BArch 1935 (Witwatersrand)
ARIBA, MIA. Harold Le Roith was born in Grahamstown, son of Samuel le Roith, and was educated at the Victoria High School. He studied architecture and art from 1928 to 1929 at Art School of the Rhodes University in the Cape, a course of a year's duration then offered by this university. Le Roith then left to study architecture at the University of the Witwatersrand, graduating with the Degree of Bachelor of Architecture in March 1935 with the design thesis 'Design and development of a theatre'.
Le Roith stated (1989) that while he was at the school of architecture he was influenced by Rex MARTIENSSEN for whom he had great respect as an inspiring teacher. As a result of this influence Le Roith's interest in Le Corbusier was stimulated, contributing to the designs of his buildings. Le Roith would also consult with engineers and this also had bearing on his work. Among the engineers he consulted was a Swiss engineer M Beguin who specialised in the use of concrete. Both factors led to Le Roith's skill in structural design. The pilotis he designed were more slender than those generally used and perfectly adequate structurally. However almost all of these slender columns have been thickened by successive owners for fashionable reasons. Much of the original visual intention has been lost as a result. Le Roith also pioneered the use of a 12inch x 2inch brick rather than the 9inch x 3inch brick, for aesthetic purposes. He was consistently concerned with the refinement of elements of construction.
In 1935 Le Roith set up practice on his own account in Johannesburg. His first buildings were factories and among these was Steel & Barnett's furniture factory in Johannesburg (1935). Here Le Roith made use of slender, mushroom-capital columns, thin concrete floors and steel-framed windows set flush with the exterior walls.
It is probably true to say that Le Roith is best-known today for his flat building in Johannesburg; Radoma Court (1937-8) was Le Roith's first block of flats. His assistant on this job was Kurt JONAS, a talented architect who had recently qualified at the University of the Witwatersrand. Jonas also assisted Le Roith on the drawings for Dunkeld Mansions (1938).
At Radoma Court Le Roith coloured the exterior finishes of the building, probably the first example of this in modern South Africa, stemming from Le Roith's concern with the context of his work. He was concerned that his buildings should relate to their surroundings rather than compete with nature and as a result the colours he used most often were eau de nil, oranges, blues, yellows and magentas - these he said responded to the colours in African sunsets. Later he obtained the services of the well-known South African landscape architect Ann Sutton to design many of his gardens. Le Roith and his wife initiated a move to 'green Hillbrow' with pavement gardens and planting at the apartment block Golden Oaks (1976), a move well in advance of current thinking about inner city ghettos.
Le Roith became increasingly concerned with domestic architecture but was also commissioned to design three synagogues in Johannesburg. In these buildings his concern for symbolism and his continuing interest in the use of colour in architecture played an important role. 'Washington House ... an example of the International Style in which Le Corbusier's ideas were translated by an intelligent man with a flexible mind' stated Greig (1971). This building, dating from 1937, has now been demolished. It embodied several favourite Le Roith ideas. For example a feature of this slender office block was the exposed concrete frame of the building with brick panels. The urban setting, function and budget for the building assisted in forming this solution. It was a form which was repeated in his work and also in the work of other South African architects at the time. Large apartment buildings such as Dunkeld Mansions, Illovo (1937-1938), Lhenveolan, Killarney (c1939) and the Cranbrook Hotel (c1940) became characteristic of Le Roith's work, particularly the interlocking of the wings of the buildings and the exposed structure.
Le Roith admired contemporaries in South Africa such as DM COWIN and John FASSLER and was particularly interested in the work of Richard NEUTRA since LE ROITH considered that NEUTRA shared his interest in site and landscape. In 1960 Richard NEUTRA visited South Africa at the invitation of Le Roith and the Institute of South African Architects.
Late Le Roith projects include such pioneer projects as Benmore Gardens in Sandton. In about 1964 Le Roith bought one hundred hectares on which to build this village centre. The idea was that the centre, which included flats, shops and offices should be self-contained. The concept followed a visit Le Roith and his wife had paid to the Finnish new town of Tapiola. Le Roith withdrew from the project following a misunderstanding, when only two of the blocks of flats had been completed. His own two houses, Malelane (1944) and the house in Coronation St, Sandton (1955) are also of interest to a student of domestic architecture in South Africa. In 1959 he was practicing as HAROLD LE ROITH & ASSOCIATES. In 1939 he had married Lilian Greenfield of Barkley West.
Click HERE to read A portfolio of flats, an article listing some of Le Roith's designs, published in the South African Architectural Record, August 1946.
ISAA 1935; ARIBA 1941. (Arch Rev Oct 1944; Arch Rev Jun 1953:407; Greig 1971; Herbert 1975; ARIBA nom papers 1941 (7790); SA Archt Mar 1940:455, 465; SAAR May 1940:191-94; SAAR Apr 1946:78-83, 84-9; SAAR Aug 1946:191-202; SAB Aug 1941:17; SAWW 1964; Le Roith 1989; Le Roith papers 1989)
Proposed factory for D Klempman, Industria (SAB May 1937:50) 1937
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 LE ROITH
|Chipkin, Clive M. 1993. Johannesburg Style - Architecture & Society 1880s - 1960s. Cape Town: David Phillip. pp 155, 164, 172, 174-177, 178, 226, 227, 229, 236|
|Chipkin, Clive M. 2008. Johannesburg Transition - Architecture & Society 1950 - 2000. Johannesburg: STE Publishers. pp 96, 100, 102, 252, 445|
|Greig, Doreen. 1971. A Guide to Architecture in South Africa. Cape Town: Howard Timmins. pp 161|
|Herbert, Gilbert. 1975. Martienssen & the international style: The modern movement in South African architecture. Cape Town - Rotterdam: AA Balkema. pp 141, 142, 143, 162, 213, 215, 225, 231|
|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 93, 187|
|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 96, 123|
|SAWW & Ken Donaldson (Pty) Ltd. 1958. South African Who's Who 1958 : An illustrated biographical sketch book of South Africans with separate sections for the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, and South West Africa. Johannesburg: Ken Donaldson (Pty) Ltd. pp 371 (with photo)|
|SAWW & Gibson, PJ (Managing Editor). 1965. Who's Who of southern Africa 1965. Johannesburg: Combined Publishers. pp 511|
|van der Waal, Gerhard-Mark. 1987. From Mining Camp to Metropolis - The buildings of Johannesburg 1886-1940. Pretoria: Human Sciences Research Council. pp 206, 211, 214, 217, 218, 224, 225, 226, 227, 234, 236, 237, 239, 241|