by Shaakira Chohan
It’s that time of the year when Hollywood’s Awards Season has many colleagues around the office chatting frivolously about merits, fashion and risqué performances. So instead of Beyonce’s Surfboarding at the Grammy’s, I thought we might want to bask in the light and glamour of some of Johannesburg’s ‘celebrity’ buildings this week.
The Gauteng Institute for Architecture Merit Awards has become an esteemed recognition of great architecture in the city, with increasing submissions and contenders.
Also see: Cape Town’s 7 best buildings
Here are some of the winners from the most recent awards held late last year:
Brixton Studio Home – 26”10 South Architects and Urban Designers
Working from a canvas of heritage, ‘corner shop’ and neighbourhood scale buildings, the architects transformed the building into a mixed use of office space and residential space, unfolding into a more civic, intricately detailed, gem of a building.
The existing Victorian corner shop was converted into office and studio space overlooking a courtyard shared with the architect’s private home.
The building which occupies a small plot in the now re-emerging ‘trendy spot’ of Brixton, employs several inventive spatial strategies to allow for more than one use from each space, such as the shared courtyard which acts a graden court, boardroom or dining room and children’s rooms which can be opened up to each other to create a large play space.
It’s materiality of corrugated iron sheeting for the exterior cladding picks up the rhythm and language of its surrounding context and its informing heritage.
Views are carefully framed and captured through the windows, outside spaces are designed to be used at their optimal, and ergonomic detailing create a space that is not only habitable, but beautifully crafted.
The building is proof that beautiful architecture does not necessarily have to have a large budget. It’s integrity is commendable, its programme is carefully ironed out, setting a great example of compact, yet truthful architecture.
Taxi Rank No.2 Diepsloot – 26”10 South Architects and Urban Designers
Located at the entrance of the Diepsloot neighbourhood, this building announces itself proudly at a civic scale. Distinguished by its protective urban wall which houses a series of trader stalls, the urban wall becomes the face of the street, the canvas of activity and connection, the interstitial space between a busy street and the movement of people as they jostle to commute and move. A palette of steel, bold colour and strong graphics give the space a presence that not only references township culture and energy, but also sets a precedent for a future township infrastructure that is within budget, but meaningful and dignified in it’s contribution.
Alterations and Additions to Existing Gereformeerde Kerk in Benoni – Arc du Ple Group
The result of the brief to provide a new entrance lobby and additional 200 seats which was iconic and representative of the new modern Christian ethos yet still embedded with the modest traditions of the church, was a beautiful and articulated double storey box.
The new addition ties itself to its host building by taking clues from the geometry and materiality of the existing bell tower, but still holds a contemporary presence through tectonic expressions of its structural steel beams supporting the upper story on the façade. These beams also support the masonry cross-shaped buttresses, playing on both structural and symbolic references.
The design carefully integrates original heritage elements of old corner stones and a stained glass window. It is beautiful, expressive and clever in its use of the budget.
SEED Library at M.C Weiler Primary School in Alexandra – Architects of Justice
A response to the desperate need for more libraries in schools across the country, this building is the first of a prototype of low-cost, semi-permanent, container architecture education pods.
Innovative, bright, bold and creative, the library stacks two shipping containers perpendicularly on each other to create both private and communal spaces, outdoor spaces for reading, assemblies, studying and learning. It’s playful application of shapes, colour, light and activated spaces is inviting and inspiring. Most exciting, is the process of creating a prototype that can be easily, quickly and efficiently rolled out in other township schools –a rather enticing model for maximizing potential with minimal resources.
Wits Art Museum – Fiona Garson and Nina Cohen
Driving along Jan Smuts in Braamfontein, it’s really difficult to miss the expansive, white snaking ramps of the Wits Arts Museum as it cleverly inserts itself between existing buildings. The ramps are bold in their linking of the different levels of the gallery. The approach is a minimalist one, with curving geometries, airy double volumes, celebrated scultputral V-columns and a celebration of the architectural character of the original buildings. The fully glazed street façade offers a come-hither look to passer by’s.
The museum uses a palette of modest and minimalistic colours and textures of screeded floor, white plastered walls and white plastered ceiling soffits, which allows the artwork and exhibits to have all the attention.
House Kleine Schuur – Office 24-7
This small alteration to this heritage house in Parktown is a tasteful example of how even the smallest of architectural excellence can contribute to a completed landscape of great spatial merit.
An elevated and partly cantilevered glass cube for a study stands out in this original Herbert Baker house. A planted wall and glass panels dematerialize the addition against the backdrop of the original Baker House. Detailing in this building is commendable and intricate. It is a creative and sensitive design that according to the architect Nabeel Essa, demonstrates ‘how little space we need to live without compromising on comfort.’
Alexander Forbes Headquarters in Sandton – Paragon Architects
Adding to the fast growing, changing skyline of the Sandton CBD, this building will grab your attention, no doubt! It is unlike any office building you may have seen around town and encapsulates new modern office space design in a commendable manner. The form is bold; the interior environment created is inspiring for employees and the green ratings all on point. The design of public space is integrated cleverly into the design, allowing inhabitants to constantly engage and interact with the building. You might not warm up to it at first sight, but take a walk through – there is some great architectural considerations worth commending.
King Edward VII School Library and Museum – Studiojoy+
The architect’s solution for converting an old disused gym into a library and museum was to divide the volume into two levels with a mezzanine floor that leaves a central void. What makes this alteration interesting and successful is its respect for existing heritage elements of the more than a hundred year old school and the redeployment of existing materials in new ways, like the old floorboards that were used as countertops. New elements are expressed through steel and glass. This juxtaposition of new and old creates a rich, luxurious palette. The intimacy of the designed spaces gives the building a scale that is accessible to its users.