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CHIPKIN, Clive Michael

Born: fl 1955


Reg No: 1663
Year registered: 1955

Was born in Yeoville, Johannesburg, his mother being Sarah and his father Morris Chipkin. He received his schooling at King Edward VII School.

'… Yeoville and its peripheries was a suburb of churches (including some large Catholic and Anglican establishments) and shuls and more shuls, [yet] there is not a single noticeable DRC church spire in the area. …

Yeoville, with its various congregations, where the carillon of bells from St Aiden's and St Francis, and the tinkle from St Johns, were part of the suburban milieu as well as the great choral acclamation of Kol Neidre from the large shul at the corner of Francis Street and Kenmere Road. The Yeoville Synagogue was a red brick Queen Anne foursquare building from the 1920s. On the inside a pair of white marble wall tablets were placed symmetrically about the Ark of the Covenant, the one in Hebrew, the other in English: prayers for the Royal Family, "to good King George and gracious Queen Mary and their possessions beyond the seas. ..."' (Chipkin, 2007: 228)

CHIPKIN graduated from University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg in 1954 with a Bachelor in Architecture degree. He did not feel particularly inspired by any of his lecturers, saying "a lot of people depressed me" except for a Mr PINFOLD, who he considered a fair and lenient lecturer. PINFOLD also introduced CHIPKIN to the drawings of Pancho GUEDES (a member of Team 10). While Wits was immersed in the civilizations of the Mediterranean, PINFOLD drew inspiration from the non-conformist thinking of GUEDES.

Clive's father had him discontinue studies for a period and this lent opportunity for him to be able to work for a builder where after he returned to his studies, graduating in 1954.

CHIPKIN joined the firm WAYBURN & WAYBURN and worked under Rusty BERNSTEIN, a member of the South African Communist Party and a good friend of Braam Fischer [see House Braam Fischer done by EATON]. At the time CHIPKIN was working on the Marlborough House project (corner of Eloff and Commissioner Street), which manifests itself in the manner of socialist realism. Chipkin left South Africa in 1956 and went to Britain where he could not find work as an architect. He became a teacher in a working-class area and found the post-war children to be impertinent, yet he liked them. He was thereafter to find employment as architect at the London County Council, which had a huge architectural department (probably the biggest in the world at that time). Here he worked at Piccadilly Circus under a Scotsman named Christo who was responsible for encouraging socialising behaviour and paying less attention to work-related seriousness or placing pressure on CHIPKIN as he believed that engaging in social acts builds intellectual decision-making and a healthy working atmosphere. Whilst working there CHIPKIN was able to access the archives and view original drawings of Norman SHAW. He wished to return to South Africa and was encouraged by an Indian, Voronezh Chadah, to make a stop in India on his way back home. In 1957 he hitch hiked across Europe and travelled to Venice, Greece, Turkey and eventually got to India.

He visited Chandigarh, where he met LE CORBUSIER's brother Genève. There was also much being done at that stage with regard to the design of the capital city (of that time) by LE CORBUSIER and housing projects by Maxwell FRY and Jane DREW (as the team FRY & DREW). From India he took a boat back via East-Africa to South Africa experiencing the emotional intensity and history of the east coast of Africa.

On his return he commenced practise in 1958 in central Johannesburg on the third floor of Hollandia House building, under the name CLIVE CHIPKIN ARCHITECTS. His office staff remained small in number, usually two people, and he always employed people he liked. He never produced an exceptional quantity of work because he much preferred taking time entering discussions with his co-workers as he believed this intellectualised and broadened the design approach of those actively engaged.

As CHIPKIN finds inspiration in the materials with which he chooses to work, he has a penchant for an architecture of brickwork as an aesthetic. Given its South African context, this makes for a vernacular approach. Chipkin also claims to have drawn insights from the New-Brutalism that flourished in Britain while he was residing there. It was encouraged by the theoretical design principles of LE CORBUSIER in expressing the direct honesty of an aesthetics of the materials used - "Leave things the way they are. I like architecture to be completely direct and not complicated". He describes his architectural language as being a modern vernacular. He decries fussiness and believes in expressing directly the materials he employs. In discussing his design of their home with his wife Valerie, he expounds:

'The Portland Avenue house in Craighall Park, that Valerie Chipkin built in 1970, is an example of these qualities. The exterior walling comprised Roodepoort blues, plums and red fairface brickwork - anything we could get in the boom shortages of 1970 - including selected misshapen klinkers with burnt lumps adhering to the face - built on recessed smooth facebrick plinths. The roof profile was low, 6 degree slope IBR roofing with terracotta Briti lay-on tiling, a simple but brilliant innovation by the architect Jummy GRAFF. The eaves overhangs were wide and protective on the north side; flush and clipped back (like the barge boards) on the south elevation. The lean-to roof shapes on separate blocks (the plan form influenced by Gropius' Architects Collaborative) are an acknowledged derivation from Douglass COWIN's work - part of his superb basic vocabulary which I held in awe. There were natural materials throughout: red quarry tile flooring in stretcher bond to the entire living portion of the house; wide plank laminated SA pine to the major sloping ceiling of the living room contrasted with dropped, shaped, light-scoop plastered ceilings over the adjacent interleading open plan spaces; projecting ledges and niches for African sculpture; white plastered wall space for Rorkes Drift tapestries and for the floodtide of Soweto and urban artists' work. The walls were white painted on textured fairface brick for Valerie's powerfully coloured expressionist paintings. A large single pane glass sliding door opened out onto an unroofed open patio/lapa space, stepped down at change of levels on the gently sloping hill site. There were exterior plinths and ledges for soapstone sculpture and veld bric-a-brac. There were no direct, visible Norman EATON elements, as far as I remember, but he was constantly in my mind. EATON and others (many with Pretoria voices) were an open window to the vast Africa that stretched to the north of our house.' (Chipkin, 2007: 379-380)

