The following article was published in LTA Dateline Xmas Edition - the House Magazine of the LTA group of Companies.
LTA have acquired 68% of the shares of Lupini Brothers. This article aims to give readers an insight into the Lupinis as people.
Things were pretty tough in Jo'burg in the early thirties. Accountants swept railway station platforms for a shilling a day, university graduates joined the SSB for the security of food and clothing and artisans swung pick-axes on railroad labour gangs.
The thirties saw South Africa at its worst, almost on its knees, crippled by a seemingly never-ending depression that killed small businesses hourly. Some who remember say the worst year was 1933.
And it was in 1933 that Italian immigrants Luigi and Giuseppi LUPINI arrived in Johannesburg with a few tools and five shillings in cash. But what the Lupinis lacked in capital, they more than made up for in determined enthusiasm and a genuine will to work.
Today the name Lupini is synonymous with the many, many facets of the South African precast industry. To mention the name in construction circles is to immediately conjure up mental pictures varying from marble flower pots to a string of power station cooling towers. From the cast lions guarding the Zambian High Court in Lusaka to the Hillbrow microwave tower.
Lupini Brothers are the undisputed market-leaders in the specialised precast industry – but it hasn't always been like that. Their 41 year history in South Africa reads like a fairy tale, with sweat and hard work replacing the proverbial fairy godmother.
Gigi and Bepi, as they are known to their friends, were part of a stream of Italian emmigrants looking for more lucrative markets for their skills in the late 1920's. And they'd every right to, for behind them they'd a seven-generation history in the art of producing statues, tiles and wall decorations. The ancient equivalent of modern precast.
First African stop-over for the brothers was Beira in Mocambique, a rough-and-tumble town, in those days, with uncontrolled malaria and black-water fever but two of the many hardships inhabitants of the area had to endure at the time.
Compared to Beira, living conditions in South Africa seemed near luxurious and, in 1933, they made the move to Johannesburg.
Although faced with a language problem and the chronic shortage of capital, they carried a wealth of knowledge and a skill in their hands that their newly-adopted country sorely needed. Even in those depressed times the Lupini's quickly found work – laying concrete floors for a private firm – and set-up home in digs in Jeppe.
It didn't take Luigi Lupini very long to realise the potential of the construction industry in rapidly developing South Africa and, taking his courage in both hands, he and Giuseppi started up on their own. Lupini Brothers (Pty) Limited was born.
A third brother, Alessandro, joined them shortly afterwards from Italy.
When it came to artistic construction the Lupini brothers knew what they were talking about. Luigi himself studied for more than six years at the Andrea Fantoni Art School in Italy and both Giuseppi and Alessandro were fully qualified stucco workers. In this capacity they had worked on the domes and towers of the large Italian churches in and around their home town of Bergamo in Northern Italy.
Small wonder that their first contract as a company was for the making of a church dome in Krugersdorp in 1935. Their profits from this and other smaller jobs went into the building of a small house in Bramley where all three brothers lived with their families.
Luigi Lupini, despite the tremendous success of his business, still lives in that house today with only a few alterations. To him money certainly isn't everything in life – more important is a happy and close family relationship.
The Lupini Brothers worked on until in 1940, they had their first real break when Luigi secured the contract to build the new law courts in Johannesburg. A big contract even by today's standards with incalculable prestige value attached.
To say that the war years was an interesting period in the Lupini history would be a gross understatement. It was a critical period when business was booming but being Italian, they were in constant danger of being interned. In actual fact Giuseppi and Alessandro were eventually interned – in the camps at Koffiefontein and Zonderwater – and Luigi used his artistic skills to easy his brother's unpleasant circumstances.
What he did was produce two Plaster of Paris religious statues, one for each brother. The religious statues were smuggled into the two camps. These did more than console the two brothers for, neatly concealed in the bases, was a radio receiver – enabling the prisoners-of-war to keep up-to-date on the latest war developments.
Luigi had somehow managed to avoid internment and the war years was a boom period for the firm on the 'small-works' side of the business. Because of the shortage of steel, baths and sinks were made from concrete – and Lupini Brothers did a roaring trade.
