The University of Pretoria has a diverse range of architectural styles and a variety of eye-catching building designs. Buildings serve as tangible evidence of growth and change in a particular space. The accompanying modifications that they undergo reflect changes in UP’s history and its life over time.
First years, current students and alumni alike will find common ground in their memory of campus due to the trademark buildings and their memories of student life. The Standing Building Committee at UP is responsible for maintaining architectural coherence between campus buildings. This architectural compilation is meant to serve as a “visual tour” of campus for students, encouraging a sentiment of appreciation for the rich historical significance of campus structures. For many former and current students, it serves to reignite memories of campus associated with these buildings after a year of campus closure from the pandemic.
The University of Pretoria’s entrance comprises two key structures. The first being the twenty storey high tower block used by students and staff in the Human Sciences Department, which was designed by the architect Brian Sandrock. The second component is a Victorian Era Style House known as Kya Rosa. The building was originally occupied by Leo Weinthal, owner of The Press publication. The building is named after Weinthal’s wife, Rosa, with the word ‘Kaya’ meaning ‘house’ in Zulu. In 1980, the original house was reconstructed by Jordaan and Holm firm and the original Victorian fittings were transferred to the reconstructed version. Currently, the house is used as the Office for Alumni Relations, housing an entertainment and conference centre inside.
The Old Arts Building
An English architect, Percy Eagle, is accredited with designing the building in 1910. The building is made up of sandstone material showcasing the Dutch Revival and Neo-Romanic styles. The building itself lies between two symmetrical structures meant to complement it – the Club Hall on the right, (which was designed by Gerard Moerdyk in 1930) and the College Hostel, which is now known as the Student Services Building (built in 1914). The Old Arts Building’s most striking feature is the water feature in front of it, and the long expanse of the AULA grass lawn. The water feature, known fondly as “Bokke Dam”, derived this nickname from the springbok structures erected around it. This feature has become a central entity in many campus myths and dares, and serves as the informal official photo spot for formals and diners.
Old Merensky Library
The design of the Old Merensky Library is accredited to Gerhard Moerdyk during the 1930s. Moerdyk is renowned for designing the Voortrekker Monument – elements of which he incorporated into Old Merensky, which is why the building itself mimics the monument.
Moerdyk’s travels around Africa and UP’s involvement in research at the Mapungubwe archaeological sites influenced his design of the building to incorporate symbols of indigenous culture and exclusively African building materials. The granites used in the building were derived from African soil, with the zig-zag framework on the building being a symbol of water and fertility. Closer inspection of the entrance shows two animal forms: the crocodile (regarded as the spirit of the water) and the Zimbabwe bird (regarded as the spirit of the skies). The entrance frame also shows baboons, which has been regarded by many scholars as simply a bit of architect’s humour. Others interpret that the baboons looking down upon whoever enters the building was meant to invoke the notion that the scholars who made their way through the library’s doors were not as ‘above everyone’ as they projected themselves to be. The overall structure of the building is shaped like that of an open book, making symbolic reference to “knowledge revealed”. Another notable feature of the building is Moerdyk’s signature imprinted on a block of cement at the entrance of the building. The building is named after Dr Hans Merensky, who was responsible for financing the building project. Although the building was originally intended to be used as a library, it became insufficient for the demands that a modern library posed – hence the construction of the new Merensky Library, known as Merensky 2, in 1969, which students currently use as the library. The Old Merensky is now a heritage site and art gallery. It houses several art collections.
Following World War 2, South Africa witnessed a large influx of Dutch architects. Many of these architects joined Moerdyk’s firm. This Dutch influence gave rise to many campus buildings built at that time by the firm to resonate with Dutch modernism. This can be seen in the Theology, Botany, Chemistry, Meteorology and Old Agriculture Buildings.
The Piazza has been heralded as the epicentre of student activities. It was inaugurated in 1995. The Piazza is made up of pizza shaped tiles of sandstone and brick colours. It is believed that the student centre played an important role in assimilating the previously distinct east and west sides of campus. Originally, Roper Street used to run through where the Student Centre currently sits, which created an artificial divide between the eastern and western side of campus.
Interesting facts about other buildings on campus:
Due to the shortage of plate iron during WW2, architects experimented with concrete roof structures. A product of this can be witnessed at the Aula complex, designed by Karel Jooste. Both the Engineering 2 building and the Mineral Science building boast Brazilian architectural influences due to their deep-seated windows and brise-soleil slats (a type of rigid sun protection system). Adding onto international architectural influence, the mathematics building, designed by the architect Gordon Leith, shows an application of a classical Greek design. The building was originally used as an administration building before serving as office space.
The administration building, known as “the Ship”, was designed by Brian Sandrock. The building has a characteristic triangular design pointing in the south-west direction. This shape mimics the prow of a ship – accounting for its colloquial nickname. The western external wall of the building is a thick concrete panel. This structure aids in filtering out noise from the street traffic.
The post-modernist architectural style on campus was introduced by an architect named Samuel Pauw. His design of the Economic and Management sciences building is notable as contrary to the typical vertically tall buildings. Pauw opted to design a long, outstretched stone building. The building is also accredited as the longest building on campus, for which Pauw received an award.
Another notable mention is that former President of the Republic of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, inaugurated the official opening of the law building back in 2005. The designers of the law building received a Project Award for the building from the SA Institute for Architects.
The Roman Catholic Church and its accompanying buildings in its vicinity are prominent aspects of UP’s architectural history. The complex was erected in 1920. One part of the monastery is now a student facility known as “TukkieWerf”. The chapel itself boasts stained glass windows and statues and has been used as a venue for weddings, theatre, choral and church services.
Campus buildings serve the basic purpose of housing students during academic activities, however, they also serve to reignite pinnacles of memory embedded in these architectural structures that bring back nostalgia for students and staff over generations.
Image: Cletus Mulaudi