CHIPKIN drew inspiration from the designs he encountered in Pretoria especially those with significant vernacular material usage such as brickwork although he was not familiar with the designers. He also states that he can now, in retrospect, appreciate the influence that the works of Norman EATON subconsciously manifested in his own design approach. He visited Norman EATON's Greenwood House on two occasions. CHIPKIN elaborates on these Pretoria 'voices'-

'Examples of personal contact with the Pretoria School are Paul VAN BRUGGEN, who had worked in EATON's office and who married into our family; and Jack CLINTON who worked at a formative stage as part of STAUCH's practice in Pretoria and NEUTRA's office in California. Andre HENDRIKZ, the designer of a classic Highveld type house had close associations with EATON and was the recipient of EATON patrimony in the form of two doors from Zanzibar. HENDRIKZ's house in Melrose North literally sparkles - sending out showers of sparks as in a short story by Katherine Mansfield.

There are other designers who showed familiarity with the Pretoria School but were one step removed and were working with separate but parallel agendas. This group included Donald TURGELL, where EATON brick screens were transformed into chevron and lozenge shapes - influenced by his stay in the Magreb in North Africa, to produce what TURGELL called his Park-Moorish style suitable for Parkmore. And Mannie Feldman, a collector of African sculpture and steeped in Afro-centric sentiment as well. In addition: Sike Margoles, a designer who came out of John Shunn's office with deep love and understanding of natural materials; and Michael SUTTON in his early work.

There was a third category of architects like Wim SWAAN and Maurice KAPLAN (a neighbour of Wibo ZWART) who were seduced not only by Brazil but by the pictorial qualities of indigenous homesteads, as re-discovered by Barrie BIERMAN and Betty SPENCE in their seminal portrayal of Ndebele architecture in the English Architectural Review (1954) - an issue that inspired many imaginations including that of Johannesburg born Philadelphia architect Denise SCOTT BROWN, if only in the excitement of discovery that characterises her work and in her deep Africa nostalgia.

Wibo ZWART's distinctive kraal houses, I suspect, were influenced by the Pretoria regionalists as well as by the Pearlman family's Roodepoort Brickworks, rough semi-face commons and clinker brick in blues and plums - a brick much favoured by a generation of Johannesburg vernacular architects, whereas the resident Philadelphia School generally favoured the more precise biscuit iron spots used by EATON.' (Chipkin, 2007: 379)

Human scale is a design determinant and he attempts to render a diversity of spatial uses, always with an eye to a possible change in the programme of use. He believes there is no strict division in the discipline between the historical and contemporary works of architecture.

CHIPKIN has made his direct mark as an author and biographer of the city of Johannesburg.

[After an interview conducted by Dwayne Olivier, 3rd year student BSc(Arch), University of Pretoria 2009.]

Chipkin receives honorary doctorate

25 June 2013

Wits University conferred an honorary doctorate on the preeminent architectural historian of Johannesburg, Clive Chipkin, as part of the University's annual June graduations.

Chipkin graduated with a B Arch degree from Wits University in 1954. His practice both rejected and contested apartheid and never participated in any government, provincial or municipal work during the apartheid era (1948-1994). His professional practice has mirrored his values. In 1986 he was a founding member of the group Architects against Apartheid, an informal pressure group that challenged their colleagues to support radical changes to the Architects' Act of 1970 and the Code of Conduct of the Institute of South African Architects.

Chipkin’s contribution to the profession of architecture, and to scholarship and research, has been outstanding. He has contributed to the deepened understanding of the city of Johannesburg's cultural, social and historical surrounds. Chipkin, through the practice of his profession, has sought to promote affirmative action and educational values since the 1960s. In his scholarship and professional life he has demonstrated leadership and has sought to make a difference in the lives of many students and colleagues.

In his address to the graduands, Chipkin referred to his time working as an assistant to Rusty BERNSTEIN, a principal author of the Freedom Charter.

"With Rusty I helped work out the layout plan for COP – the Congress of the People – on a dusty soccer field next to the railway line in Kliptown, an event planned for late June 1955. That is the reason, in my potted biography that has appeared in several places, I have written 'In retrospect, the most momentous project of my career turned out to be the gum-pole and hessian single seater privies at the Congress of the People, Kliptown 1955'."

(Wits Newsroom)

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.