Contract followed contract and the company continued to grow, notable milestones being 1946 and 1948. In 1946 they purchased a massive tract of land (called Wynberg today) and set up their yard and factory which they still occupy. 1948 was the year they secured the OK Bazaars contract in Cape Town.
This was an enormous contract by those days' standards and Luigi sent Giuseppi to Cape Town to handle the operation and open a factory there. Bepi is still managing director of the Lupini's Cape Town company.
Escom Centre, claimed to be the tallest building in Africa at the time, was awarded to Lupini Brothers in Johannesburg in 1955. A company has also been established in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), run by Luigi's son Cinto and Maynard BERGER, an architect. Maynard is still with the company and is the only non-Lupini member of the board of directors. The [Rhodesian] company has since closed down.
By this stage, the Lupini sons were almost all in the family business and today, with the exception of one, all sit on the main board.
Gino, Luigi's eldest son is in Cape Town; Cinto controls the precast yard in Boksburg; Emilio handles on-site operations in Johannesburg; Mario looks after the companies administration and Zap keeps watchful eye on the Wynberg factory's operations. Brothers Bepi and Dino are managing directors of the Cape Town and Johannesburg companies respectively.
Besides Maynard Berger, the only non-Lupini surname on the company's letterhead is David Bienz, married to one of the Lupini girls, who has a variety of tasks, main one being chief accountant.
Italo LUPINI is not in the precast business, he chose an allied field and is carving an extremely good career for himself in architecture.
Dateline had the rare pleasure of speaking to each and every Lupini in person, they are an openhearted crowd who are all artistically gifted. But they seem to excel at whatever they turn their hands to, in and out of working hours. Each one's achievements would be more than enough material to write an article twice this length.
The Lupinis work hard and play hard. That's a well-worn cliché, but we feel sure the person who first coined the phrase had folk like the Lupinis in mind.
Luigi Lupini, 'the big boss' and founder of the company, has now retired. But every day from 8 to 5 he can be seen at the Wynberg yard. Black beret, dark glasses, can walking stick and immaculate three-piece suit. This is his uniform as he sits in the shade of the vines he planted so long ago. Supervising and keeping a watchful eye on all that goes on around him.
He is a proud man in every way, proud of his sons and the name Lupini. The 1 000 Lupini employees know, love and respect him.
Nearing his seventieth year, Luigi has a lot to remember. Big things and little things. A medal he is more proud of states he is a member of the Mille Miglia Club. To qualify for membership Luigi completed the 1 000 mile (1,609.34 kilometer) street race through the towns and country-side of Italy. This race was banned because it was too dangerous many years ago, but Luigi completed it in 1928 in a V8 Buick. Stirling Moss is another Mille Miglia member.
Motor racing fans in the early sixties will no doubt remember when Scuderia Lupini (Team Lupini) ruled the South African racing circuits for close on 12 years. Amongst Luigi's stable of racers were many still-famous drivers like John Love, Doug Surrier, Frazer Jones, Trevor Blokdyk and Bill Jennings. Not to mention the Lupini's Mario, Gino, Italo and Zap.
Luigi Lupini put up the pits at the old Grand Central racing circuit near Johannesburg, but all the Lupini cars were race-tuned in the garage of their Wynberg yard. The garage remains, still decorated with racing murals by various artists and controlled by Bullcoa – their original racing mechanic. The Lupinis no longer race, so today Bullcoa has turned his hand to more mundane things – keeping the Lupini trucks and equipment in tip-top shape.
The original precast workshop at the Wynberg yard is where Luigi Lupini now parks his third two-seater Ferrari. And it wasn't so long ago that he was a regular sight on the Johannesburg – Cape Town road. Speeding from business to business in his canary-yellow two-seater. "Twice a month I drove to Cape Town." Luigi told Dateline "in never more than 9½ hours".
Walking around the modeling area of the yard is more like a visit to an art exhibition than anything else. Some 200 Plaster of Paris models gather dust on the walls, most made by the Lupinis themselves. "My father opened a packet of white cement and out I jumped." says Luigi jokingly. Cement is in his blood!
