Michaelis School of Fine Art


The Michaelis School of Art years 1919-

The University of Cape Town School of Architecture was first part of the Michaelis School of Art.

In Cape Town the development of architectural education at the turn of the C20 had been steady with classes given in architectural History at the Cape School of Art from about 1912. Classes, under CS Groves, were suspended during the First World War. In 1919, "under the auspices of Mr Groves, supported by the Cape Institute of Architects an attempt was made to revive these classes, and lectures were delivered by FK KENDALL, a fine scholar of the old work at the Cape, and WJ DELBRIDGE, later to become the editor of the Cape Town journal Architect, Builder and Engineer.

In 1921 HJ BROWNLEE, ARIBA, who had experience in architectural education in Sydney, arrived in Cape Town, where he took up the work of professional coach for RIBA examinations. He became closely associated with the classes organized by Groves, an association which was formalized the next year with the establishment of the Cape School of Architecture, with BROWNLEE as Principal, assisted by Groves, who retained his position as Principal of the Cape Town School of Art. Day and night classes were offered by the new school, and a full-time course covering the whole of the RIBA curriculum. Edward Roy TOLL was a foundation member of the Cape Town School of Architecture.

The successful establishment of this school made the Cape hopeful that the next logical step in the progression would shortly follow, and just before the Education Conference of 1923 Delbridge's journal carried the following editorial:

We hear upon good authority that the Cape Town University will shortly establish a Faculty of Aesthetics upon the lines of a Slade Professoriate, and that in the meantime the same body is considering with the Cape Institute of Architects the establishment of a strong University extension course of lectures in architecture to cover the two ensuing winter sessions. It is believed that the ideal rising from the foundation of a Faculty of Aesthetics is that there shall grow out of this foundation, as opportunity arises, Chairs in Architecture, Sculpture and Painting ....

The Cape, at this stage, was anxious to match the Transvaal's educational progress, and initiate a University School of Architecture. There was some considerable feeling in the Cape over this. "I think we will admit," said Professor SNAPE, "that the Cape has certainly a right to institute a School of Architecture; the City where we have round about it the only colonial style of architecture — indigenous style — which is in many ways suited to this country. What artistic architecture we have in this country is in the Cape". It had, indeed, pioneered an approach for such a school, but its initiative had unfortunately been frustrated. "It was in 1917", explained Professor Snape to the Conference, "that I first definitely proposed a resolution in our Senate that the next Chair should be Architecture, but unfortunately for various local reasons I have not been able to get it through".

Snape proposed an ambitious educational structure: A Faculty of Fine Arts, in which there would be a Professor of Fine Arts, which post had already been advertised; a Professor of Architecture (to be, Snape thought, a practical architect, who would relate training in the School to practice); and, in the more distant future, Professors of Histories, Sculpture and Modeling. Snape hoped that a Chair of Architecture would be established within the year, and looked forward to the establishment of a strong School at the Cape. PEARSE, who believed most strongly in the formalization of architectural courses in the universities, was in close sympathy with the Cape in its ambition, believing the establishment of a Cape Chair would be "of immense benefit to the profession".

The 1923 Conference gave impetus to the Cape's desire for the establishment of a University Course in architecture, and added force to the Cape Institute's negotiations on this point with the University of Cape Town. By 1924 these negotiations had reached a successful outcome, and the following year saw the establishment of the Michaelis School of Fine Art. The newly-appointed head of this department, Professor Wheatley, was responsible not only for the teaching of Fine Art, but also for the courses leading to the Degree of Bachelor of Arts in Architecture, and the Diploma in Architecture. In 1927 there were 30 students taking the course and the University had advertised for a lecturer in architecture; and by 1930 the Dean of the Faculty of Fine Art was assisted by two full-time lecturers in architecture, Messrs GREGORY and McCONNELL. on HJ BROWNLEE's retirement and, according to ED ANDREWS (1987), McCONNELL was a far more interesting lecturer. He continued to practise privately and his office appears to have been a popular place for students to gain their few months practical office experience.

During the years 1928 to 1933 the relationship between the Institute and the Universities became increasingly difficult. The Principal of the University of Cape Town objected to his University being associated with any form of part-time education, and to the obligation to examine candidates who were not university students. He disliked the ministerial appointment of the "Joint" Examining Authorities: if his University could be entrusted with the awarding of a degree, it was entitled to be an Examining Authority on its own account. He challenged the Central Council's right to register, as architects, persons who had, in South Africa, passed a non-university examination. He resented the procedure of the Institute's Board of Education (despite the fact that university representatives were party to the unanimous decisions) in recommending immigrant-candidates for exemption from any of the subjects of a qualifying examination.

Early in 1933, at the annual meeting in Cape Town of University Vice-Chancellors, Sir Carruthers Beattie recited this formidable list of objections to the powers vested in the Educational Committee of the Council for Architects and invoked the aid of the Principal of the University of the Witwatersrand and the Rector of the University of Pretoria (which University, desirous of ultimately establishing its own Chair of Architecture, had as a first step entered into a "gentleman's agreement" with Wits.).

