Also spelt MOERDIJK.
Is probably the best-known Afrikaans architect; it is notable that the only monograph on Moerdyk yet is the reminiscences of his architect daughter, Irma VERMEULEN. Several articles and some unpublished research work on him have been written. It would appear that because of his close links with the rise of Afrikaner nationalism and his relative eclecticism, he is a controversial architect. According to Prof FCL Bosman (N Pilman: Moerdyk research papers) Moerdyk was an obsessional person, his three main obsessions being his church, his nation and his farm. The first two issues are recognisable from his work. The last issue was a sentimental one, a thread of romance which coloured his attitude to life. Moerdyk was born at Nylstroom in the Waterberg District, the eldest of nine children. His father, Jan Leendert Moerdijk, had emigrated from the Netherlands to South Africa in 1887 aged twenty-one in response to President Kruger's request for teachers. According to Moerdyk's daughter-in-law, Phyllis Moerdyk, 'The Moerdyks were not Afrikaners, yet Gerard persuaded the whole of South Africa to give money for the monument (Voortrekker Monument, Pretoria) ... he was not an Afrikaner, he was brought up in a Dutch home, where the children went to English schools ... then something disappointed him in Johannesburg where they spoke English in their home, and they came to Pretoria and became Afrikaans' (N Pillman. Moerdyk research papers, AA1:15).
For Moerdyk his Afrikaner identity hinged on the Anglo-Boer War. According to one of JL Moerdijk's surviving diaries, his wife and their five children were sent to Standerton Camp at the end of May 1901 where they lived in tents - the sixth child, Isaak was born on 10 March 1902 in Buffelspoort since they had by that time left the camp.
After the War the family returned to Villieria near Pretoria where his father set up a school in a tent. One source says Moerdyk went on from here to the Staatsmodel School and then attended Pretoria College which later became Pretoria Boys' High School, an English-medium school.
Before obtaining his matriculation, Moerdyk won a competition run by the PUBLIC WORKS DEPARTMENT for the design of a school. On this basis he left school without matriculating, being employed by the PWD under P EAGLE, as a junior draughtsman from 1906. He remained in the PWD until 1910. This is confirmed in a memo written by Eagle (1910) stating that Moerdyk 'was in the employ of the Transvaal Government for last three and a half years ... shortly leaving for England to take up studies at the Architectural Association school' (Moerdyk Papers).
Moerdyk enrolled at the Architectural Association in London in September 1910, attending the day and evening schools until 1912. He was remembered by contemporaries as withdrawn but, according to a fellow student, his work experience at the PWD was judged to have stood him in good stead at the AA. He made a study tour of Europe and attended the British School of Archaeology at Rome, where he did a great deal of sketching. He visited Florence and Venice before returning to London via Paris where he stayed briefly. It seems that in Paris he attended one of the Beaux Arts ateliers for a short time. In the same year he worked in his vacations for HM Office of Works and in the office of Sir John Simpson. He passed the RIBA exam in 1913 but, although invited to take up his membership of the RIBA in 1914, applied for membership only in 1920. He returned to South Africa in about December 1913. The results of his examinations were cabled to him in Cape Town; he gained a first place for his classical design project.
About 1914 he was again employed by the PWD and remained with the Department for a year. In this time he spent on his return with the PWD in Pretoria he apparently became a friend and colleague of Reginald Neville JACKSON and sometimes subsequently visited his offices in Durban (cf Jackson 1985); it is probable that they had met in London since Moerdyk did not spend many years in the PWD on his return from England, and they had spent the same years at the AA in London. After a short stint at the PWD, MOERDYK was appointed as draughtsman with Robinson Deep Gold Mine in Johannesburg, remaining until about 1917. He renewed his acquaintance with Oswald Pirow whom he had met in London and married Pirow's sister, Sylva, in 1918. For several years Sylva helped him run his office and did his books.
Few sources mention Moerdyk's association with the well-known and successful Johannesburg architect, Frank EMLEY. Emley and Moerdyk (cf. EMLEY & MOERDYK) were in association together in Johannesburg c1918-20; they won the competition for the NGK building at Bothaville (1918-19), the first of Moerdyk's works to be illustrated, which was not executed to the original designs, the tower being the main feature to change. A further example of their collaboration is a 1919 agreement made between Emley & Moerdyk and J Capstick (the builder) for a house in Forest Town, Johannesburg, perhaps for Moerdyk himself as he lived in Forest Town when first married. In the same year Moerdyk published Kerkgeboue vir Suid-Afrika, a selection of his own designs for church building in South Africa, and for two small houses, one with gables in Cape Dutch style, the other a Baker/Sloper style house with a shingle roof and studio in the attic, characteristic of the type of house being built in Forest Town, Johannesburg at the period. It is in the forefront of this publication that his qualifications were listed, including 'Old student Ecole des Beaux Arts, Parys'.
