'a past pupil of the Bauhaus ... in Weimar' (SAAR Dec 1944:297), AHRENDS was born in Berlin, Germany. He matriculated from Landheim Schondorf in Bavaria in 1924 and then proceeded to the University of Berlin Charlottenberg where he spent a year from 1924 to 1925. From 1925 until 1929 he attended the Bauhochschule at Weimar, studying under Otto Bartning and Ernst Neufert. In 1930 he married Visino and on his return worked in his father's architectural studio in Berlin from 1930 until 1931.
AHRENDS joined the Ernst May Group in Moscow in 1931 but returned to his father's studio in 1932 where he remained until 1936. In 1937 he left Germany 'one of the many talented men who came to South Africa as intellectual refugees from Nazi Germany in the 1930s' (Greig 1980:16) and came to South Africa. On arrival he was obliged to take the special qualifying examination before entering practice in the country, and became a member of the Institute of South African Architects in 1938. in 1938 he set up offices in the brand new Washington House, a Modern Movement design by LE ROITH who himself had his offices there. Commissions for houses followed and between 1938 and 1978 he executed upwards of five hundred. He left South Africa in 1972 to live in Casares in Andalucia, Spain returning briefly to South Africa between 1975 and 1978.
Housing was AHRENDS particular interest, aroused, he said, by his last three years in Germany (1933 until 1936). Doreen Greig (1980:16) gives not only a comprehensive list of works by Ahrends but records his views on his own work, summarising his influence on domestic architecture in South Africa: 'the romantic impulse had been nurtured by his youthful response to the possibilities of the traditional materials used by craftsmen in the gothic, baroque and the vernacular domestic architecture he had studied in south Germany. The quality of his domestic work, which made him the most influential architect in that field in Johannesburg for more than thirty years, is generally considered to fall into this category'. AHRENDS himself stated: 'as to the design and decision making I may say that I never designed houses as my clients really wanted them nor as I would have like(d) to have had them but in a way which I thought was the right answer for that particular client: and that created the 'success' (Ahrends 1990).
CHIPKIN (1993, 307) observes that his office became the nursery for young talents. Here they obtained a thorough grounding in the honest use of natural materials and good house construction, particularly the tricky detailing of dormer windows, a signature feature of many of Ahrends's own designs. While many thought that Ahrends had reneged on his Bauhaus traditions TURGELL notes that he was reacting to the chronic shortage of materials in the post-war years as well as the regulated limitations on house sizes, creating cottagey houses with thatched roofs on gumpoles, Broseley tiled roofs on rafters, bagged walls, timber strip and quarry tiled flooring and hollow roofs of steep pitches with dormer windows for extra accommodation.
Of those who worked in his office and show his influence are Dan ROBINSON, John TAYLOR, Michael SUTTON, Donald TURGELL and David WALKER
Among his works is the Social Sciences building, East Campus, University of the Witwatersrand executed in the 1960s. ISAA 1938. (Ahrends 1990; Contemporary architects 1980; ISAA mem list; SAAR Dec 1944:297; TIA Jnl Feb 1993:18, 19)(T.p.)
(STEFFEN AHRENDS & PARTNERS), 7/10, Midland House, corner Fox & Rissik Streets, Johannesburg. 1959.
Publ: Gold pavilion, Van Riebeck Festival, Cape Town, 1952; The domestic architecture of Steffen Ahrends: a review of selected examples and their social validity. ARIBA submission thesis, 1962. UWits architectural library.
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.
Books citing AHRENDS