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List of Projects

MEYER, Wilhelm Olaf

Born: 1935 05 14
Died: 2006 02 23


Reg No: 1952
Year registered: 1959

BArch (Witwatersrand), MArch (Pennsylvania)

Wilhelm Olaf Meyer was born in Pretoria on 14 May 1935 as the only son of Josephine and the industrialist Dr Fredrik Meyer. As his parents insisted on a bilingual education, upon his matriculation at Afrikaans Hoër Seunskool Pretoria in 1951, Willie was destined to attend an English-language university. However, as he had made no career choice, he spent a gap year accompanying his father, then chairman of the Board of Directors of ISCOR, in Europe and the USA, and while overseas developed an affinity for architecture. This was confirmed when he met with Gerard MOERDIJK, who, like Meyer Senior, had served as chairman of the Council of the University of Pretoria. Consequently, Willie spent time in that office before registering for architecture at the University of the Witwatersrand, as well as during all the holidays and his practical year.

Having excelled at Wits, Willie applied via the US Embassy to study civic design in America. The application landed with G Holmes Perkins, Dean of the Graduate School of Fine Arts at the University of Pennsylvania. Having had good experiences with South African students, Perkins replied with an offer for Willie to enroll In the 1960/61 master's class of Louis Kahn, a guru whom Willie had only just learnt of. Again, Willie excelled, landing offers in academia and in practice but, he explained, 'My voorliefde was om onmiddelik weer met direkte bouwerk in ons land voort to gaan.' Willie returned to South Africa and by the year's end had married the daughter of his ophthalmic surgeon, whose photograph he had seen in the consulting room and whom he had tracked down on the Wits campus. She was the artist Angela Murray. Willie rejoined the practice founded by Moerdijk, now as a junior partner, and realised his three iconic blocks of flats in Pretoria: Kenmauval (1962), Grupels Court and Botha Mansions (1962-3), all of which clearly owe a debt to Kahn. On invitation, Willie collaborated in the design competition for the Johannesburg Civic Centre and, on winning, relocated to Johannesburg where he shared facilities with Wits contemporary and fellow Kahn graduate Glen GALLAGHER.

The joint RAU appointment resulted from a telephone call, an interview which could have cost the nervous 31-year-old his participation, and a peer assessment. However, reminisced inaugural rector Gerrit Viljoen, Willie was chosen because he convinced them that he could create a building as an expression of an idea ('n gebou as uitdruk van 'n idee) and because the 'vast majority' of interviewees had nominated him as their collaborator of choice. The young Willie Meyer was thus appointed as design leader for RAU, a project which Clive CHIPKIN has summarised as civic in scale and unprecedented since the Union Buildings. This role he later shared with younger fellow Kahn graduate Francois PIENAAR, to create what Hans HALLEN labeled 'one of the most powerful images of a university of the 1960s'. Reflecting on the fast-tracked RAU project, Francois Pienaar commented, 'The calibre of Willie to debate architectural issues and to inspire further design options and intellectual discourse always became an irresistible temptation, however exhausting, frustrating and time-consuming it was.'

Following RAU, Willie and Francois went on to achieve a winning entry in the international Pahlavi National Library competition for Tehran in 1978. The practice WO MEYER & PARTNERS then changed its title to MEYER PIENAAR AND PARTNERS. Besides development plans and numerous educational buildings, the practice won competitions and garnered awards for civic centres in Germiston, Krugersdorp and Alberton, and for cultural buildings including the extensions to Lutyens' Johannesburg Art Gallery. During 1977 Willie served as president of the Transvaal Provincial Institute of Architects and in 1980 was rewarded with an Erepenning of the Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns.

Retired from practice in 1992, the Meyer couple relocated to Plettenberg Bay, to the house Willie had designed for his parents in 1966. For a few years he taught at the University of Port Elizabeth and, as the eminence grise, was often called upon by his profession to act as an assessor of design competitions and awards. Angela predeceased him in 1997. The couple had two children, Arne and Alessandra.

Willie was a philosopher at heart, an erudite and empathetic colleague, a man of few but profound words, the concept architect armed with a 6B clutch pencil. He indeed left his mark on South African architecture.

[Walter PETERS, 2006. Obituary to Willie Meyer. Architecture South Africa. Jul/Aug. pp 28-31.]

Wilhelm MEYER was the Sophia Gray Laureate in 1992.

Was a recipient of the Medal of Honour for Architecture by the SA Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns in 1980.

In 1966 he was a signatory to the broadsheet, CREDO

List of projects

With photographs
With notes

Botha Mansions: 1962-3. Tshwane (Pretoria), Gauteng - Architect
Grupel's Court: 1962-3. Tshwane (Pretoria), Gauteng - Architect
House Meyer: 1984. Parkview, Johannesburg, Gauteng - Design Architect
Kenmauval: 1962. Tshwane (Pretoria), Gauteng - Architect
University of the Witwatersrand, Chamber of Mines Building - Faculty of Engineering: 1986. Johannesburg, Gauteng - Design Architect

Books citing MEYER

Beck, Haig (Editor). 1985. UIA International Architect : Southern Africa (Issue 8). London: International Architect. pp 61

Chipkin, Clive M. 2008. Johannesburg Transition - Architecture & Society 1950 - 2000. Johannesburg: STE Publishers. pp 309, 310, 311, 315, 316, 318, 320, 321, 322, 327, 354

Emanuel, Muriel. 1980. Contemporary architects. London: Macmillan. pp 542-544

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 97, 125

Morgan, Ann Lee & Naylor, Colin. 1987 [1980]. Contemporary Architects. Chicago and London: St. James Press. pp 598-600