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University of Cape Town School of Architecture


This page is a work in progress, these are notes and not yet a narrative entry.

The Cape Town School of Architecture was initially part of the Michaelis School of Fine Art.

THORNTON WHITE was appointed the first professor of Architecture at the University of Cape Town in 1936 or 1937. Thornton White arrived in Cape Town to take up his chair in 1937. It was a post for which there had been some competition, from Rex MARTIENSSEN among others. His inaugural address was published in the South African Architectural Record in June 1937 (267-75) and, as HERBERT remarks (1975:178) his 'attitude was essentially straightforward, reasonable, sensible. It was not inflammatory of students' hearts or minds, nor did it pander to the nostalgic prejudices of the traditionalists'. TW approached his task with enthusiasm. He proposed part-time classes for the benefit of students employed in architects' offices who were unable to take full-time courses, and a refresher course was projected for practising architects and their assistants. Both courses were no doubt proposed in response to enquiries. He was responsible for moulding the structure and spirit of the Cape Town School of Architecture, the second school of architecture to be founded in South Africa after that at the University of the Witwatersrand. TW made himself acquainted with South African architecture very soon after his arrival and the collection of photographs of modern buildings of the Transvaal, taken by him in about 1940 and now preserved among his papers in the University of Cape Town library, shows his selective and appreciative eye for the architecture of his time. Many of these photographs have notes on the back and would probably have been used for teaching. He continued to practice, a necessity upheld by the RIBA to keep architects abreast of developments and avoid a degeneration into text-book teaching. A lover of good living and a keen teacher, he would assure his students that life was more important than architecture; his energy and enthusiasm was appreciated by several generations of architecture students. He frequently spoke out in the journals about educational matters in architecture and was particularly concerned with the lack of public awareness of urban environment. His interest in town planning, a topical concern, led to the foundation of the Town Planning course at the School of Architecture, at the University of Cape Town and before long (c1947) the School of Architecture was renamed the School of Architecture and Town Planning.

He was responsible as practitioner for the design of the Centlivres Building (1952?) for the University of Cape Town, intended to provide accommodation for the Faculties of Sociology and of Architecture.

THORNTON WHITE suffered from poor health from the early 1960s and retired from the School of Architecture early in 1965. He was appointed architectural consultant to the University by the University Council, but died in Cape Town after a period of severe illness late in 1965.

THORNTON WHITE assisted in establishing international recognition of the School of Architecture.

Owen Pryce LEWIS, on his return from the British School at Rome, having been appointed studio master on the staff of the Architectural Association from 1935 to 1937, joined the staff of the School of Architecture, University of Cape Town in 1938 and was in practice on his own account as well as working in association with Professor L Thornton WHITE, whom he had known at the Architectural Association.

From 1838-1942 Christiaan Strauss BRINK was student at University of Cape Town School of Architecture - Prof THORNTON WHITE was the Head of School.

In 1964 Prof J.P. Duminy at UCT asked STRAUSS to apply for Head of School of Architecture as Prof THORNTON WHITE was retiring. He had been in a lecturing position at the School of Architecture, University of Pretoria in 1951 where he was responsible for Design and History of Architecture. In mid 1965 he was appointed to the Chair and became Head of School of Architecture, UCT. In 1967 subversion and stoking of student insurrection against STRAUSS by Hugh FLOYD and Senior BOLAND commenced. Strauss dismissed BOLAND, to the chagrin of FLOYD and Revel FOX. FOX was instrumental in a negative assessment by the RIBA of the School. In the early 2000s Ivor PRINSLOO confided to Basil Brink (his son) in Johannesburg that he had seen evidence of BOLAND, FLOYD and FOX's anti-Strauss BRINK actions in documents on the School's files. PRINSLOO stated: "They tried the same with me." In 1968 he accompanied a group of Architectural and Fine Art students at UCT on a study tour of Italy during 1968/69 UCT recess, on similar basis as he had done previously at the University of Pretoria. In the same year he was commissioned by UCT to design the controversial three eleven-storey (UCT initially asked for 17 storeys, but local residents objected) student residences for men and women, of which two were built. In 1974 he designed Tugwell Hall women's residence, UCT completed at beginning of academic year (Burnett M. 'Comfortable home for students'. Weekend Argus. 25 May 1974; C Strauss Brink's letter of 26 July 1984 to Ms E Shearing, Tugwell Hall) and Marquard Hall men's residence completed early 1975. Resigned in mid-year in 1975 as Head of School to continue with private practice and to be free of internal and external opposition and back-stabbing. He was succeeded by Ivor PRINSLOO.

In the early seventies he had completed his PhD at UCLA in the United States under the direction of such substantial contributors as Harvey Perloff and John Friedman. He returned to take over the School of Architecture at the University of Cape Town in 1974 at the age of 38. At that time, it would be fair to say, the School was on its knees. Soon it became an institution of international standard. Prinsloo completely transformed the structure of the course, initiating a two- degree course, a semester system, and a participatory form of management and curriculum development based on 'colleges'. The last evoked considerable inventiveness from his colleagues and produced, amongst others, a far-reaching history and theory course, a completely revised technology course, a course in development issues and a course as simulated office. By the late seventies the School was helping the Lesotho Institute of Technology in Maseru to set up an architectural course, which it ran for three years, this at a time when there were almost no black African architectural students in South Africa.

He was a radical person: nothing was done in a half-baked way. He had a powerful intellect, grasping and formulating theories with fluency, and formidable in debate. He was an outstanding manager, capable of taking on a huge work-load, well organised and decisive, but also very supportive of other people with ideas. Thus he gave the same freedom of exploration to the staff and students as he took for himself - as long as they could back it solidly in theory. He was always initiating. Just before his death he was preparing a visit to the School of Architecture in Kenya to give a teaching workshop. The contacts came originally out of another of his creations - the first all-Africa architectural congress in the new South Africa in 1999.

Vivienne JAPHA was at this time an active academic and teacher. She was Associate Professor in the School of Architecture and Planning, University of Cape Town, a member of the UCT Ethics Committee and the UCT Building and Development Committee. As a teacher she was co-ordinator of the Bachelor of Architecture Programme. As Fieldwork Coordinator she had become well known for interesting fieldwork studies which led to the recording of numerous historical towns and buildings. She was external examiner and visiting lecturer in Universities in South Africa and the University of Eduardo Motlana, Maputo, Mozambique. A brilliant and entertaining lecturer who illustrated her lecture; with her own excellent photographs, she captivated many an audience. She was also an incisive and outspoken critic, and a judge of consistent opinions on buildings and urban design issues.

It is now the School of Architecture, Planning and Geomatics, part of the Department of Engineering & the Built Environment. Visit their website.