or for the placing of seats to watch the games on the fields below. However, as Professor of Botany he had his own way.
He also fell foul with the Principal by instructing the architects to put a lantern light over the large lecture theatre on the first floor. This was done as they assumed he had authority to place the order. It was quite a useless feature.
Professor Watermeyer and I were asked to lay out further sports fields for at that time there was only one Rugby ground and four tennis courts. This we did and I went over to see the Forestry Department in Pretoria and get advice on what trees were most suitable and when to plant them. We took their advice and planted the trees in January. Professor Moss, who had been on leave, returned in February and when he saw what had been done he flew into a towering rage. He resigned from the Committee, brought the matter up in Senate and said “What does an architect know about trees. He should be the last person to be consulted in the matter.” When I replied, that I had taken the advice of the Forestry Department that was too much for him. "The Forestry Department” he said “they know less about trees than an architect.”
I was then asked by the S.R.C, to design a small sports pavilion for them. Mr. Gordon LEITH was a part-time lecturer in design at that time and he suggested that the work should be carried out by third year students who could prepare the working drawings and details under his guidance. This was done and Rex MARTIENSSEN and Gordon McINTOSH were mainly responsible for the work and HC TULLY, another student, modelled the University coat of arms and ornamental swags. At that time this building was considered quite large enough for its purpose and for holding student meetings. Another amusing character was Professor Eaulham's wife, Dr Annie Porter. She lectured in parasilology and, according to students, spent a good deal of time at the abattoirs collecting specimens. She was very devoted to her husband whom she always referred to as Dr Faulham. On one occasion when the University was celebrating the Pasteur centenary a number of short talks on various aspects of his life were given. Mrs Faulham, who always dressed atrociously, appeared in a pink silk evening dress, over which were her scarlet doctor's gown and a velvet cap set awry on her head. She wore long white gloves. Her talk was on Pasteur's life, illustrated by slides. She had instructed the assistant who was putting on the slides to change them when she knocked on the desk. She was an impatient lecturer and through her talk kept on saying “Dr Faulham will enlarge on this point later on.” She frequently struck the desk to emphasise her points so that the slides got ahead of her. When she said “I will now show you a portrait of Pasteur at the age of 21” there was a roar of laughter. The slide showed a section of a tape-worm. The poor operator was overwhelmed by a storm of abuse.
Professor Wilkinson was then Professor of Chemistry and gave the architects some headaches when designing the Science Block housing Chemistry and Physics. He insisted on a large lecture theatre running up through two stories similar to that of the University where he had been educated. This has now been removed but for many years it was the main lecture theatre of the University.
A more delightful character was Professor Drennan who wore a beard and always gave his lectures wearing cap and gown. He also took snuff. I used the same lecture room for my lectures and the lectern had a green baize cover. I noticed that this was often covered with dust which I had the habit of flicking off. This generally made me sneeze until I discovered that it was snuff. I drew Drennan’s notice to this but he smiled and said “You know, Pearse, one should always take snuff during lectures. If an awkward question is asked one can always open the snuff box and take a sniff.” This gives one time to think out a suitable answer. One day he left his lecture notes on the desk and I picked them up but couldn't find him. I glanced at the notes and on several pages saw the words “Here tell joke”. Those days in the Tin Temple were very happy ones. Miss Margaret Hodgson, lecturer in history, had a study next to mine and made tea for Professor Dalton, Professor of Mathematics and one of the most brilliant men on the staff, Professor Maingard, Professor of French, Professor Drennan, one or two senior lecturers and myself. In 1925 my Department had grown considerably and I was assisted by part-time lecturers, practising architects, who popped in occasionally to give a lecture. This was never very satisfactory and in that year I was granted a full-time senior lecturer. This was Mr AS TURNER who had qualified in London and had done some lecturing at London University. This appointment made a wonderful difference to me as I was now freer to move about and do research. Turner helped to build up a fine school of architecture and I was sorry to lose him when he joined a firm in practice. He was responsible for the design of the new Railway Station in Johannesburg.