And Luigi is a patron to more than one world famous artist, having supplied the medium for them to display their creative talents. He has a love for art, of anything of beauty "... the reason I drive a Ferrari".
The wall outside the yard was hand-crafted by Eduardo Villa. Believe it or not, this now world famous artist was once broke and in need of a job. It's value today must be incalculable. (This wall is now – 2012 – located at the University of Pretoria - photo 1 - photo 2)
Luigi Lupini, as head of the family, was always head of the business. Never, in forty years, has a board decision been taken by a show of hands.
All the Lupinis have a love of cars and motor sport. Mario is an avid vintage car restorer, and a regular winner of vintage car rallies. His most recent achievement being the overall winner in the Post-Vintage National Rally. His wife, Rosanne, navigated and he drove his '33 straight-8 Auburn into first position. Before starting vintage rallies, Mario had some 11 years of circuit racing, competing in the first 9-hour endurance race at the Grand Central circuit and seven subsequent ones.
Italo, Gino and Zap Lupini are all veterans of the racing circuits and, together with Mario, all possess 'roly-poly' ties. Rather an exclusive item of apparel only awarded once one has flipped completely in a competitive motor racing event!
Although they don't race anymore, the three brothers in Johannesburg, together with Dave Bienz, have formed a select 15-member 'foot-up' club. Each and every Sunday without fail this intrepid crew set out on specially-prepared motorbikes and attempt to conquer nature. They've swopped the tarmac circuit for river beds and mountains and claim they can go anywhere a horse can.
Five hours of second gear riding normally carries them a mere 120 km, and the relatively small bikes have to be overhauled at least every 3 000 km.
There are other unique hobbies in the Lupini family as well. Dave and Zap are founder members of a rather special rifle club. The rifles are almost all collector's pieces, dating back to the 1840's and are, according to Zap, 'the real thing.' Local competitions were held, as well as regular 'postal shoots' against overseas enthusiasts. Part of the fun is hand-making all the balls and bullets for the rifles and the original formula 'Black Powder'. Next year Dave and Zap intend going to Italy to compete in an international muzzle-loading shoot.
Zap, called the mad-cap of the family, has taken his hobby a step further and is the proud owner of two cannon. One is a converted marine cannon, allegedly captured from Barton's Flying Brigade by the Boers during the siege of Ladysmith. The other is completely hand-made, an identical replica of the cannon used in the American Civil War. Both are completely operational and dominate the festivities on November 5 – charged, but loaded with newspaper of course!
Emilio, besides being the biggest and fiercest-looking of the Lupinis and a holder of a Judo black belt has a very special claim to fame. A bus.
Or at least it was a bus before Emilio and his wife got stuck into it. It all started with a dare that he couldn't big enough to house his seven strong family.
First stage of the operation was to secure a sound chassis. This was provided in the form of a Putco bus with more than a quarter of a million miles (402,000 km) on the clock. Two years and a whole lot of hard work later the caravan was ready. And what a vehicle it is.
Beautifully finished throughout, it can sleep eight in comfort. It has a dining room, breakfast nook, two fridges, four-plate gas stove with oven, fully-equipped bar, hi-fi system, toilet from an aircraft, massive shower complete with hot water and enough storage cupboard space for a young army. The tank has enough fuel to give the caravan a 1 600 km range without topping-up and it carries 1 000 litres of drinking water. As Emilio told Dateline: "With that caravan, eight people could survive in the desert for at least a month. There are three sources of power, battery, gas and electricity and the whole thing is fully air-conditioned".
The mobile generating plant alone throws out 4,5 kilowatts of electricity, or more than enough to run an average large house. But if things really start to get bad, all Emilio has to do is lift the top of his built-in bar and ride to the nearest town on his 70 cc motor cycle he keeps there for emergencies!!
Emilio has also been president of the Italian Club for the past five years and it is largely due to his personal efforts that they have the splendid club they do.
Gino in Cape Town is the 'Yank Tank' man, with a love of powerful American cars, all imported, and the bigger the better.
Quiet memember of the family is Cinto, modest to the extreme. When Dateline called on him at Lupini's Boksburg, we were immediately impressed by the sheer enormity of the operation. Almost next door to LTA Civils head office, the yard was a blur of activity, no small wonder they can produce some 3 000 square metres of precast in a working day. Next year they're aiming to up this by a third.
