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GRINKER, Leopold

Born: 1906 07 29
Died: 1973 06 11

Architect

SACA:
Reg No: 153
Year registered: 1927

DipArch ? (Witwatersrand)

TPIA (1927); ISAA (1927).

'The architecture of Leopold Grinker, the noncomformist, comprises a series of personal statements, a body of work that falls outside mainstream modernism.'
Clive CHIPKIN

GRINKER was born in Johannesburg. He studied architecture at the University of the Witwatersrand as a part-time student (n.d.), and was listed as a member of the Transvaal Provincial Institute of Architects in 1927 when he was twenty-one, although at the time he was temporarily living in Bloemfontein.

In private practice, he mainly worked for speculative builders producing flat blocks in the CBD and Hillbrow, villas in Houghton and luxury apartments in Killarney.

'Father built some interesting apartment buildings, particularly in Yeoville and Bellevue', says his son David Grinker. 'He liked to have round windows, like the portholes of a ship. And he liked the balconies to face the sun. On that basis, you can recognise many of his buildings.'

'Some of the houses we lived in soared, were filled with light', remembers his daughter Tessa Horan. 'He tried to create airy cool interiors, with huge glass walls that invited nature in. He incorporated pisé de terre into two of our houses. He used cool cement floors which at that time was considered very outré. He was an avid follower of Frank Lloyd Wright. Instead of chopping down an offensive tree he incorporated it into the design.'

Unlike other modernistic architects in South Africa, Leopold GRINKER did not go overseas to learn from European or American masters. GRINKER travelled to Europe only once, towards the end of his career, when he visited his sister in Italy. In the 1930s, when he created his best buildings, he knew the work of leading contemporary architects only from photographs.

GRINKER formed a partnership in Johannesburg with Hugh Robert SKELLY about 1932 (see GRINKER & SKELLY). The partnership ended in 1937, and GRINKER practiced on his own in Johannesburg for some time. His brother Philip GRINKER, who was also an architect, subsequently worked with him in the firm (possibly GRINKER & PARTNERS).

Leopold GRINKER held very strong views regarding the Modern Movement and severely criticised it in the South African Architectural Record, edited by its ideologist Rex MARTIENSSEN. He regarded local adherents of this style as arrogant idealists, idolisers of LE CORBUSIER. They scorned him for his defence of eclectism and bohemian outlook.

'Grinker was in many respects an extraordinary man', notes Clive Chipkin in his seminal work Johannesburg Style. 'He was regarded by the architectural establishment as combative, caustic, iconoclastic, vituperative ... He was by nature a rebel: an anti-establishment man in politics, anti-mainstream in architecture. Although he was regarded as an outsider for much of his life, it was only after he died in 1973 a disillusioned man that his eccentric views became more acceptable to a younger generation of architects.'

Perhaps his biggest achievement was a trio of apartment blocks that he designed in 1937-8, all named after state-of-art ocean liners. Those were Normandie Court, Atlantic Court and Elgin Mansions. It was a development of the theme GRINKER had first tackled in Daventry Court – the ship aesthetic in a landlocked city.

In his book Martienssen and the International Style, Gilbert Herbert called them 'crisp, fresh and appealing buildings, with a strongly marked horizontal character, solid bands alternating with voids consisting of continuous windows and recessed balconies. These flats', he continues, 'are important for two reasons. After the pioneer flats of MARTIENSSEN and HANSON, they were the earliest flats of convincing quality in Johannesburg. And they were especially meritorious because they represented the architectural response to the inexorable economic demands of the highly competitive commercial world. Their planning was highly efficient: they were effective earners of income in the investment market.'

In 2003, Normandie Court was awarded the Blue Plaque as one of the outstanding art deco buildings in Johannesburg.

By 1959 GRINKER is recorded as a retired member of the Transvaal Institute, residing in Bremersdorp (now Manzini), Swaziland. In the 1960s, GRINKER moved to a farm in White River. He must have opened a practice in Nelspruit as his address in 1969 was 4th Floor, Bester Brown Centre, Paul Kruger Street, Nelspruit. Possibly, his last architectural design was the Mount Sheba Hotel in Pilgrim's Rest.

(Boris Gorelik 2013 - submitted by William MARTINSON)

(ISAA mem list) Publ: Letter to the editor SAAR Oct 1932:271-2; Letter complaining about the South African Architectural Record in SAAR Jan 1935:21-2; Le Corbusier and other fallacies, SAAR Mar 1936:91; Letter in reply to Kurt JONAS: SAAR May 1936:71; Architects' fees, article by GRINKER and EATON, SAAR Oct 1937:435-8; Sub-division of the scale of fees, article by Grinker and Eaton SAAR Oct 1937:439-441

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 citing GRINKER

Gorelik, Boris. 2013. 80 years of DAVENTRY COURT : A historical study. Private Publication

Books citing GRINKER

Chipkin, Clive M. 1993. Johannesburg Style - Architecture & Society 1880s - 1960s. Cape Town: David Phillip. pp 111, 118-119, 178

Herbert, Gilbert. 1975. Martienssen & the international style: The modern movement in South African architecture. Cape Town - Rotterdam: AA Balkema. pp 78, 140, 141, 155, 179

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 91, 200

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 93, 119

ISAA. 1927. Register of Members the Institute of South African Architects. Johannesburg: ISAA (Unpublished Record). pp G12-13