On February 25th and 27th, 1933, the Registrar, JS LEWIS, interviewed the Principal of the University of Cape Town. The first meeting was utterly unsuccessful: the Registrar's submissions were adroitly paraphrased and turned against him. In despair, he compiled an aide memoire of the salient things said on both sides. Fortunately, as Parliament was then in session, the Secretary for Education was in Cape Town. He granted the writer an immediate interview.

After reading the aide memoire, Dr. Gie said he could not agree with the Principal of the University of Cape Town.

At the resumed meeting with Sir Carruthers Beattie the Registrar asked him, as the first item on the "agenda", to read the aide memoire which, he added, had been shown to Dr Gie. Sir Carruthers' first reaction was very human: he exclaimed, "Good God, did I say all this?" Skilled tactician that he was, he then suggested that we forget the first interview and start all over again. We did. This second interview was, for the Institute, as successful as the first had been a failure. Sir Carruthers withdrew all his objections. In a letter dated March 4th, 1933, he wrote:

Dear Lewis: You must not mind the familiar beginning. After our talks I feel we know each other well enough. We both are anxious to get on with the work each to the best of his ability. If you are sending a further note on the interviews we had, please remember we do NOT wish to have a record of what the various speakers said. All we require is a statement that after discussion a decision was arrived at, and the decision was so and so.

Despite the fact that a Chair in Architecture was not established in Cape Town until 1937, the School of Architecture flourished.

(Extracted and edited from HERBERT, 1975:12-16. NOTE: See original text for full list of sources, augmented by text from LEWIS, JS (Registrar). 1959. The Institute of South African Architects 1927-1958. A second historical essay. In ISAA. The Yearbook of the Institute of South African Architects and Chapter of SA Quantity Surveyors. 1958 1959. Johannesburg: ISAA.)

Below are some practitioners on this site who were attended or were involved with the school.

Robert Ian STEWART studied at the Cape School of Architecture from its foundation in 1921.

Kenneth Edward Frederick GARDINER was one of the first students to benefit by the tuition afforded by the Cape School of Architecture, now forming an integral part of the Michaelis School of Fine Art before 1922.

Geoffrey Eustace LE SUEUR in 1919 attended classes at the Michaelis School.

Alexander Stewart CRUICKSHANK, from February 1921 until February 1924, attended classes at the Michaelis School of Art, Cape Town. From 1924 until 1926 he studied further at the University classes in Architecture.

Henry Berthauld VAN DER RIET from 1924 to 1927 enrolled for the part-time course at the Cape School of Architecture, Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town.

WHEATLEY, who does not appear to have been an architect, was responsible for teaching the course leading to the BA in Architecture and was also responsible for the Department of Architecture at the Michaelis School of Fine Art at the University of Cape Town in about 1925.

Hubert John TANTON commenced the Diploma course in Architecture at the University of Cape Town (1925-1927), classes for which were then held at the Michaelis School of Art and he recalls that among his contemporaries studying architecture at Cape Town at the Michaelis School of Fine Art were ED ANDREWS, TJ DRY, J JOHNSTON, I LEEB and LA ANDERSON.

Edwin Douglas ANDREWS started his training in 1926 in the office of Hubert L ROBERTS attending evening classes in architecture at the Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town.

Ronald Frederick Richard DAY, from 1922 attended the Cape School of Architecture at the Michaelis School and, on transfer of the course, the University of Cape Town in 1925.

William John Henry GREGORY arrived in Cape Town in 1928 where he was appointed head of Design at the School of Architecture, then at the Michaelis School of Art.

Leonard Forbes McCONNEL in 1930 became a full-time lecturer in architecture at the Cape Town School of Architecture at the Michaelis School of Art on HJ BROWNLEE's retirement.

Roderick William Pinkerton ANDERSON entered the full-time architectural course at the Michaelis School of Fine Art in March 1928 at the University of Cape Town.

James CORRIGALL was a registered student at the Michaelis Art School in Cape Town between 1930 and 1932.

MERRIFIELD and Geoffrey LE SUEUR were the first students to have taken full ordinary finals of the RIBA as a result of training solely in the School of Architecture, University of Cape Town, functioning as it then did through the Michaelis School of Art.

Henri Gaston Ernest DE LA CORNILLERE In 1927, represented both the Cape Institute of Architects and the Orange Free State Institute of Architects at the Federal Council on Architectural Education; at the time he was president of the Orange Free State Provincial Institute of Architects and a member of the American Association of Architects.

Max DEMBITZER studied architecture as a full-time student at the Michaelis School of Fine Art, Cape Town from March 1929 until 1935.

Horace Eustace Twentyman JONES studied architecture at the University of Cape Town at the Faculty of Arts, the Michaelis School, graduating in 1936 with a diploma in architecture.