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History of the School of Architecture and Planning

The Department of Architecture was one of the original departments of the University of Witwatersrand (Wits), which was founded in 1922. The department was led for its first decades by Professor GE Pearse, architect and researcher, whose name is remembered in one of the School?s student scholarships. Since its inception, the Department of Architecture (now School of Architecture and Planning) has been located on main campus, on the edge of downtown Johannesburg, centre of the Gauteng city region of about 10 million people today.

The then Department of Architecture soon established an international reputation through the work of architect Rex Martienssen, who in 1933 published the seminal work, "Zero Hour" and introduced the modern movement to South Africa. The Architecture library, currently housed in John Moffat Building, is named after him. The department developed an architectural pedagogy firmly rooted in architectural design, theory and history. Its programme was shaped by people who headed or taught in it, including John Fassler, Pancho Guedes, Peter Rich, Mphethi Morojele and Jo Noero, who have also been responsible for the design of some of the finest buildings in Southern Africa. During the 1990s architects at Wits began to pay more attention to the unfolding drama of the city around them, and led by Professor Lindsay Bremner established a profile as a centre of debate and experiment.

Urban planning at Wits traces its origins to the 1938 Congress on Town Planning held by Architectural Students Society of the University of the Witwatersrand. It was in 1942 that the then Faculty of Architecture introduced a part time post graduate Diploma in Town Planning. The Department of Architecture introduced the country's first full time Bachelors degree in Planning in 1965, and a separate Department of Town and Regional Planning was formed in 1967. From the start, the planning programme furthered planning theory linked to practice in South Africa under the successive leadership of Professors, Wilfred Mallows, Nick Patricios, John Muller, Philip Harrison and presently Alison Todes. During the 1980s, a Development Planning Masters Programme complemented the bachelor degree, responding to international debates and local social issues. It has formed a major focus of the planning programme since.

The planning programme from the late 1970s played a role in opposition to apartheid. Staff and students (including Garth Klein, Alan Mabin and Richard Tomlinson) were involved during the 1980s in critiquing the professional planning institution, stimulating its transformation, and developing urban sector NGOs, including Planact. This period of political upheaval helped in formulating current planning thought rooted in social and economic reconstruction.

Between the scales of architecture and planning, a joint postgraduate programme in urban design began in the late 1980s. At the end of the 1990s a joint postgraduate programme in housing was also introduced. A further initiative on the part of staff in architecture and planning during these years was the foundation of the Centre for Urban and Built Environment Studies (CUBES).. CUBES is now the home of interdisciplinary research and postgraduate teaching, consultancy and short courses in the School and a point of contact with colleagues across the University and institutions beyond.

In 2001, the former departments of Architecture and Town and Regional Planning amalgamated to form the School of Architecture and Planning. The School maintains the studio-based tradition which is now almost 90 years old. Its pedagogy emphasizes creativity and experiment. With partners on several continents, a professionally engaged staff, the most diverse student body in any School in Africa, and involvement in design and urban issues in the exciting and transforming city and beyond, the School welcomes enquiries regarding study, exchange, research and work opportunities.