Dateline asked Cinto how it all started: "Well, we bought the land, moved in and started work. And when we had any free time we cast the floor slabs!"
That was just three years ago, but to look at the yard today one would think it had been expanding for the past two decades. Cinto seems to be the only Lupini with a normal hobby – bowls.
One interesting feature of the Boksburg yard is a sign proclaiming to all and sundry that it is Lupini Bros. (Cape Town) (Pty) Ltd. Who operate there. The story behind it goes something like this:
Two big jobs came up simultaneously in Johannesburg which, had they tackled both, could have over-taxed their resources. Not wanting to lose the job to the opposition, Lupini Brothers in Cape Town tendered for the one, were successful and started their own yard at the Boksburg site. All the moulds were made in Cape Town and trucked-up to the Boksburg yard where the casting was done. On November 1 this year, Johannesburg took the contract back from Cape Town but, because they actually set up the precast yard, their sign remains.
All in all, Lupini Brothers have quite a number of business traits which are pretty unique by today's standards. One that immediately makes itself obvious is their determination to do as much as is humanly possible themselves. From crushing their own stone to erecting and designing their own batch-plants.
"We have always had this policy," said administrative manager Mario Lupini. "It makes us as self sufficient as possible, saves us money and at least we know that the job will be done properly and finished on time".
All Lupini directors are workers. They believe in getting out of the offices to where the action is. And each one does the work of a QS, foreman and contracts manager. The proof of the pudding is the fact that all five directors in Johannesburg share one office in the Wynberg yard. It would be a frosty Friday that you caught more than one director in the office at a time.
"We're a family team," said Mario, "and the nine directors have been working as a team for an average of 30 years. If anyone wants to open up in opposition to us and their name is Smith, well then there'll have to be nine Smiths to compete. Because we're so close we all know exactly how the others think. There are very few things we can't do when we put our minds to it".
In Cape Town the three directors also operate from one office, with sleeves constantly rolled-up. While Dateline visited there was a minor hitch with the making of the model for the columns for Selbourne College in East London (an LTA contract).
In a flash managing director Bepi Lupini was into the modeling room. Not only advising, but physically helping to model the still-soft Plaster of Paris. "I like when that happens," Bepi told Dateline, "it gives me a chance to use my hands again".
Lupini Brothers are, without doubt, the 'old school' of the business. They believe in making money by working hard, doing a first rate job and charging a fair fee. Old man Lupini never believed in speculating, and one can quite easily see the reasoning behind the non-speculating policy.
As Mario Lupini explained: "We're a family business. If we speculate and make a grave error it would not just mean another company going insolvent, it would mean the ruin of nine Lupini families. We just can't take the risk. Gigi taught us to make money with our hands. We've seen some 40 years of good times and bad times, but we're still in business and that, I think, proves the merit of my father's policy".
The Lupini Brothers have made quite a considerable contribution to the South African construction industry in general. The very nature of their business is permanent. And, now that they are an integral part of the LTA Group, we as a construction company can only benefit all the more.
Ref: Rieker, Mike (ed). 1974. BEN VENUTI LUPINI. LTA Dateline Xmas Edition. (House Magazine of the LTA Group of Companies) . Braamfontein, Johannesburg: pg 24-33.
Submitted by William MARTINSON
They were contracted to do work for the following buildings:
- African Life Headquarters, Pretoria: Cladding + sun screens.
- Binnelandse Sake Gebou, Pretoria: Planters & cladding.
- Civic Square, Bhisho: precast panels
- Government Offices, Bhisho: Precast cladding.
- Boksburg Municipality: Precast & in-situ Terrazo.
- B P Centre in Cape Town: Precast structural columns, cladding and paving.
- Civic Centre Cape Town: Cladding and tiling.
- Carlton Centre, Johannesburg: Tiling of two levels & exposed aggregate precast cladding.
- Chicken Houses (45 off) using GRC panels. Ladysmith, Natal.
- Civic Centre, Johannesburg: Precast spandrill panels exposed aggregate.
