Ferdinand Silvan (nee Silberstein) (1902-1983) began his practice in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, before gaining several large-scale commercial commissions in the regional city of Trenčín. Silvan’s functionalist designs included an apartment and cinema complex and the state-of-the-art Dr M Hodza Business Academy, both of which were featured in the British The Architect & Building News and the influential German journal Forum.

Germany invaded the Czech lands in 1939 and after 13 years of designing, as a Jewish architect, Silvan was no longer able to practise. He avoided deportation to a German labour camp through his employment in the maintenance section of the State Health Insurance organisation. Silvan and his family were lucky to survive the purge of Slovakian Jews during the winter of 1944-45, and emigrated to Australia in 1949.

Silvan did not register as an architect in Australia and felt that his education and experience were not adequately recognised by the NSW Board of Architects. He found secure, if uninspiring, work as a Grade 3 Assistant in the Electricity Commission of NSW, Power Station Construction division, where registration was not required. In this position Silvan played an anonymous but central role in the design of all NSW power stations between 1950 and his retirement in 1968.

A monograph on Silvan’s pre-war work has been published in Slovakia and number of his buildings are now listed as Slovakian national monuments.

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 Further Reading: The Silvan story (Silvanovcov, Osudy), Muzeum zidovskej kultury, Slovenske narodne muzeum (Museum of Jewish Culture, Slovak National Museum), Bratislava, 2002

 ‘Ferdinand Silberstein-Silvan: Loss and legacy’, in The Other Moderns, Rebecca Hawcroft, NewSouth Press, 2017

Posted by:Rebecca Hawcroft

Researcher of architecture and design history, Rebecca curated the 2017 Museum of Sydney exhibition The Moderns: European designers in Sydney and edited the book The Other Moderns (New South Press, 2017)

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