I have lived in Johannesburg my entire life. My parents have always made an effort to drive and walk my sister and I through the city centre, showing us the history of the city through the stories cast into the stone of the buildings that inhabit Joburg town.
My exposure to Johannesburg often started on the Main Street path and under the wings of the eagles of Forty Five Main Street.
My family has long been involved in the mining industry, so I’ve always found the diamond formed building on 11 Diagonal Street intriguing. Since 1984, this building has reflected the city and man-made-forest through its faceted facade, which was designed by the world-renowned architect Helmut Jahn.
Still in the midst of restoration after its 2010 fire, the Johannesburg Rissik Street post office was, for a long time, the main connection between this extraordinarily fast growing city and the rest of the world. This connection opened the envelope for commercial opportunity and international influences, including architecture. Standing witness to this are many buildings.
A Brazilian Modernism style brise soleil hangs on this 1960s building, designed by H.W.E. Stauch, Vorster & Partners. I followed the golden rhino to the view of this masterpiece, which reminded me of the mosaic used in Nek Chand’s Chandigarh rock garden, a world away.
The recently renovated Barbican Building, corner of President and Rissik street, has siblings in Cape Town’s Green Market square as well as in England. The Barbican is an apartment building designed by Obel & Obel and completed in 1932 in a mix of “eclectic classicism and art deco” style.
Obel & Obel’s Astor Mansions, the Johannesburg equivalent to New York’s Chrysler Building, emphasises the sudden economic and international twenties boom rolling into this golden city. As a lover of jazz, I never manage to not marvel as this art deco master piece which ripples along Jeppe Street.
“I am of the opinion that where functionalism ends, architecture begins”
The quote above was written by the German architect Wilhelm Pabst. The beautifully curved Transvaal Chinese United Club Mansion was also designed by this “non-rational” artist in 1940. Seemingly as an ode to the seas that bring many here, the blue tiles wave along the curved facade.
As I continue to walk these streets, reminded of where my architectural interest began, I realise that there is still so much to discover in this city…