In 1920 he applied for Associate membership of the RIBA, one of his witnesses being Frank Emley who had known Moerdyk since 1913. Encouraged by Emley, Moerdyk applied for and was awarded a Carnegie research bursary in 1919. It was for £250 from the School of Mines & Technology, tenable for the year 1920 to undertake research in the Cape on the topic 'The investigation and delineation of historic Cape buildings'; DM BURTON was his appointed supervisor. WJ DELBRIDGE wrote from Cape Town, 'I am sufficiently aware of his powers as a draughtsman to endorse the suggested selection' (Moerdyk Papers).
While Moerdyk was in Cape Town, Emley won the University competition and Burton wrote to Moerdyk saying that he wished Moerdyk was in Johannesburg to help. Moerdyk returned to Johannesburg at the end of 1920 and set up independent practice there. Emley had entered into partnership in the meantime with F WILLIAMSON. Moerdyk was elected an Associate member of the RIBA in January 1921. The resurgence of interest in things South African was taken up by Moerdyk in both his writing and his buildings. He had written several articles for the Journal of the Association of Transvaal Architects in 1917 on topics of European historical interest, on Versailles, Bramante, Greek history and temples: by the end of 1919 he was writing on South African artists such as Pierneef, Van Wouw and Anton Anreith.
Between 1920 and 1923 Moerdyk joined the small vanguard committed to developing a style of architecture appropriate and peculiar to South Africa. Sylva Moerdyk, in her account of her husband's life, emphasises this intense desire to create a true 'Afrikaanse' style, which, in its early stages, seems to have been a desire to create an 'African' rather than 'Afrikaanse' style in the nationalist sense of the word. He acknowledged but resisted the Baker influence asserting that 'groot werke soos b.v. die Uniegebou, kan nooit deel vorm van ons nasie nie' (Kerkgebou 1919.) Energetic and idealistic, he sought to educate his compatriots at the broadest levels: this is born out by his designs in Die Boerevrou for rondavel houses which became popular in and around Pretoria at this time and were adopted by J Pierneef amongst others. His search for an 'authentic' African style led him via Cape Dutch architecture to other African sources while also working in classical and Byzantine manners when he felt the need; in the 1930s both he and Norman EATON (both from Pretoria) avoided foreign styles and explored the possibilities of Egyptian architecture and the Great Zimbabwe ruins.
In about 1920 he received the commission for the Dutch Reformed Church building at Dundee, in partnership with WH LOUW (cf. LOUW & MOERDYK). This seminal building remained among his own favourite buildings and received wide publicity at the time. It incorporated features which he was to use in various ways throughout most of his career: a Dutch Renaissance style broadened and coarsened to the harsh sunlight and modern needs. The tower and gabled body of the church were repeated over eighty times in varying forms and materials throughout Southern Africa. His planning was in keeping with late nineteenth century developments in Cape where the congregation was seated around the pulpit space. Radford (1979:198) points out that the 1889 remodelling of the Wynberg Dutch Reformed Church incorporating this feature was 'an innovation quickly seized upon in later N.G. churches'.
In 1923 Moerdyk was elected to the Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns, an honour and statement of recognition by the Afrikaans elite. He moved to Pretoria in about 1924 or 1925, after the apparent upset in Johannesburg referred to above.
Among his first works in Pretoria was House Douw van der Merwe (c1924) in gabled Cape Dutch style but his chief patrons continued to be the Dutch Reformed Church. The partnership with Louw ended in 1926 and at about this time Moerdyk designed his own house in Devenish Street, Muckleneuk in a style which could be described as English farmhouse vernacular, possibly an outcome of his friendship and rivalry with GEG LEITH. Leith and Moerdyk shared many preferences, had overlapped in London and in Italy and had many friends in common. They both admired and used rough koppie stone for their own houses, both had a pronounced interest in classical architecture, Moerdyk veering towards the Byzantine, and both made particular studies of the dome and the vault.