We all moved up to Milner Park in 1926 and my department was housed in the north wing of the Engineering Block. In this building were the Departments of Mining and Surveying, Metallurgy, Mechanical, Electrical and Civil Engineering. This building was erected on the site of one of the large quarries I have mentioned with foundations in some parts forty feet deep. I suggested that we might take advantage of this and have a large basement but Hofmeyr was opposed to the idea. However, I put it to members of the Council who quite agreed.
Professor Watermeyer was a delightful character. He was keenly interested in sport and was President of the Rugby Club and other societies. He had a beard and on one occasion had an amusing experience. A noted criminal known as Beauty Bell who also had a beard had escaped from prison and the police throughout the country were searching for him. Watermeyer was on tour with a number of mining students in the Eastern Transvaal and had stopped at a filling station. He was seen by a young policeman who insisted on his coming to the police station for investigation because of his likeness to Beauty Bell, much to the amusement and delight of the students. I think he enjoyed the joke as much as the rest of the party and more so when his photograph appeared in one of the newspapers next to one of Beauty Bell.
A strange character on the University Staff was the Professor of Geology, Professor R.B. Young. I had crossed swords with him when in practice. In those days the Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Charles Porter, another famous character known as Permanent Porter, insisted that before a septic tank could be installed for any residence a geologist had to report on the site. This was before the days of sewage in the northern suburbs. The geologist was Professor Young, a near neighbour and crony of Dr Porter. Before the plans of a building were submitted to the local authorities, the architect concerned had to contact Dr Young and make an appointment to visit the site. Transport had to be provided and a fee of ten guineas paid to him in advance. I took him out to several sites and on each occasion he admired the view, commented on the lovely weather and then signed the plans. Presumably he had studied the geological formation of the site in his office. I often wondered how much he made a year for this service.
When I met him as a colleague years afterwards I couldn't resist chaffing him about the methods employed in feathering his nest and gulling the public. He was a hard headed Scot and somewhat dour and I soon realised that I had made an enemy. I happened to apply for a grant to assist me in research and the publication of a book on 18th Century Architecture in South Africa. He was Chairman of the Board and turned it down on the grounds that it was of no scientific value. Later, when I applied for a Carnegie grant to visit the U.S.A. and study architectural education over there Young, who was chairman of that board, turned it down for the same reason. In fairness to “Robbie” I must admit that we played a lot of tennis together at his house and were good friends, in fact he spent one of the short vacations on my farm at Naboomspruit and studied the geological formation of the ground as I wanted to put down a borehole for water. He was probably quite genuine when turning down my applications.
Soon after I was appointed to the Chair the Principal Mr Hofmeyr, said that there were several requests for lectures in the Fine Arts and wondered whether I could undertake these. I found in the Library a text book on the subject entitled Apollo and on reading it through found that I could quite easily prepare a course of lectures as painting and sculpture were closely linked up with my studies in architecture. These lectures were started in 1922 and my first students were school teachers and one of them, Miss Marjorie Juta, used to arrive on horseback to attend the lectures. These became very popular and were eventually included as a subject in the B.A. courses. This led in time to a full course in the Fine Arts including practical work in drawing, painting, sculpture, etc. and Mr W de S Hendrikz, the well known sculptor and an early student of mine, was appointed lecturer and assisted by Miss Joyce Leonard the painter. From these early beginnings a full degree course in the fine arts was instituted and eventually a Chair of Fine Arts was established to which Dr Heather MARTIENSSEN, another of my early students, was appointed as the first Professor.
