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Norman Eaton was the finest architect in the country


In:Pretoriana No. 52, December
Pages:pp. 50-53

It is with the deepest regret that the members of the Old Pretoria Society learnt of the tragic death of Mr. Norman EATON, the eminent South African architect and well-known Pretoria citizen. Mr. EATON was for many years a valued member of the Society in whose activities he took the greatest interest and to whose work he made a valuable contribution as a member of its Executive Committee in 1961/2.

A tribute to Mr. Eaton by Prof. A. L. MEIRING, Head of the Department of Architecture, University of Pretoria, is published in this issue and it is hoped to pay further tribute to him and his work in a later issue.



With the tragic death of Norman EATON, our city and our country have lost their finest architect. He was trained in the strict classic tradition under Dr. Gordon LEITH (also an old Pretorian) and, as Herbert Baker scholar, at the British School of Architecture in Rome, but when he started practice in Pretoria in the thirties the new era in architecture had arrived. He was, therefore, never called upon to design in the style in which he was trained.

Nevertheless he used the disciplines of his classic education, especially as regards architectural scale and proportion and the correct use of materials. He thus soon developed into being the link between the old and the new, and, in fact, was instrumental in showing the whole country how the transition from the old to the new should be accomplished.

Thereafter he developed his own individual style, following neither the European (CORBUSIER) nor the American (Frank Lloyd Wright) trends so popular 20 years ago. In this he proved his worth as an independent thinker and designer, relying all the time on architectural perfection which he carried through into every detail of his buildings.

He stood head and shoulders above the body of architects in our country in two respects.

The first was his ability to give each of his buildings its own distinctive character, painstakingly but beautifully developed.

The second was his use of materials. The normal architect will sometimes design his building without giving much thought to the materials in which it is to be constructed, but EATON would integrate them from the very beginning. Materials, especially our beautiful facebrick, were for him living things to be dealt with as the composer does with the various instruments making up an orchestra.

He had a shy and retiring nature and would never push himself. He preferred to speak through his work and in this his voice was clear and most inspiring.

There was a time, however, when he did assert himself on behalf of the architectural well-being of Pretoria.

This was when he founded the Pretoria Architectural Society and kept it alive by his inspired leadership.

Matters such as the re-design of Church Square, the placing of the Kruger bronzes on the Square, the planting of trees, a redraft of municipal town-planning by-laws and the traffic pattern in and around Pretoria were discussed.

The City Council treated the society with respect and on its advice invited William HOLFORD to visit Pretoria and submit a report on its future plan. It also agreed to the society's proposal to create an advisory town-planning committee which has, since its inception, been under the chairmanship of a loyal member of the now defunct Pretoria Architectural Society, Mr. Gordon McINTOSH.

When I started the School of Architecture here and had to look around for architects to help me, I appealed in the first instance to EATON. He willingly came in, giving us a lot of his valuable time and soon became an inspiration to the students. This inspiration has lasted over the years and I can state as a fact that EATON is thus directly and indirectly largely responsible for Pretoria's winning the reputation of being the leader in our country's architecture.

His own buildings, the Netherlands Bank, the Wachthuis (Polleys), the Little Theatre in Skinner Street and many houses in and around Pretoria, were rightly looked upon as the best there was to offer both in design and the use of materials. Many have been the occasions when these buildings have been held up to students as worthy of study.

And so a great architect, a student of the fine arts and music and a humble lover of all things beautiful, is no more. His death is just about the biggest loss we could suffer in the architectural world. However it is in this world that we have the monuments to remind us of their designers. These, and Eaton's human qualities, will keep his memory alive and continue to inspire those to whom architecture is the mother of the arts.


The Pretoria News, 27/7/66.