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News > Archives & History > Joseph Michael Solomon - OD

Joseph Michael Solomon - OD

The historic architect who designed the recently destroyed UCT library in the April fires. We pay tribute to this world-renowned artist.
Sketch of Bishop Gray, Bishops' Founder, by Joseph Solomon.
Sketch of Bishop Gray, Bishops' Founder, by Joseph Solomon.

The untimely passing of Joseph Michael Solomon was reported in the Diocesan College Magazine of September 1920.  He was at Bishops from 1897 to 1904.  He was born in Paarl, Western Cape, on 11 December 1886.  He died on 28 August 1920.  He was 36 years old.  He was survived by his wife Jean and children Olga and Paul.   The message from the school read as follows:

The College deeply deplores the death of Mr J. M. Solomon, (O.D.), architect of the new buildings of the University of Cape Town. Mr. Solomon had been appointed by the College Council as Architect of our proposed War Memorial Chapel and he had already furnished plans for the extension of Founder's House and also for the new swimming bath. To his wife and young family, we extend sincere sympathy. (Diocesan College Magazine – September 1920)    

A fuller account of his life and achievements can be accessed HERE

Solomon was appointed College architect in 1916 and the following year by the University of Cape Town Building Committee as the architect for the new university’s upper campus in Rondebosch.  One of his major projects at Bishops was to be the War Memorial Chapel.  His initial design for the University was based on ‘classic simplicity where the centre would be graced by a huge hall, domed and pillared.’ (Michael Walker, OD in ‘The Architects of Diocesan College And their buildings, 1850 – 1999’, Shumani Printers, 2014).  (See the design enclosed in this article).

Solomon will be best known for designing Jammie Hall, recently re-named Sarah Baartman Hall.  The following is the description on the University’s Wikipedia site: ‘Upper Campus is centered on Sarah Baartman Hall, the location for graduation and other ceremonial events, as well as many examinations. The original buildings and layout of Upper Campus were designed by JM Solomon and built between 1928 and 1930.’   It is this Upper campus designed by Solomon and assisted by others, that was severely damaged from the recent wild fire that came down from the slopes of the mountain.



Architectural line drawing of Jameson Hall, University of Cape Town as conceived by Groote Schuur’s first architect, J.M. Solomon (Elliot Collection). From the collection, UCT through the years: 1900-present.  The original design was changed to what it is today.

This image was downloaded from the Internet site on Sunday 27 April 2021.

‘Brilliant Career Ended’ was the headline in the Cape Argus of 26 August 1920 announcing the death of Joseph Michael Solomon who took his life at ‘The Woolsack’ on the Groote Schuur Estate.  The obit. in the September 1920 edition of the Diocesan College Magazine reads:

‘Quite fearless in criticism, he spoke his mind in matters of art and architecture with such convincing force that, while sometimes he ‘hurt’, even his victims felt the justice of his castigation and the power of his illuminating personality.  Taking as his text  ‘Architecture is primarily an Art’, Solomon, singlehanded, at the Conference of South African Architects held at Cape Town a few years ago, killed the Bill which, in his opinion, by its proposed rules and regulations tended to degrade Architecture to a mere trade. 

In his 'Bishops' days the artist in him was manifest. One remembers him as not much use at exams, but keen on English literature and an eloquent debater. One remembers too a striking likeness of ‘Old Vip’, done in Class, the doing of which Professor Vipan could not disapprove, because the likeness was so good. To a College production of ‘Julius Caesar’ too, Solomon lent much of dignity and distinction. Solomon was immensely keen on 'Bishops' and looked forward eagerly to planning and helping to carry out, in a manner worthy, the College's structural development. A year or more ago he was appointed by the College Council to act as Consulting Architect and in that capacity he had started to map out the grounds with a view to uniformity and adherence to a comprehensive scheme. His plans for the new swimming bath and the completion of Founders House (the Old College Quadrangle) were finished before his death.  The cover design of this Magazine was done for us by Solomon in 1909, for the College Diamond Jubilee number; and in the old Dining Hall hang copies of his admirable impressionistic portraits of South African Statesmen, presented by Solomon to the College. If one were asked ‘What tangible proof have you that Solomon was great?’ the answer would be, ‘The Michaelis Gallery, Cape Town’, the building which Solomon a few years ago restored outside and transformed inside so that it is a thing of detailed beauty and interest, which, apart from the collection it houses, stands everlastingly to the credit of Cape Town. Note its floor design, its woodwork and its marble, its staircase and its vista from the main entrance, through the building, to the Italian garden behind - all are Solomon's. May we soon see his life-work, the University of Cape Town, rising on the slopes of Table Mountain… At ‘The Woolsack’ are Mrs. J. M. Solomon and the two little children - a boy and a girl - to whom our hearts go out.’


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