"With Ivor PRINSLOO's tragic death in a fall on a mountain recently, the South African architectural profession has lost one of its most dynamic and substantial initiators.
He came to architecture rather late. After leaving school at 16 he began his career at a Witwatersrand mine. By some lucky accident he found his way from a mining survey office into the architectural one. A while later he picked up a volume on FL Wright in a bookshop and was thunderstruck He went back to school, finished his matric in nine months, organised financial support and was registered at Wits within a year. He was a formidable student. He would appear at the School on his motorbike, clad in a black leather jacket and boots, with his favourite Brecht under one arm and Sartre under the other - his dark eyes alight with intelligence. It was not long before he was challenging his teachers, together with a group of other students. Where are you taking us, what has happened to the dynamics and integrity of the thirties? What has happened to the social content of our architecture? The group did not merely criticise. They produced work, a manifesto, an exhibition of scaffolding holding on its clips not only the manifesto, but also images of the South African Modern Movement, of the forgotten and ignored PABST (whom the group traced not long before he died), a host of fascinating and powerful images collected from the mining properties of the Witwatersrand and of their own work they produced a magazine, 'For Us', the title taken from the writings of Aldo VAN EYCK, which had contributions from Peter SMITHSON and Pancho GUEDES. It was a challenge not merely to the pedagogy of the School but to the whole architectural establishment, important enough to attract the attention and debate of the major remaining players of the Modern Movement in Johannesburg - Norman HANSON, Gordon McINTOSH and Bernard COOKE as well as John FASSLER, director of the School and his deputy, Duncan HOWIE. It had a dramatic effect on Wits and shifted it out of a roughly New Empiricist orientation to one related closely to the writings and work of Team Ten.
Having spent a double "fourth year" working for the partnerships SMITHSONS and the Josic Candilis and Woods in Paris he qualified soon afterwards. As a young man of 32, he became involved in his next major initiation: the multi-disciplinary office at Rand Mines Properties. Here, to tackle the massive development possibilities of about 5 OOO ha of land, much of it close to the Johannesburg CBD, he assembled a team of planners, urban designers, architects, engineers, surveyors, geographers, a sociologist, a statistician and a photographer - certainly among the first of such size and comprehensiveness in the country. While running this office, he completed a Masters degree and was a major force in generating yet another inventive institution the Urban Action Group comprised of young, lively architects, aimed to make an impact on the architecture and development of the city, both by monitoring decisions made and buildings built and by putting forward propositions. Under his chairmanship the group applied as a whole for a post at Wits and was appointed for two years. The salary was used to bring to the country both the SMITHSONS and the VENTURIS for memorable and stimulating visits
- a typical example of his imaginative management.
In the early seventies he completed his PhD at UCLA In the United States under the direction of such substantial contributors as Harvey Perloff and John Friedman. He returned to take over the School of Architecture at the University of Cape Town in 1974 at the age of 38. At that time, it would be fair to say, the School was on its knees. Soon it became an institution of international standard. Prinsloo completely transformed the structure of the course, initiating a two- degree course, a semester system, and a participatory form of management and curriculum development based on ‘colleges’. The last evoked considerable inventiveness from his colleagues and produced, amongst others, a far-reaching history and theory course, a completely revised technology course, a course in development issues and a course as simulated office. By the late seventies the School was helping the Lesotho Institute of Technology in Maseru to set up an architectural course, which it ran for three years, this at a time when there was almost no black African architectural students in South Africa.
While he was a student, Ivor Prinsloo designed and built an outstanding house in Randburg Thereafter, although he was successful in two competitions - second prizes In the Paarl Civic Centre competition and a major, international urban housing competition In Chile - his architectural output was small. With the firm PRINSLOO, PARKER, FLINT, ELLIOT AND VAN DEN HEEVER, in the early eighties and subsequently GAPP while still a full-time professor, that same dynamic drive that characterised his early career, helped to turn a brand new firm into one of the most successful in the county in a surprisingly short period. In Cape Town alone it made major contributions to the planning and building of the University of The Western Cape and the Waterfront, two of the city's most significant developments in recent time.
He would not have been able make the contribution of which these notes expose merely the bare bone without a number of characteristics. He was always the explorer, the student, filling numerous note-books with sketches, designs, drawings, poems, and quotations from books and even snatches of conversations that seemed to affect the bigger picture and he read prodigiously. He was a radical person: nothing was done in a half-baked way. He had a powerful intellect, grasping and formulating theories with fluency, and formidable in debate. He was an outstanding manager, capable of taking on a huge work-load, well organised and decisive, but also very supportive of other people with ideas. Thus he gave the same freedom of exploration to the staff and students as he took for himself - as long as they could back it solidly in theory. He was always initiating. Just before his death he was preparing a visit to the School of Architecture in Kenya to give a teaching workshop. The contacts came originally out of another of his creations - the first all-Africa architectural congress in the new South Africa in 1999."
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.
Articles by PRINSLOO
Books by PRINSLOO
|Prinsloo, Ivor (Editor). 2000. Architecture 2000 : a review of South African architecture. Cape Town: Picasso Headline|
Books citing PRINSLOO
|Images Australia (Pty) Ltd. 1993. Building Professionals of South Africa, Volume 1. Melbourne: Images Australia (Pty) Ltd. pp 16-17|
Chapters in books by PRINSLOO