Conference on Architectural Education (1923)


In 1923, the possible advent of a unified profession, and the implications of this on the education of architects, was discussed at a Conference on Architectural Education held in Durban, at the Technical College, on 9 and 10 July 1923. At the Architectural Education Conference of 1923 such a step was regarded as inevitable, and the pattern of architectural education was related to this historic necessity.

Those taking part in the Conference were delegates of the professional bodies in the Cape, the Transvaal and Natal, and representatives of various educational institutions concerned with the teaching of architecture and related fields. Professor PEARSE represented the University of the Witwatersrand, then the only university offering a course in architecture; Professor AE SNAPE, a civil engineer with a long-standing interest in architecture, and joint editor with DELBRIDGE, of the Architect, Builder and Engineer, spoke for the University of Cape Town; the Natal Technical College was represented by AR Martin, Senior Lecturer in Fine Arts, and its constituent body, the Durban School of Art, by its head, OJP Oxley. Other educationalists who were present were HJ BROWNLEE and WJ DELBRIDGE, representing the Cape Institute of Architects, and Gordon LEITH, speaking for Kimberley. It is interesting to note that the Union Government Education Department was sufficiently concerned with the problem of architectural education on a national scale to send an official delegate.

Discussion ranged wide on many topics only peripherally connected with education. Not all of these are essential to our present theme; but we must note here two points:

  1. the concern of the Conference with the possible formation of a federal educational body, and
  2. the role of a professional publication in the field of education.

Discussion on moves for unification led to the adoption of an important resolution, calling for the formation of a Federal Council on Architectural Education, and the adoption of a Constitution:

The Federal Council shall direct and co-ordinate Architectural Education and in so doing, shall devise schemes for Education and Examinations in the Union of South Africa and submit them to the constituent Societies and Institutions for their consideration.

This was a statement of intent, rather than a basis for immediate positive action. Professor Snape had very properly pointed out, on behalf of the Universities, that it would have to be a question of direction, and not of control; and Pearse stressed the term 'advisory'.

In the whole field of professional relationships, as in the special field of architectural education, the formalities of unification often masked a divergence of provincial views, particularly between the Cape and the Transvaal, also the very real divisions of opinion regarding the 'British' and 'South African' oriented members, the mistrust of the 'practical' practitioners of the 'idealist' academics, and the always present if latent hostility between the provinces.

The result of the Conference was to bring the Cape and the Transvaal together only on a formal basis. In the support it gave to the establishment of a strong Cape School, it helped to accentuate the bipolarity of the educational system. In its belief, underwritten at the Conference, that the proper place for architectural education and the proper examining authorities were the Universities, the Conference helped to separate the development of architectural education into two main streams, centred on the Universities of the Witwatersrand and Cape Town.

While the Conference served to separate the Transvaal and the Cape, it did help to bring about good relations between the Transvaal and Natal. A School of Architecture was established at the Natal Technical College about a year later, under the aegis of the Witwatersrand University School of Architecture, and this arrangement was to hold good for many years.

[Extracted and edited from HERBERT, 1975: 12-16. NOTE: See original text for sources]