Building an Icon: 2023 Round-up

Building an Icon: 2023 Round-up

COMPILED BY Gina Dionisio


2023 Saw the launch of our new architecture series called ‘Building an Icon’. Through this unique series we celebrate classic South African buildings by exploring their rich (and sometimes controversial) histories. Prepare to be fascinated.

Disa Park Towers

Building an Icon

Robert Silke plays sleuth on a triptych of controversial Cape Town high-rises – the Disa Park Towers. As architects to the Archdiocese of Cape Town in the 1960s and ’70s, Bergamasco, Duncan & James designed most of the Cape’s modern Catholic churches. Perhaps their most accomplished work was the fabulously rotund St Charles Borromeo (the “lemon squeezer”) in Johannesburg, but the fortunes of the firm reached a crescendo in the late 1960s with their appointment for Disa Park Towers. How the city fathers came to grant planning permission at the foot of the Table Mountain National Park remains the stuff of conjecture and conspiracy theory.

Read the full story, here.


The Carlton Centre

Building an Icon

Architect Brian McKechnie goes behind the scenes of Joburg’s once-glorious, now dilapidated and partially defunct Carlton Centre. Designed by New York architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), the sprawling Carlton Centre complex in downtown Johannesburg was a flagship development for Anglo American and SAB. After 50 years, the skyscraper remains a landmark – and even in dereliction, the hotel’s inverted Y-form (a SOM trademark) still feels fresh, international and exotic in a restrained, mid-century Manhattan kind of way.

Read the full story, here.


Park Station

Building an Icon

Architect Vedhant Maharaj pays tribute to an often-overlooked but enduringly graceful spectre of the Johannesburg landscape. Arriving as a kit-of-parts (like many inner-city buildings of the time), the old Park Station travelled from a foundry in Amsterdam to the booming mining town of Johannesburg. Designed by Dutch architect and railway engineer Jacob Frederik Klinkhamer, the 255m-long transit structure was opened in 1896 – and then, as the city rapidly grew, was removed in 1951 to make way for the new Park Station. Today, the ghostly shell welcomes you to the city as you enter from Braamfontein over the Nelson Mandela Bridge, its stripped and patinaed figure acting as a fitting gatehouse to inner-city Joburg.

Read the full story, here.


Transvaal Provincial Administration Building

Building an Icon

Johan Swart takes us on a deep-dive into one of Tshwane’s most majestic Modernist jewels – the art-filled Transvaal Provincial Administration Building. The Transvaal Provincial Administration (TPA) building, now Public Works House, is one of Tshwane’s most significant yet publicly unappreciated works of architecture. Inaugurated in 1963, the project was a highlight of state-sponsored Modernism – a prestigious and politically motivated development of immense scale and technological complexity, intended to portray the apartheid state as a progressive government. It also introduced an era of high-rise construction to the city. Mostly vacant since the mid-1990s, the TPA building towers over the southwestern part of Church Square, hiding within it a variety of architectural surprises – and a remarkable collection of artworks by some of the greatest white South African artists of the time.

Read the full story, here.


The Kerk Street Mosque

Building an Icon

Architects Yasmin Mayat and Brendan Hart take a closer look at a building that has been at the centre of the Muslim community for more than a century – the Kerk Street mosque in downtown Johannesburg. The Juma’ah Masjid (or the Kerk Street Mosque, as it is known) is Johannesburg’s oldest mosque. It’s operated from its current location in the city centre since the 1890s. The building is the work of the South African practice Muhammad Mayet Architects and Egyptian architect Abdel-Wahed El-Wakil, and is a finely crafted example of Islamic architecture. It is the historic heart of the Johannesburg Muslim community, despite forced removals under apartheid that moved much of the Muslim population out of the city and, more recently, the growing number of newer and larger mosques that have been constructed across Joburg.

Read the full story, here.


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