In 1921 I was approached by the Johannesburg Sketch Club to know whether they could use our architectural studio in the Tin Temple for their meetings. By this time I had taken over the accommodation used by the Department of Zoology which had moved to Milner Park. A meeting was held attended by several architects and artists and I was asked to act as Chairman. It was then agreed that the Sketch Club should hold their meetings in the Tin Temple and a suggestion was made that the University College might provide evening classes in painting, sculpture, etc. In March 1922 the University advertised that evening classes would be held on Drawing from the Cast and Life, Modelling, Metalwork and Leather work provided that there was a satisfactory enrolment. Mr. Gyngell, Curator of the Art Gallery, was appointed instructor in drawing and Miss McAdam in modelling. This was the beginning of an Art School which was eventually taken over by the Technical College.
In opening an exhibition in November, Lady Phillips had urged that an Art School should be established in Johannesburg and said "I have just heard what is the best news I have had for some time. I hear from Professor PEARSE that we are going to achieve what has hitherto been a crying want. The public spirit of the architects in giving a Chair of Architecture to the University has paved the way for this, and I understand that all we can with for in the way of encouragement and help is going to be forthcoming. It is to the architects that we owe this great step in the direction of attaining our desire” (The Star, November 1921).
When I was appointed to the Chair of Architecture an examination for the registration of architects in the Transvaal was in existence and I was asked to take this over. The examination was of a very low standard and I proposed that a Diploma Course in Architecture should be instituted in place of this registration examination and this was agreed to by the profession. Architectural students in Pretoria and other parts of the Transvaal studied for the registration examination and it was decided that a Certificate in Architecture of the same standard as the Diploma should be introduced for these students and that we should conduct the examinations. The result was that students in other Provinces asked for permission to take the examinations for this Certificate. Courses in Architecture were being held at the Technical Institutes in Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Durban and it was suggested that a meeting should be held with representatives of these Institutions to discuss architectural education in the Union. In September 1921 an Architectural Conference under the auspices of the Association of Transvaal Architects was held at the Scientific Club to discuss a registration Act for the Union and this was attended by representatives of the four provinces.
At the end of the conference a banquet was held at the Scientific Club attended by the Administrator of the Transvaal, the Hon. A.G. Robertson, the Mayor of Johannesburg Mr J Christie M.L.A., the President of the Associated Scientific & Technical Societies, Dr. Orenstein and Professor Hofmeyr, Principal of the University College.
The outcome of all this was that a Bill was passed by Parliament in June 1927 and became known as the Architects and Quantity Surveyors (Private) Act, No. 18 of 1927.
Under the Act a Board of Education was set up. At its first meeting Dr Gie, Secretary for Education was present to discuss the educational requirements of the Institute and particularly the entrance qualifications of students. When I proposed that the Matriculation examination should be accepted this was opposed by Mr HOWDEN, President in Chief of the Institute of South African Architects and Mr MOORE, the Vice President, who did not think this was necessary. I was amused when Dr Gie folded up his papers and said that under the circumstances the training of architects could be undertaken by the Technical Colleges. This was a shock to the opposition who finally agreed that all architectural education should be undertaken by the Universities and that the Matriculation examination should be the entrance qualification. Up to this time I had been giving courses for quantity surveying students and when the Act came into being I was asked to introduce a Diploma in Quantity Surveying.
This led to a full time course for a Diploma and eventually to a Degree course B.Sc (Q.S.).
In 1924 Mr Hofmeyr was appointed Administrator of the Transvaal and Professor Maingard as acting Principal. A funny little man full of his own importance and often referred to as the French poodle. He was succeeded by Sir William Thomson in 1924. Sir William was a charming man and with his wife was most popular with staff and students. He had held many University appointments in South Africa and only accepted this position as a stop gap until a new Principal could be found.
