Was born on the farm Leeukop in the district Aberdeen, South Africa. He was the son of Johannes Anthonie Smith (1886-1954), journalist, painter (see: A C Bouman, 1935. Kuns in Suid-Afrika) and art-critic who, during the South African War, joined the commando of Genl. Wynand Malan before he turned fifteen. His death sentence for high treason was later commuted to the loss of franchise. He published his war experiences as Ek rebelleer in 1939. Smith Senior worked as a journalist, first on De Nieuwe Tijd in Aberdeen, later on Het Westen, Potchefstroom, Onze Courant in Graaff-Reinet as manager-editor and editor of Die Afrikanerin Pietermeritzburg until ±1925. He then joined Die Burger as correspondent in Johannesburg and in 1928 in Cape Town and served as art critic for the Cape newspaper for over twenty years. During the Second World War he joined the Ossewa-Brandwag and became its leader in the Cape Province. Wherever he went he was involved with the establishment of Afrikaans Schools, also in Pietermaritzburg.
Because of his father’s peripatetic life, the younger Anthonie attended various schools across the country. He commenced his primary school education in Graaff-Reinet. Approximately five years later when he entered Grade 6 (Standard 3) his family moved to Pietermaritzburg where he later attended the Pietermaritzburg Boys’ High School. At about the age of fifteen the family moved to Johannesburg where he continued his secondary education at the Helpmekaar High School until the middle of his final year. His father was then transferred to Cape Town and Anthonie attended the last six months of his final school year at Jan Van Riebeeck High School in Cape Town.
After school he studied at the University of Cape Town where he obtained his degree in architecture. His final year thesis was on the design of a theatre. Following his research for this paper, he developed a keen and life-long interest in acoustics which stood him in good stead in his future design of churches. Anthonie was employed by the government in Pretoria (for a period of about one year) where he was involved in (amongst other) alterations to the Buildings of Parliament in Cape Town.
J Anthonie SMITH then established his practice in Cape Town (approximately 1937) and in the following years he opened smaller satellite offices in Port Elizabeth, Johannesburg, Queenstown and Uitenhage. He travelled regularly between the various offices and projects.
Anthonie, who was himself a fine draftsman, having been raised in an artistic milieu, often collaborated with artists in the designs of his buildings. His brother, Le Roux Smith Le Roux, was a very talented artist and art critic who received a bursary to study art in Italy after completing his degree at the University of Cape Town at the age of 17. In 1934 he painted the wall panels for the Old Mutual Building, Cape Town, and, collaborating with Eleanor Esmonde-White, murals for South Africa House in London. He settled in Europe and was (amongst other) director of the Tate Art Gallery in London and a well known broadcaster. He also did paintings for one of Anthonie’s churches, the DR Church in Ladismith, 1942. In later years Anthonie worked nearly exclusively with the Pretoria artist, Leo THÉRON, who designed and made the windows for several of his churches.
He married Bertha McKenzie Johnson from the farm Vlakteplaas (near De Rust) at the inauguration of his first church, the DR Church Bellville Central on 17 February 1940. She also came from a family of artists, viz. her sister, Madge Johnson who was well known for portrait paintings (including members of Parliament) and for flower studies.
Anthonie was renowned for his design of churches, mainly Dutch Reformed. Although they were essentially limited to the Cape Province and South-West Africa (now Namibia), there were more than sixty churches in all. He also designed a Dutch Reformed Church in Livingstone, Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). Notwithstanding other notable projects such as the Bellville Civic Centre (1957), the Cape Town Airport and Port Elizabeth Airport (1970’s) and many others, he will, however, mainly be remembered for his pioneering work in church architecture.
Characteristics of Anthonie Smith’s design of church buildings are the efficient and economic layout, the well-considered and thoroughly developed designs suited specifically to the requirements of the Dutch Reformed service, the excellent acoustic quality and his skilful use of colour, stained glass and glass-in-concrete windows and careful interior lighting. He made a thorough study of church architecture, especially those of Wynand LOUW (1883-1967) and Gerard MOERDYK (1890-1958) in South Africa, and was particularly drawn to the work of Frank Lloyd-Wright (1867-1959) and W M Dudok (1884-1974). He developed a square church plan, exceptionally well suited for the Reformed service. His experiments led to attempts to marry the square plan with the so-called tent super structure, most notably in the DR Church Strand North (1962), but (inexplicably) turned in his later years to a slightly fan shaped basilica, complete with clerestory lighting into the central nave. When, with the advancement of structurally engineered reinforced thin skinned formed concrete, tent shaped suspended concrete roofs became popular, he was particularly interested in using this type of structure to shape the church to his sense of an ideal form. However the factors of cost and lack of local know-how prevented him from achieving these ends.
Smith was, like his father, inspired with the development of the Afrikaans language and culture. In the then Cape Province he perhaps drafted the first complete set of working drawings and a bill of quantities in Afrikaans (for the construction of a building larger than a residence in the Cape Province) for the new Dutch Reformed Church in Newtonpark, Port Elizabeth in 1954. He, however, remained a life long member of the RIBA.
J Anthonie Smith died in Somerset-West on 7 May 1997 at the age of 86.
(ISAA 1937. (ISAA mem list) ARIBA date?).
[Schalk LE ROUX, June 2010]
Douw Gerbrand STEENKAMP worked in SMITH’s Port Elizabeth office and at some stage they must have formed a partnership, presumably SMITH & STEENKAMP. They worked together on the Nederduits Gereformeerde Kerk in Bedford, Eastern Cape as is shown on the foundation stone.
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