Spec. Qual. Exam. (Witwatersrand).
Robert Schmikl, talented Viennese architect, spent most of his working life in Pretoria. He was a close friend of Norman EATON. His one-man practice was well organized and his numerous buildings made an indelible imprint on architecture in Pretoria. Schmikl worked in a modern idiom adapted to his clients' needs, site and climatic demands, and contributed to Pretoria's regional architecture of 1940-1980.
Robert Schmikl. 1903-1977.
Robert Gustav Schmikl was born on May 5, 1903 in Vienna, Austria. In 1926 he was awarded the diploma as architect-engineer by the Technische Hochschule in Vienna. Viennese work between the wars "was characterized by logical, sober, direct expression, efficient and elegant design, modern, but not in the mainstream of the International Style". He had a hard time finding work as an architect. For almost three years he kept himself busy as a perspective artist, designing interiors, furniture and attended the music conservatory as an excellent piano accompaniest. He attained honorable mention for a garden city competition and the second prize for a housing scheme in Klagenfurt.
From September 1929 he worked with Herbert von Hiltl as chief architectural assistant Klagenfurt. In the October 1934 edition of Moderne Bauformen p567 interiors by Robert's were published.
The Austrian consul in Johannesburg assured him (11-10-1935) of a boom in construction activities after the years of economic depression, that there was a need for architects - especially for people such as Robert schooled in the design of interiors and utility ware.
Two days after his marriage to Hertha Trimmel, Robert departed in November 1935 for Johannesburg. In December he began to work Charles SMALL, Hertha joined him in June 1936. FURNER approached him in August 1936 and with John CAMERON of Sydney, he became head of twenty-five draughtsmen in KALLENBACH, KENNEDY & FURNER, (KK & F). (Herbert, 1975:48,76). In November 1936 Robert sat the special qualifying examination and registered as architect.
KK & F closed down shop in 1938 consequent to the threat of war. At Furner's recommendation Robert moved to Durban where he joined MOFFAT and HIRST.
In March 1939 Robert left alone for Vienna because of the imminent death of his father. Hertha stayed in Durban despite her family's urging to accompany him: war clouds were gathering over Europe and she was pregnant. Robert rushed back home, taking the last German passenger ship from Hamburg to Durban before the outbreak of the Second World War and landed on 7 August. On 3 September 1939, war was declared and on the 4 Robert was dismissed. He obtained a job at John VAN DER WERKE in Pretoria. On the 14 May 1940 Rotterdam was bombed by German planes - on the 15th Robert received his discharge.
Robert commenced independent practice in Pretoria, and shared an office in Koedoe Building. In 1941 he moved to Velra House (where Norman EATON already was) until his death at age 74. Schmikl and Eaton met in 1936 and were soul mates: they shared each other's taste in music and enthusiasm for architecture. Robert assisted Norman behind the scenes 'coincidentally' when was Norman 'snowed under', and Robert was short of work.
It is difficult to distinguish between the two's many thatched residences in Waterkloof [Pretoria]. According to a communication by Eaton with the author, it was Schmikl who was the thatched roof specialist in Pretoria.
Robert built a unique practice, characterized by his tireless and personal attention. He was modest by nature, small and slender of posture possessing great stamina, an excellent artist and a formidable project supervisor. His documentation, use of space and materials and exquisite furniture designs all bear witness to this. Personal inconvenience (political) and lack of material comfort all honed Robert in the frugal use of resources and materials and his discrete public profile.
Robert Schmikl buildings are carefully sited, so as to create external spaces. His respect for nature shows innovative use of trees, rocks, slopes, orientation, sun protection and prevailing wind direction. Material was used to ensure durability and low maintenance and costs; colours were always sober, so as to harmonise with wood or ornamental stone. The relationship of spaces, openings, doors and windows are exceptional and refreshingly sensitively placed; fitted furnishings are comfortable, attractive, with muted finishes. His houses are characterized by a reserved and dignified well-lived homeliness, devoid of excesses and experimentations with unproven architectural detailing merely for its own sake. For him ostentation was the epitome of bad taste. Functionalism was fundamental to design. The architect must "obviously" (his word) manage design tastefully. His houses are 'good neighbours' in their environments, 'disappear' as was his intentions so as to form a background for the life of their owners; never bound by style, contemporary yet unique, arising from his interpretation of site and requirements of the client.
The Schmikl practice was a busy and demanding one-man practice with residential commissions as its backbone. Every now and then an assistant was appointed while Robert did his morning rounds supervising projects, every Pretoria project by selected subcontractors with Robert as coordinator of operations in accordance with European tradition. Robert accepted that the architect was the person to take charge of the process of construction, that well-proportioned designs are inseparable from economy and well-being. He was the mastermind who thought, arranged and decided; artisans only executed these instructions. Few contractors were this willing, so he achieved unsurpassed quality with unmatched building costs. Similarly, Robert led his clients' choices in detail. His final accounts of his projects seldom exceeded their alotted budgets.
Schmikl did a variety of designs such as schools, hotels, office buildings, factories, old age homes and farm buildings. His office buildings were without the sparkle of his architectural homes.
Robert Schmikl spent most of his professional career in Pretoria and earned his keep through his Viennese influenced buildings of outstanding architectural quality unique and stamping their identity on the environment: quality at a reasonable price: timeless architecture. At the invitation of the Austrian consul in Cape Town examples of his work were displayed in Vienna in at the Auslands-Österreicher-Austellung-1963.
His contribution in the academic field was limited: he was external examiner for the Pretoria Department of Architecture: Robert was a doer, not talker.
His influence on Norman EATON, Tobie LOUW, Basil SOUTH, VAN DER WERKE especially their domestic architecture is especially noteworthy. With his death in late December 1977 Robert Schmikl was survived by Hertha and his three sons. His complete and comprehensive one-man opus is owned by the University of Pretoria.
[Translated from the original Afrikaans of DU TOIT, Anton E. 1989. Robert Schmikl, I.A. L.I.A. Argitek. Architecture SA May/June pp. 37-38.]
List of projects With photographs
|Asea Electric, Head Office: 1964. Pretoria West, Tshwane (Pretoria), Gauteng - Architect
|German Old Age Home: 1963. Groenkloof, Tshwane (Pretoria), Gauteng - Architect
|Hatfield Bakery: 1951. Hatfield, Tshwane (Pretoria), Gauteng - Architect
|House Andrews: 1957. Hatfield, Tshwane (Pretoria), Gauteng - Architect
|House Beauchamp: 1943. Tshwane (Pretoria), Gauteng - Architect
|House Coetzee: n.d.. Hartbeespoort, North West - Architect
|House Henk Doyer: 1958. Hillcrest, Tshwane (Pretoria), Gauteng - Architect
|House Pieter Haak Sr: 1947. Tshwane (Pretoria), Gauteng - Architect
|House van Schaik: 1963. Waterkloof, Tshwane (Pretoria), Gauteng - Architect
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