- Custom House, Cape Town: Precast cladding panels.
- Cape Town: S A Railways & Harbours: GRC barge (experiment).
- Diamond sorting House, Gaberone Botswana: Precast conc. Exposed aggregate panels.
- Damelin College Johannesburg: Precast cladding and Insitu.
- Dorchester Hotel: Cladding and precast steps JHB.
- ESCOM Headquarters, Braamfontein, Johannesburg: Precast cols and spandrills. Precast treads and risers. Insitu floors.
- ESCOM Centre, Megawatt Park, Sandton: Precast exposed aggregate cladding fascias.
- Elephant Trading Headquarters, Salisbury, Rhodesia: Cladding & Insitu.
- Everite House, Braamfontein, Johannesburg: Cladding and columns.
- Gold Fields House: Bush Hammered precast spandrill panels.
- High Court, Johannesburg: Columns and cladding.
- Municipal offices, Boksburg: Precast panels and spandrills.
- Govt Buildings and High Court, Lusaka, Zambia: Art work Coat of Arms and lions. Precast concrete.
- Cladding to bases of Radars at Hartbeeshoek Satellite tracking station. Exposed aggregate.
- Microwave tower, Hillbrow, Johannesburg: Cladding to top of tower.
- Harcourt House, Johannesburg: Cladding & Institu Terrazzo.
- ISCOR Pension Fund, Pretoria: Graffito and precast.
- ISCOR Headquarters, Pretoria: Precast Bush-hammered panels cladding.
- Hollard Street Gardens: Tiling fountains and sculpture work Johannesburg.
- Park Station JHB polished shapes Terrazzo Tiling precast.
- John Vorster Police Station, Johannesburg: Precast cladding and mosaic.
- ESCOM Cooling Towers: Internal precast perforated panels to support concrete battens for water cooling within cooling tower.
- Kariba Dam River Pebble precast cladding to H/O.
- Kelvin Power Station: Polished tiles and cladding to dam to turbine hall floors.
- Rooiwal Power Station: Polished tiles and cladding to dam to turbine hall floors.
- Koeberg Power Station: Polished tiles and cladding to dam to turbine hall floors.
- Library Gardens, Johannesburg: Tiling and feature fountain.
- Liberty Life Head Office, Braamfontein, Johannesburg: Exposed aggregate precast cladding and insitu and steps.
- Harcourt, Johannesburg: Structural architectural cols and cladding exposed aggregate.
- Memorial to Karel Landman, Sand Flats, Eastern Cape.
- Munitoria Municipal Head Quarters, Pretoria: Tiling and internal stairs and insitu Terrazzo.
- Norwich Union House, Johannesburg: Precast cladding and insitu.
- Norscot Manor, Johannesburg: Precast spandrel panels Johannesburg.
- Netherlands Building Society, Johannesburg: Cladding and steps.
- Natal Building Society, Durban: Cladding precast and Insitu.
- O.K. Bazaars Head Office, Cape Town: Precast cols and cladding in Adderley Street.
- Magistrates Court, Johannesburg: Terrazzo Insitu drops and steps.
- High Court Johannesburg: Precast columns and cladding.
- Town Hall, Pretoria: Precast dome and insitu moulded plaster work.
- Palace of Justice, Pretoria: Imitation sand stone.
- President Hotel, Johannesburg: Precast epoxy and Marble Vanity shelves and precast steps.
- Poyntons Building, Pretoria: Precast cladding and structural cols.
- Tiling to Pick 'n Pay
| a) Johannesburg|
| b) Durban|
| c) Pretoria|
| d) Cape Town|
- Tiling to Hypers
| a) Germiston|
| b) Krugersdorp|
- Jan Smuts Airport: Precast panels cladding Insitu floors (1220) precast elevated tiles.
- Art Museum, Pretoria: Tiling to walkways exposed round pebbles.
- Reserve Bank, Pretoria: precast concrete dome and various precast architectural work.
- Raadsaal, Pretoria: Restoration of sandstone face work, ashlar.
- Randburg Mall: Tiling and precast steps and cladding.
- SABC Head Quarters, Auckland Park: Precast cladding to towers and precast tiling to podium.
