Professor of Architecture at the University of the Witwatersrand where he succeeded GE PEARSE in 1948, Fassler had a profound commitment to the art of architecture, qualifying his responses to changing architectural trends, which, in the eyes of some of his contemporaries made him
appear reactionary at times. He was born in Potchefstroom of Swiss parents, and was educated at Forest High School in Johannesburg. He studied architecture at the University of the Witwatersrand from 1928 to 1932 and was awarded the Burton Prize for Best Student. In March 1933 he graduated with a Degree of Bachelor of Architecture, with distinction. He and BS COOKE were the first two students to graduate with distinction since the establishment of the School in 1921. Professor PEARSE influenced Fassler, first as a teacher and then as a colleague. A number of drawings by Fassler were used by Pearse to illustrate Eighteenth century architecture in South Africa (1933). Fassler worked in close association with Pearse in the University on designs for several buildings including the Escom building. As a student he was also a member of the Alpha Club.
On graduating Fassler undertook private work before entering into association with Martienssen and Cooke. Among his projects was House Swemmer 'a compactly planned two-bedroomed house, with strong horizontal lines, a flat roof silhouette achieved by masking a single-pitched roof behind a parapet ... an interesting relationship of internal spaces to external' (Herbert 1975:109). A brief but important association between MARTIENSSEN, Fassler and Cooke took place between 1934 and 1936 (cf. MARTIENSSEN, FASSLER & COOKE); among the designs for which they were jointly responsible were those for Peterhouse (1934-1935) and House Stern (1934-5). The association gradually disintegrated since neither Martienssen nor Fassler were allowed to be full participants in a partnership on account of their University employment.
Fassler joined the staff of the School of Architecture, University of the Witwatersrand under Pearse in 1934, and remained there: lecturer, teacher and finally as professor. A memory recorded by the architect Issy BENJAMIN, then a student at the University under Fassler, gives an insight into Fassler's passion for architecture: 'And, then in my final year, I had one of the most marvellous experiences ... in my life. I wish to pay tribute to my old teacher, Professor Fassler. He used to be a very dry speaker ... it was a hot afternoon and he was talking about the history of architecture, and we were dealing with Egyptian architecture and I suddenly noticed that as he spoke about approaching up the avenue of sphinxes his hands were pressed together, finger-tip to finger-tip as he spoke about it, as he described going through the great entrance, through the narrow confined space, breaking out into the courtyard, I watched those fingertips getting whiter and whiter. And I knew that that man was moved beyond words and in that instant I received enlightenment. I learned everything about architecture that I have ever needed to know, the feeling of compression, of release, of light and shade, body experience, of moving through spaces, closed and open lived with me for the rest of my life, and I bless his name, every day' (Benjamin 1987:17-18). Fassler was appointed acting editor of the South African Architectural Record during Martienssen's absence in Paris and Greece in 1934.
Soon after joining the staff at the University Fassler developed a deep interest in modern art, garden design and town planning, the development of the latter being of considerable significance to town planning in South Africa. In 1936/1937 he visited Europe and met Le Corbusier in Paris in 1937. He revisited Europe after the war in 1946. The John Moffat Building for the Faculty of Architecture, designed by Fassler in the 1950s, is an example of his approach to modern architecture. He designed the Chemical Engineering Building at the University in association with NURCOMBE & SUMMERLEY and with WD HOWIE.
Fassler's interest in town planning prompted his founder membership of the South African Institute of Town Planners, and in 1945 the post-graduate diploma in town planning was introduced into the Faculty of Architecture with Fassler as course lecturer. His notes remain largely intact and provide evidence of his wide-ranging interests. He was elected chairman of the first committee of the South African Institute of Town Planners and was the first President of this Institute in 1956. He sat the British Town Planning Institute Examinations, passing with distinction. In 1958 he was elected an Associate of that Institute, and received the Town Planning award of the RIBA (n.d.). In 1965 a department of Town & Regional Planning was set up as well as the establishment of a department of Building Science, both within the Faculty of Architecture at the University of the Witwatersrand. Fassler retired from the Chair of Architecture in 1967, having been appointed by the University Council to plan the South Campus at Milner Park, together with the large multi-purpose building on that site. As outside interests he was a member of the Johannesburg Art Gallery Committee, and its vice chairman for a period. His dedication to the arts in South Africa led him to fill many roles in emerging arts societies and their committees. He was appointed to the art works selection committee for the Johannesburg Civic Centre; a member of the Johannesburg and Pretoria Arts Councils, of the South African Association of Arts and of the Johannesburg Historical Society, and he had a fine private collection of paintings.
Fassler has two daughters on this website, architect Mira FASSLER KAMSTRA and artist Stephanie FASSLER.
Fassler played an important role in the South African Academy [of Arts], representing the Institute of South African Architects on the Academy committee for the annual summer exhibition. The Institute appointed him to serve on the Town Planning Advisory Committee, Johannesburg City Council in 1954. He was at one time a member of the Central Council of the ISAA. Fassler died in Johannesburg.
On his retirement and in appreciation for the meritorious contribution Fassler had made, his friends and colleagues presented him with a circular silver bowl made by Gordon McINTOSH. The following dedication was inscribed around the outer perimeter of the inner face of the bowl:
JOHN FASSLER ••• IN APPRECIATION OF THE FORTY YEARS DEDICATED TO THE FURTHERANCE OF THE IDEALS OF ARCHITECTURE TOWN PLANNING EDUCATION AND THE ARTS IN SOUTH AFRICA FROM FRIENDS AND COLLEAGUES •••
•• MCMXXVIII : STUDENT : MCMXXXII : LECTURER : MCMXLVII : PROFESSOR : MCMLXVII ••
See also the 1952 Graduation photograph.
ARIBA 1945; Pres TPIA 1946; AMTPI; RIATPI (GB); SAITP. (Archt & Bldr Jul 1971:26,obit; Arch Rev Jun 1953:406-07; ARIBA nom papers (1945) 8535; Fassler Papers; Mrs John Fassler 1985; Fassler Kamstra 1985; Aneck Hahn 1984; Herbert 1975; ISAA mem list; Plan Sep 1971:14-20)
Publ:'Au Piano'by Gromaire, a critique, SAAR Jul 1934:174-5; House Swemmer, SAAR Jul 1934:188-9; Towards a standardisation of colour notation, SAAR Nov 1936:404-10; Escom House, SAAR Jun 193:245-60; Realising the abstract creation, SAAR Jul 1937: 314-23; Elements of the Garden, SAAR Nov 1937:509-20; Recent overseas domestic architecture, SAAR Mar 1938:78-81; Colour investigation, SAAR May 1938:151-54; The world of architecture, SAAR Jan 1939:18-27; The world of architecture, SAAR Apr 1939: 124-26; The Sunium Apollo, SAAR Nov 1939:485-91; Domestic architecture in South Africa from 1652 to 1930, SAAR Apr 1965:1-5 suppl.
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.