In 1926 Moerdyk and Leith were appointed associate architects with DA McCUBBIN for the new South African Railways station in Johannesburg, the joint commission an attempt at rapprochement between the English and Afrikaans people. The careers of Leith and Moerdyk have interesting affinities. Both Moerdyk and Leith can be seen as transitional establishment figures and, as Roodt points out (DSAB III:623) this is an important consideration in the history of South African architecture. It seems that Leith designed the exterior of the station, while Moerdyk's notable contribution was to the interior, specifically the Byzantine vaulting.
In 1926 Moerdyk was joined by HAI WATSON, who until then had been employed as a draughtsman with the Defence Force and about this time Moerdyk's partnership with Louw ended but Watson was only made a partner around 1941/2 (cf MOERDYK & WATSON). He was involved with almost all Moerdyk's work. Moerdyk visited America in 1928, looking particularly at hospitals, university buildings and churches, among them Mormon churches, returning to South Africa in 1929.
In 1931 Moerdyk came second in the competition for the Johannesburg Public Library, assessed by E Vincent HARRIS.
About this time he challenged the continued existence of the architectural department of the PWD which led to a Commission on the issue being held in Bloemfontein in 1933 at which the private architect was invited to put his case. He maintained that government work should be put out to competition and the PWD architectural section disbanded. His viewpoint had many supporters. It is also likely that he had his own vendetta against the English basis of the PWD, as Sylva Moerdyk pointed out, because he held them responsible for the non-African styles of public buildings which Moerdyk deplored publicly on numerous occasions for their monotony.
In 1935 Moerdyk won the competition for the Prime Minister's Residence, Pretoria, the assessor being the chief architect of the PWD, with a design in Cape Dutch style which had in effect been provided for in the conditions of the competition. Moerdyk made use of what he considered to be the purer parapet style rather than the gables Baker had employed at the High Commissioner's Residence, Pretoria, in 1906. The assessor, JS CLELAND, remarked that he had placed No. 21 first 'on account of this competitor having visualised the requirements and the architectural tradition considered desirable for a house of this description and for its simple economic lines and right shape to suit the site' (SAAR May 1935:120.) Norman Eaton was asked to criticise the fifty schemes and commented that instead of finding fifty solutions to the problem he found 'fifty fantasies ... conjuring up ... a vision of what might have been the proud dwelling of a successful Cape Colonial butcher two hundred years ago ... my dilemma - my impotence to criticise unrealities and ability only to wonder at them', his review of the schemes was devastating and was intended as a criticism of the traditional element laid down in the conditions of the competition by the PWD and of the lifeless response of the competitors. He ridiculed the Transvaal Cape Dutch and referred to it as the 'unfortunate Cape Dutch maiden ... wedded to the fierce, wildman of the North' (SAAR May 1935:126).
In 1935 Moerdyk published Die Geskiedenis van Boukuns; it was reviewed at length in the SAAR (Jun 1936:190-94) by GE PEARSE whose commentary is valuable. A contemporary of Moerdyk's and a keen historian of Architecture, particularly of Cape Dutch, Pearse criticised the nationalistic text of Moerdyk's writing, picking out several of the most obvious anachronisms such as Anreith having been 'infused with the Afrikaans spirit' (Pearse's translation but the word Afrikaans was used by Moerdyk).
Pearse singled out statements such as 'practically all buildings - dwelling houses, schools, public buildings, etc - which were built during the first thirty years after 1902 are imitations of foreign buildings, without relationship to or link with the tradition, history or mode of living of the South African people ... however ... it is possible to pick up the threads and go ahead and develop according to the principles laid down by the first colonists at the Cape and the Voortrekkers in the Free State and Transvaal'. To Pearse's dismay Moerdyk had omitted mention of Sir Herbert BAKER, which he promptly remedied in the review. Incidentally, the Dutch Reformed Church at Dundee was the only church designed by himself which Moerdyk chose to illustrate in this publication.