- Schlesinger Centre, Johannesburg: Tiling and façade work (precast) to podium.
- Standard Bank Headquarters, Hollard Street, Johannesburg: Tiling and cladding.
- Standard Bank (Bank Hall), Fox Street Johannesburg.
- Sun City: Precast Inca tiling and stucco plaster.
- Total House, Johannesburg: Precast architectural structural cols, precast tiling to risers and steps inside.
- Traduna House, Johannesburg: Exposed aggregate precast cladding, ashlar work.
- UNISA, Pretoria: Cladding. Coloured conc ducts for A/C. Balustrade panels, flower boxes (exp pebbles) and precast steps floors and structural cols.
- John Moffat Building, Department of Architecture, University of the Witwatersrand: White precast ashlar cladding.
- School of Dentistry, University of the Witwatersrand: GRC composite panels precast.
- Voortrekker Monument, Pretoria: Various precast animal heads and precast ox-wagon laager to perimeter of group.
- SAPBS to all major towns of RSA – precast cladding and Terrazzo work internally.
- No 1 Military Hospital Voortrekker Hoogte, Pretoria: Precast cladding to facade and tiling.
- Mosque, Industria, Johannesburg: Pew seats.
- Masonic Temple, Johannesburg: Ionic columns and graffito plaster.
- Rand Afrikaans University, Johannesburg: Precast cladding and flower planters.
Artistic Works for Various Artists
|BORBOREKI, Zoltan||Precast Concrete plaque to JHB Technical College.|
|VILLA, Eduardo:||Various precast concrete statues, moulded ashlar panel facing. Facades and friezes for wall to Lupini Brothers yard, Wynberg.|
|HENDRIKZ, W. S:||Various precast concrete items to TPA Building Pretoria & Voortrekker Hoogte.|
|SKOTNES, Cecil:||Supplied coloured stucco plaster to art works murals for Hyde Park Shopping Centre, Johannesburg.|
|ULLMAN, Ernest:||Various large statuary.|
Bush hammered concrete for "Family of Man."
"Pioneer", Milner Park Showground, Johannesburg.
"Cow, Calf & Bull", Irene Station.
|ESTERHUYSEN, Kobus:||Various sculptures.|
UR Bull and Bear, Hollard Street Gardens.
|POTGIETER, Hennie:||Various Concrete Sculptures.|
|STEINBERG, Coert:||Various Concrete Sculptures. Tall slender African Girl with pot on head (in collection of Italo Lupini).|
|GROCE:||Red sculptured frieze, Hollard Street Gardens, JHB.|
|DZIOMBA, Elza:||Various sculptures.|
Woman and large plate (in collection of Italo Lupini).
Architects, Quantity Surveyors and Engineers who used Lupini Brothers:
ABRAMOWITZ & ASSOCIATES
BORKENHAGEN & LOUW
COOKE & DE BRUYN
COOK & COWAN
VENOOTSKAP DAAN KESTING
FARROW LAING & MCKECHNIE
HAROLD LE ROITH
WISE DONALD HARVEY & PARTNERS
NURCOMBE SUMMERLEY, RINGROSE & TODD
OVE ARUP & PARTNERS
MORRY POKROY & ASSOCIATES
RINALDI MCDONALD & PARTNERS
WATSON & VAN DER SPUY
WATERMEYER & LEGGO
MOUCHER & PARTNERS
MCINTOSH & LATILLA
MOERDYK & WATSON
GORDON LEITH & PARTNERS
EDWARDS & VAN DER SPUY
HOOGTERP JOLIFFE & PARTNERS
TODD & ASSOCIATES
NEIL, POWELL & NEIL
STAUCH VORSTER & PARTNERS
BURG LODGE & DOHERTY
REVEL FOX & ASSOCIATES
MEIRING & NAUDE
IVAN B SIVE & VAN LANGENHILL
SKIDMORE OWINGS & MERRIL
FASSLER & HOWIE
TAUNG MORGENSTERN & MORGENSTERN
KANTHACK & PARTNERS
STUCKE HARRISON RICHIE & WATSON
MARGO & MARGO
OSMOND LANGE ARCHITECTS & PLANNERS