The front portion of the Central Block was officially opened by the Prince of Wales in 1925. This was a great occasion and an opportunity for a students' rag. It appears that one of the students. S. Suzman, was stopped by a young policeman for some motoring offence and while his name was being taken Suzman noticed the extraordinary likeness between the policeman and the Prince of Wales, He decided that this was an opportunity for hoaxing the public and took the policeman's number, He went to see Mr. Hofmeyr, the Administrator, who had always been interested in all student activities and asked for his assistance in approaching the Prince and also the Chief of Police. Both were willing to assist in the rag. Suzman saw the policeman and offered to get him up as Prince of Wales to which, after some hesitation, he agreed. He wrote to the students of Cape Town University and got from them exact details of the clothes, ties, hats and mannerisms of the Prince. The rag was kept a secret and only the Principal, Sir William Thomson, the Chairman of Council, Sir William Dalrymple, Professor Kirby, Professor of Music, the Registrar Mr van der Brugge and I were informed. I was given the job of cleaning up the site and arranging seating for 5000 people and erecting stands for the ceremony. The Science Block was then completed, the Engineering Block nearing completion, but the site was cluttered up with builders’ workshops and uneven dirt roads. I approached the Brewery and they kindly delivered loads of coal ash which we used for levelling up the site and keeping it well watered. The builders' workshops had to be screened by temporary stands. We put up flag staffs and the Municipality of Pretoria allowed us to take down flags and shields from their decorations in the early morning of the ceremony. By ten o'clock I had arranged all the seating, most of the seats being lent by the Municipality and schools but found I was about 700 seats short. I rushed round the University buildings and found the requisite number chiefly in the Department of Zoology and these were screwed down. I had to chase up a gang of carpenters and we got busy moving these when the Professor Zoology arrived and stopped the work. He was one of the most difficult men in the University, intensely disliked by his staff and students. I was fetched back and appealed to him to co-operate but it was no use so I told the men to carry on. His language was choice and he threatened me with legal proceedings, but I suggested we might use fists and have it out. He eventually gave in when I threatened to have him thrown out. As I walked out I saw Sir William in the corridor. He had evidently heard the whole thing and enjoyed for he said in his quiet way: “I often wonder why providence produces such queer types of individuals in this world.”
With the exception of one or two students who were organising the rag, the rest of the students knew nothing about it. It was announced in the Press that the Prince would be brought from the Rand Club, where he was staying, to the University in a lorry got up to represent the White Train in which he was traveling through the country and followed by another lorry representing the Press train. The route of the procession was illustrated in the newspapers. Arrangements had been made for one or two boy scouts to be placed on the top of the Science Block to signal when the real Prince should appear in an official car. The Prince was delighted with the whole show and watched the bogus prince, who had been smuggled into the Club, pass the guard of honour and enter the first lorry. He then went to the library windows of the Club to watch the procession wend its way down Commissioner Street through cheering crowds. On arrival at the University the “Prince” was given a great oration. He inspected the guard of honour of school cadets in reverse order, much to the surprise of the public and the discomfiture of the guard, and was then escorted to the platform where he was capped and gowned in a dress made of local newspaper comics. There was a slight hitch in the proceedings as the real Prince was not in sight so the Registrar who had been deputising for the Chancellor stepped into the breach and said that the “prince” would like to hear some college songs. These were given with gusto when suddenly the signal was received. The “Prince” was hustled off the platform and rushed through the crowd to the lorry which had moved to the west gate. The real Prince then arrived and the proceedings were carried out as arranged but, by this time the audience was completely confused and so were the guard of honour for some time. The honorary degree of Doctor of Laws was conferred on the Prince of Wales by the Vice-Chancellor, Sir Robert Kotze.
I urged several friends not to take photos a t the beginning of the ceremony but to wait awhile but they all snapped the bogus prince and had no films left for the real article. The Press did not approve of the rag and had little to say about it more particularly as some of the editors were caricatured in the “Press Train”.
During Sir William Thomson's tenure of office I was asked to prepare a plan for the layout of the University grounds and make provision for a Swimming Bath which the students were anxious to have near the main buildings rather than at the Sports Grounds. After the plan had been approved by the University Council work was commenced on the layout, levelling the terraces and building retaining walls and steps. The amphitheatre like Swimming Bath was constructed by two Basutos using the stone removed from the excavations. The towers and dressing rooms were designed by the Architects in collaboration with myself.
