Thursday, April 11, 2024



 These posts from LinkedIn deal with Zimbabwe architecture before independence, the UDI period, 1970s. I arrived about a year after independence, so although I got to know Frank Lincoln for example, I didn't really witness this period.  As usual my comments are just ad-libbing on thoughts that come to mind as I reflect on the 23 years I spent living in this beautiful but troubled country.


I have forgotten where some of these places are. At least, my memory is a bit scrambled. Vivid in parts and vague in others. Looking through my database for the Kopje area, I found two interesting buildings.

One was the headquarters of Harvey Bufe, designed long before Vernon Mwamuka came along. The other is Zimbank West End, originally Pallet & Price, extended by Frank Lincoln when he was still working under the "Driver-Jowitt & Lincoln" brand. Frank loved his decorative patterns, maybe because of his Mauritian background.


I have some scanned pages from old Architect & Builder magazines that belonged to Mike Clinton. The April 1979 edition featured Harvey Bufe's office building. Eventually I found this on Google Earth.

It's barely visible behind the advertising hoardings, but appropriately enough, Vernon's Kopje Plaza (Net One) is popping up in the background.

I also have partially scanned drawings for Zimbank. We were called in to propose some alterations I think. Dated as 1969, so a decade earlier. The wonderful free form design of the precast panels is badly faded and blurred on the drawing scans, but fortunately I have digital photos. Fortunate because I think they have gone now.

Both these buildings should have been subject to preservation orders in my opinion. I'm not against alterations but this is significant heritage that could have been treated with more respect.

Just a little trip down memory lane.



Snapshots from a Bulawayo walkabout with my newly acquired digital camera.

The ease with which sculpture was integrated into what was essentially a modernist design is most impressive. Could anyone do that with a straight face today.

And the Bauhaus clock. Very stylish although missing a couple of the 5 minute markers. Time was in the public domain in those days, a tradition that had been going along for several hundred years. What's the point of a public clock today. Bit of an empty gesture.

Those missing markers are emblematic of the general condition of the building. Sad really. I remember when we started to work in Blantyre around 2000 being shocked at how run down the town centre was. I fear that Zimbabwe is "catching up"

Nevertheless it's a strong enough design to maintain its dignity. Photos from 2002 when I went down to NUST to teach a short module on setting out to the architecture students.

That was a fun week. For me at least 🤣🤣🤣

Does anyone have more information on this building?004



More examples of bold and confident precast from my 2002 drive down to Bulawayo for a week of guest teaching at NUST.

The abstract /cubist pattern screen is from Beverly Building Society. I don't know the architect but it's reminiscent of Frank Lincoln's work to my eye. Compare his work for Zimbank in Harare in my previous post.



The bulging rectangle motif is from Sagit House design by W. E. Alexander and completed in 1973, the year that I left London and moved back up to Yorkshire, giving up Architecture in disgust to be a bricklayer and wannabe musician on the Sheffield pub scene, rubbing shoulders with bands as diverse as Human League and Deff Leppard.

The pen and ink sketch is by Alex Jack from his book "Bulawayo's Changing Skyline" I lost so many books. Some of them I had partially digitised, but not this one. So it feels good to have hauled it back to Dubai where I can digitise at my leisure and with much improved technology.



Two buildings in Bulawayo from the early 70s, the height of UDI and sanctions. Obviously the economy was holding up fairly well despite the fighting in the rural areas. Ultimately it was unsustainable as we now know.

If Smith hadn't been so pig-headed, could things have been different. To me prospects seemed very rosy in the 1980s when I was working in the education sector in Zimbabwe but I think I misjudged the pent up resentment among senior ZanuPF figures which later translated to refusal to hand over power.

I digress. Old Mutual Centre is by Balfour Chandler. Pioneer house, by Harvey, Bufe and Partners. This is confident modern architecture before the rot set in and the self-indulgences of Post-Modernism came into vogue. You get the feeling that everyone is working with a common language. It's not spectacular, but do we really want every new office development to shout out its uniqueness?

Perhaps my naive optimism is showing through again but wouldn't it be nice to rediscover the magic that cities once had where buildings seemed to respect each other, to work within a tradition, reserving the spectacular surprises for a few special moments?


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