ARCHITECTURE: The good, the bad and the unsightly
Brian McKechnie on the best and worst SA buildings
The top six
Moses Mabhida Stadium
"Can you feel it? It is here!" Almost 10 years later, these words stir the sense of excitement, possibility and ubuntu of the 2010 Soccer World Cup. The Durban stadium captures the 2010 spirit in a crisp, timeless structure, artfully woven into the city fabric via 6km of pristine beachfront promenade.
An awkward leftover site at the edge of the Rosebank CBD was transformed by this gallery, a building that is simultaneously iconic and restrained. Its undulating steel facade hugs the corner, creating a visually interesting and permeable urban edge, while beckoning patrons to explore the spaces within.
11 Diagonal Street — "The Diamond"
Helmut Jahn’s unashamedly modern, mirrored masterpiece in Joburg perfectly captures the glamour of the 1980s. The blue glazed "diamond" (created to be the head office of De Beers) embraces the chaotic city surrounding it, refracting vignettes of Diagonal Street and the endless sky above, in its elegant jewel-faceted facades.
Zeitz MOCAA Museum
This Cape Town structure is closer to an artwork than a building in the traditional sense. The cathedral-like gallery entrance is carved from the cellular concrete tubes of an abandoned 1920s grain silo, freeing a contemporary space from within the historic structure. The off-shutter industrial concrete exterior ties the building to the V&A Waterfront complex, while a viewing deck on the top floor offers vistas across the city and all the way to Robben Island.
This beautiful precinct, seat of the court responsible for enshrining and upholding our constitution, is built within the confines of the former Old Fort prison in Joburg. Former Constitutional Court judge Albie Sachs summed it up perfectly: "A new Constitutional Court rising there would dramatise the transformation of SA from a racist, authoritarian society to a constitutional democracy. A more South African centre of repression and hope could not have been found. Above all, it had history. This wasn’t just a neutral space — this was a space of intense drama, of human emotion, of repression, of resistance. And here was the chance to convert negativity into positivity."
This crisp, ethereal structure echoes the rolling contours of the surrounding Breede Valley in the Western Cape. The sculptural design, inspired by Psalm 36:7 (How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings), and the natural locale transform cues from traditional Cape Dutch architecture to create a contemporary SA icon.
The bottom six
Africa’s new tallest building (11m taller than the Carlton Centre, constructed in 1973), is a study in missed opportunity. The Sandton skyscraper is located in a district with vacancy rates already hovering at around 40%. Rather than looking forward, or taking cues from contemporary design, the edifice is an awkward post-modern pastiche balanced uncomfortably atop the Sandton citadel.
The Pearls of Umhlanga
The Dubai-esque tower gives zero consideration to the Umhlanga Village context, and permanently pollutes the beachfront with its cold grey shadow.
This depressing casino, disguised as an Italian peasant village, introduced the large-scale Tuscan fungal infection to Joburg. Like a bad cocaine addiction, northern Joburg can’t get enough of it. Complete with cardboard painted skies and plastic ducks, the complex is inexplicably named after a monastery southeast of Rome, Monte Cassino, that was sacked by the Lombards, ravaged by an earthquake and eventually, in 1944, bombed by the Allies.
Joburg General Hospital
This monolithic concrete eyesore is today known as the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital. The abomination to architecture and city planning lurks over the Parktown Ridge, at the periphery of Joburg’s skyline. The structure remains an indelible scar of the brutal apartheid regime.
Sibaya Casino in Durban
Another depressing casino. This time disguised as an overscaled Zulu beehive dome. An insult to vernacular SA architecture, Zulu culture and sighted people in general.
144 Oxford Road
The banal polished glass amoeba in Rosebank adds a new chapter to the parable of disappointment marring the edges of Oxford Road. The visually dispiriting structure adds nothing to the otherwise active, walkable, urban fabric that characterises the suburb.
• McKechnie is a heritage architect in practice in Joburg