In 1931 I received a grant from the Carnegie Corporation to visit the Universities in the U.S.A. and study their methods of architectural education.
While out there I received the plans of our University Library from Mr Raikes who had succeeded Sir William Thomson as Principal in 1928 and who asked me to give my opinion of them. I was horrified with the design, a red brick building with a dome quite out of character with the other University buildings. I had lunch with Mr E.L. Tilton a library architect and showed him the plans. He quite agreed with my criticism so I wrote to Mr Raikes making suggestions as to alterations to the plan and to the design of the building. He wrote back to say that our Librarian, Mr P. Freer, would resign unless the building was carried out to his requirements. I cabled back suggesting that his resignation should be accepted. Fortunately Mr Freer was coming to the U.S.A. and would be meeting Tilton and other library experts.
Soon after my return to the University in July 1932 I was asked to assist in the design of the Library. As the University architects, now Mr NT COWIN & F WILLIAMSON, had been appointed to design the building, I found it difficult to interfere, but I managed to persuade them to adopt my proposals for the design of the main reading room for which John FASSLER, a member of my staff, had produced a fine perspective and also the design of the eastern, northern and southern facades, dealing with these in a classic manner to harmonise with the main buildings, instead of using red brick as they had proposed. The building was opened by the Duke of Kent in 1934.
I heard from a friend that a fine painting of the arrival of the 1820 settlers had been made for the Empire Exhibition in London and that it was stored in the painter's studio. I got him to get in touch with the artist who agreed to let the University have it for £100. This painting was placed in the main reading room of the Library and I hoped that others would follow showing the discovery of the Cape, the landing of Van Riebeeck and the Voortrekkers, etc. One, by Amschewitz, showing the departure of Da Gama, was presented to the University.
About this time I was asked by Dr Bernard Price, a member of the University Council, to design the building for Geophysical Research which he was presenting to the University. I pointed out that the University had appointed architects for the University buildings but if they agreed I was prepared to do the sketch plans and that they would carry out the work. They had a temporary hut as a drawing office and I got them to engage GT CHALMERS and Jean WELS [sic WELZ] as draughtsmen. I worked up the sketch plans with Professor, later Sir Basil, Schonland who had been appointed Professor of Geophysical Research and Director of the Institute.
Jean WELS was mainly responsible for the planning of the building which turned out very successfully. In 1937 the University Council decided to complete the Central Block and build an Assembly Hall. Only the front portion of the block had been erected and this consisted of an entrance hall flanked by offices served by a corridor with stairs at each end. Though the facade was faced with pre-cast concrete blocks the offices were of brick and the back of the building was of wood framing covered with weather boarding. The library had been housed over the entrance hall and the floors and partitions were of wood. A disastrous fire took place there at the end of 1931.
The Council was not very happy about the appointment of the University architects, WILLIAMSON & COWIN, to carry out the completion of this block and suggested that another architect should be appointed. The plan of the original design of this block showed a large octagonal hall carried up through the building and finished with a tower and dome. This was to house the library. Beyond this was to be a large semi-circular assembly hall. On either side of this were open courts flanked by offices on the eastern and western sides. The Principal approached me and asked for my advice. I told him that as the design for the Central Block had been won in competition by Frank EMLEY and that Messrs. COWIN & POWERS had been appointed as associate architects it would he very difficult to suggest another firm of architects more particularly as the front portion of the building had been designed and erected by COWIN, POWERS & WILLIAMSON, It was very doubtful whether another firm could or would accept the commission. It was then suggested that I should be appointed as consultant or associate architect and this proposal was put to the architects, Messrs. COWIN & WILLIAMSON; Mr EMLEY had died and Mr POWERS had retired and settled in practice in Durban. The proposal was turned down by the architects, but after consideration they agreed to work with me as consultant. I suggested that we might each prepare sketch plans for the completion of the building as the library was now housed in a separate building and the octagonal structure was redundant. The University was anxious to have two halls, one for assembly, concerts and theatrical performances and one for examinations and social functions.
