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TOMKIN, Samuel Norton (Sonny)

Born: 1908 08 28
Died: 2012 01 31


Reg No: 551
Year registered: 1932

BArch 1933 (Witwatersrand)

He was born in London in 1908, emigrated to South Africa at the age of eleven, and attended the St. Joseph's School in Uitenhage.

Studied architecture at the University of the Witwatersrand from March 1927. He was employed during the long vacations in the offices of various architects in Johannesburg and Pretoria. He graduated from the University of the Witwatersrand with a Degree of Bachelor of Architecture in March 1933, although he had apparently already started to practice prior to this in April 1932. Work was slow but he was given a few jobs by relatives and was soon commissioned for jobs in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Germiston, Springs and Brakpan. He contributed photographs of his work to the South African Architectural Record and for a short but illustrious period (1934 to 1935) was in partnership with NL HANSON and NI FINKELSTEIN (cf HANSON, TOMKIN & FINKELSTEIN). He achieved the distinction of having his first building serve as the only example from the Union of South Africa to merit inclusion in an international publication on modern houses.

He opened practice on his own account in Durban in 1935 under the style of SN TOMKIN & PARTNERS. In 1939 he commenced duties as part-time lecturer in Architectural Design. He was four times President of the Natal Provincial Institute, and in 1949 was elected President-in-Chief of the South African Institute of Architects. In 1965 he was awarded the Institute's Gold Medal of Honour, and in the following year, the City of Durban conferred Civic Honours on him. His achievements in practice were recognised by the Award of Merit of the Institute of Building for 1948-1951, and his long association with the School in Natal by his appointment since 1960 as Honorary Professional Adviser.

In 1970 the University of Natal acknowledged his services in the field of Architectural Education in the award of the first three Honorary Fellowships in the Faculty of Engineering.

In the late 1980s Tonkin went to live in Canada.

TPIA 1932; ISAA 1932; ARIBA 1935; NIA. (ARIBA nom papers (1935) 5893; Tomkin 1987; ISAA mem list; SAAR Jan 1933:25; SAAR Dec 1935:376)

Recipient of the Gold Medal Award in 1965 and the Medal of Distinction in 1982 from the South African Institute of Architects.



WITSReview, July 2013. pp 59

The architect who designed the Geology Building and Medical Library at Wits, Samuel Tomkin died on 31 January in Toronto, Canada in 2012, aged 104. Tomkin was born on 28 August 1908 in London. He came to South Africa with his family in 1919. A chance meeting with Nathan FINKELSTEIN prompted Tomkin to study Architecture at Wits and they graduated in 1933.

TOMKIN, FINKELSTEIN and classmate Norman HANSON established practices in Johannesburg and then Durban. Here Tomkin would make a significant contribution to the city’s architecture over 40 years, designing a synagogue, the nurses’ quarters at Addington Hospital, parts of the University of Natal and Durban Technikon campuses, and schools for Durban's Indian Blind and Indian Deaf, among others. Tomkin earned accolades including the Institute of South African Architects Gold Medal of Honour and Medal of Distinction. He was a member of the Durban Rotary Club and became a Paul Harris Fellow for his contribution. Ultimately, he received the Freedom of the City of Durban.

In 1992, Tomkin and his wife, Rita, relocated to Canada to live with his daughter, Janet Hellmann (BA 1971) and son-in-law, Dr Jonathan Hellmann (MBBCh, 1970). Rita died in 1999 and Janet in 2009. Tomkin maintained his daily discipline of a cold shower, an apple and a sausage a day, wore a tie, hat and jacket at all times, and enjoyed a tot of Johnnie Walker daily at 6pm until the end of his full life.

Submitted by William MARTINSON

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 TOMKIN

ISAA. 1959. The Yearbook of the Institute of South African Architects and Chapter of SA Quantity Surveyors 1958-1959 : Die Jaarboek van die Instituut van Suid-Afrikaanse Argitekte en Tak van Suid-Afrikaanse Bourekenaars 1958-1959. Johannesburg: ISAA. pp 97, 222

ISAA. 1969. The Yearbook of the Institute of South African Architects and Chapter of SA Quantity Surveyors 1968-1969 : Die Jaarboek van die Instituut van Suid-Afrikaanse Argitekte en Tak van Suid-Afrikaanse Bourekenaars 1968-1969. Johannesburg: ISAA. pp 102, 183