Moerdyk made a further overseas trip in 1937 visiting Egypt, Germany, Italy and Austria. He was probably already involved with the design of the Voortrekker Monument (1937-39, inaugurated 1949) which remains his best-known building. Speculations on the sources of Moerdyk's design for the monument have always been rife. Generally is said to have been based on the Leipzig Memorial but also resembles the Anzac War Memorial in Sydney, illustrated in the Architect, Builder & Engineer (Mar 1935:9) and E Lutyens's sketch for a war memorial to the missing on the Somme (c1923). At the time its distinctive shape was popularly thought to have been inspired by the hill, Kranskop, behind Moerdyk's farm in the Waterberg District, while James Morris (South African Winter 1959) says that with half-closed eyes it looks rather like Kruger's silhouette, and so on; a further inspiration could have been Moerdyk's admiration for Egyptian architecture which he considered to be a monument to African greatness. It instantly became a national symbol, which, as this had been its intention, makes it a highly successful monument. It still invites a wide range of emotions. He again visited Egypt in 1946/47 when he made a trip to Europe and reasserted his admiration for Egyptian architecture and artefacts.
Moerdyk designed several churches elsewhere in Africa for the Dutch Reformed Church including the Dutch Reformed Church in Salisbury (Harare) (1931) of which the supervising architect was W D'Arcy CATHCART (Moerdyk Papers K71.31.59). His office was now large, employing 23 assistants and 10 architects, it rivalled the staffing of the Public Works Department. In 1956 Moerdyk revisited America but was already in poor health. He had developed Parkinson's Disease and died in Pretoria in 1958.
HAI Watson carried on the practice in Pretoria and Moerdyk's daughter Irma continued the Bloemfontein practice MOERDYK, WATSON & VERMEULEN.
Member of the National Geographic Society (USA) n.d.; Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns Gold medal 1936. ARIBA 1921; ISAA 1927: Hon Degree M Arch UP 1939; Hon Doct UNISA 1952; MCQS. (ARIBA nom papers (1921) 3167; Album van SA 1958; Bosman, FLC 'In memoriam GLP Moerdyk', Tydskrif vir Wetenskap en Kuns Oct 1958; Die Boerevrou 1923, 1927; Die huis genoot 16 Dec 1949; Die inwijding van die nuwe kerk te Bothaville, OVS 10-12 Oct 1919; Lantern Jul 1984:38; Moerdyk Papers, HSRC; Outspan 1 Apr 1955:33-5; Pillman. Moerdyk research papers. HSRC; Pretorius 1969; PWSA Sep 1939:16-18; Radford 1979; RIBA biog file; SAAR Mar 1931:4-13; SESA 7:43a, 482a; 1:210a; 4:314a; SAWW 1952; WW in Pta 1952:62)
Publ: Detail, Versailles palace: from measured drawings and article on the palace by Mr Gerard Moerdyk, Jnl ATA Jun 1917:74,75; Bramante (1444-1514), Jnl ATA Sep 1917:40-1; Greek history and Greek temples, Jnl ATA Dec 1917:109-10; Remains of the temple at Paestum, dwg, Jnl ATA Dec 1917:112-13; Our illustration, Jnl ATA Mar 1917:56; Cremation and the Campo Santo, Building Dec 1918:211-13; Woodcuts and illustrations by Pierneef, Building Dec 1919:320-23; Kerkegeboue vir Suid-Afrika, 1919; Wetenskaplike leesboek in ses dele, 1920 (result of study in the Cape); Anton Anryt, sculptor and carver, Building Dec 1920:417-18; Rondavelhuise, Die Boerevrou Dec 1920:21-3; Rondavelhuise, Die Boerevrou Dec 1921:18-9; 'n Afrikaanse woning, Die Boerevrou Apr 1923:11-12; 'n mooi Afrikaanse woonhuis, Die Boerevrou May 1923: 9, 56; Afrikaanse woningbou, Die Boerevrou Jun 1923:9; Afrikaanse Woonhuis, Die Boerevrou Aug 1923:15; Dome at Piet Retief, Building Mar 1923:12,13; Praatjies oor bouery, Die Boerevrou Jun 1925:16-18; Geskiedenis van boukuns in Suid-Afrika, Tydskrif vir Wetenskap en Kuns vol 19 1930; Ons hoop op 'n Afrikaanse boustyl, Castalia Oct 1934:19, tydskrif vir kuns en kultuur no 1; Die geskiedenis van boukuns, 1935, Pta
Submitted an entry for the Competition for the new Prime Minister's Residence - Placed First.
Was a recipient of the Medal of Honour for Architecture by the SA Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns in 1936.
Other electronic resources
UPSpace at the University of Pretoria: Gerard Moerdyk Collection
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.