My staff and I prepared a scheme which was approved by the architects and the University. A drawing office was provided by the University and the drawings and details were prepared by a staff appointed by the architects and myself. I was fortunate in having Jean Wels on the staff. He was mainly responsible for the replanning of the entrance hall and the situation of the stairs. It was agreed that the external treatment of the building should follow that of the portion already erected, i.e. in pre-cast concrete.
We spent some time preparing the drawings for the hall, now known as the Great Hall and working out theoretically the plan and sections to obtain the best acoustics. The drawings were sent to the Sabine Laboratories in the U.S.A. and to Mr Adshead, an acoustic consultant in England. The former were quite satisfied with the design and had no comments to make but Mr Adshead, who was opposed to what he called modern architecture, recommended that we should introduce classic pilasters and panelling in the interior to break up the sound and thus prevent echoes. Professor Kirby, our Professor of Music, who had just returned from Europe, suggested that we should get in touch with a firm in Paris, Gustave Lyon, who had been commissioned to design a number of famous buildings in Europe acoustically. This was done and we were very pleased to get a favourable report from there making minor alterations in the design of the ceiling and erecting a cyclorama or curved wall at the back of the stage. I took long leave in 1938 and went to Paris to discuss details of the hall and the use of acoustic materials with M Carpentier, a charming Frenchman, in Gustave Lyon's office, He had made a large model of the hall. I had visited all the studios in the B.B.C. London and found they were using a new acoustic material, rock wool, samples of which I took to Paris. Gustave Lyon was most impressed with this material. He had always used fibreglass and we decided to use rock wool at the back of the hall.
On my return I found that my department had moved into the eastern wing of the Central Block and that the Hall and western block were nearing completion.
The 1939-45 War broke out in September 1939.
The Great Hall was completed in 1940 and was opened by the Governor General, Sir Patrick Duncan in June. It was a great success acoustically except for one bad spot and became the centre for graduation ceremonies, concerts, cinema shows and theatrical performances. Shortly before the War I was asked to establish a course in Town Planning a t the University. We had a very active Town Planning Association in Johannesburg which was established soon after the first war and I had at one time been President. I had been giving lectures in Town Planning to my students and to students taking a degree course in Land Surveying at the University. I invited representatives of the Architectural, Civil Engineering, Town Planning and Land Surveying professions to attend a meeting and we drew up a course leading to a Diploma in Town Planning at the University, This became very popular and in due course a Degree in Town Planning was established.
In 1939 I was asked to design the Wolf & Hirsch Hillman Building. This building was to house the departments of Civil Engineering, Mining and Land Surveying and was the gift of Messrs. Wolf and Hirsch Hillman, leading timber merchants in Johannesburg. Duncan HOWIE, later Professor HOWIE, was a lecturer in my department and was mainly responsible for the design. The building was completed in June 1941 and opened by the Prime Minister, General Smuts. The opening ceremony took place in the Great Hall and we were very much amused at the General's remarks on this occasion. Mr Wolf Hillman made an opening speech, which had been prepared for him on rather thin paper, so that he frequently turned over two pages at a time and had to find his way back to the right page apologising to the General on each occasion.
In this speech delivered with a strong foreign accent Mr Hillman mentioned that he and his brother Hirsch had come from Lithuania or Latvia as young men to start farming in this country. He remarked that the Dutch farmers in the district had been very kind to them, and called them Neef (Nephew) while they addressed them as Oom (Uncle). They could not make a living out of their farm so they came to Johannesburg and started their timber business which turned out to be a great financial success. He mentioned that if one had a lot of sheep and wanted to get them into a kraal one had to have one or two goats to lead them in.
“Well you see General” he said “my brother Hirsch and I, in presenting this building to the University, are like two goats and we hope the sheep will follow and present the University with more buildings in the future.” In his reply General Smuts said that as he listened to Neef Wolf he was reminded of a biblical story to the effect that when Abraham had to make a sacrifice, he had his only son to offer. As he was binding the boy to place him on the altar he heard a noise in a thicket and found a goat there which he was able to sacrifice instead. In thinking over the story he realised that if he had not found this goat and had had to sacrifice his only begotten son we wouldn't have had Wolf and Hirsch Hillman here to present us with this building.
The first University Dental School and Hospital was erected a t the corner of Bok and Loveday Streets in Johannesburg overlooking the Wanderers Grounds. This building was financed by the City Council of Johannesburg and by the Government. It was opened by Councillor A.R. Thorburn, Mayor of Johannesburg in October 1942. The sketch plans for the building were prepared by John FASSLER, then a lecturer on my staff.
Mr COWIN had died in 1941 and I was appointed Architect for all the new University buildings.
In 1942 I was commissioned to complete the South wing of the University Medical School. This was followed by the completion of the North wing and the building of a new Dissection Hall, Lecture Theatre and Pathological Museum. The last three were completed in 1946 and Paul HAHN and John FASSLER were responsible for the design of these alterations and additions.
I was then asked to design a building on a site south of the Show Ground to house Non-European students. This building known as Douglas Smit House was designed by Duncan HOWIE and opened by Major Piet van der Byl, Minister of Native Affairs. An amusing incident occurred here. We had decided to use Latin instead of the two official languages on the foundation stone. I asked Professor Haarhoff, then Professor of Classics, to translate the inscription for me. He slipped up with the date and instead of putting 1946 on the stone he had written 1446. This was discovered in time by one of the workmen who drew our attention to it. Luckily we had time to alter the date before the stone was laid. Professor van Riet Lowe who was Secretary of the Historic Monuments Commission asked the Principal whether he could have a portion of the stone with van der Byl's name and the date 1446 so that he could bury it somewhere on the Cape Flats where it could be discovered by an archaeologist to prove that the Van der Byls were here on that date and were therefore the oldest of the historic Cape families. The principal did not approve of the suggestion.
In 1947 the South African Railways decided to expropriate land including the Wanderers Grounds for the building of a new Railway Station. The University Dental School came into the scheme and I was asked to prepare plans for a new Dental School and Hospital on the Southeast corner of the University Grounds. At the same time I was asked to design an Ophthalmic Hospital for the St. John Ambulance Association to be erected at Baragwanath next to the large Non-European hospital.
Owing to all this work I decided to resign as Professor of Architecture and go into practice. I took Paul HAHN into partnership and we were asked to keep our offices at the University in one of the huts that had been erected there to house the large number of students after the war. Professor Shaw, Head of the Dental Hospital, and I were sent over to England to study the latest Dental and Ophthalmic hospitals there and on the Continent.
On my return we got busy with the plans of the two buildings. I designed the Ophthalmic Hospital and John FASSLER prepared the sketch plans of the Dental Hospital. This turned out very successfully and was considered by visiting Dental surgeons from overseas as one of the finest in the Commonwealth. It was opened by the Governor-General, the Rt.Hon. E.G. Jansen in 1953.
Among many interesting buildings which we were designing at that time were the Polio Research Laboratories at Edenvale opened in 1953; the extensions to the Women’s Residence at Milner Park; the Library of the University of the Orange Free State; the Telecommunications Research Laboratory; the National Institute of Personnel Research, the last two at Milner Park; the new Chemistry building; Extensions and Alterations to the Physics Block; and the University workshops.
The last building with which I was associated at the University was Jan Smuts House.
I retired from practice after that and settled at Magoebaskloof.
These notes were last edited on 2021 07 15
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.