New Joburg Development: Sontonga Lofts

WORDS Amelia Brown IMAGES Barry Goldman

Former Post and Telecommunications buildings, that date from 1906 through the 1930s and up until the 1980s, are part of a 3.5 hectare development in Braamfontein Werf in downtown Joburg. 

Located adjacent to the Sontonga Memorial Park on the corner of Solomon and Enoch Sontonga Streets, the residential conversion, architected by Richlabs, is aptly named Sontonga Lofts. Enoch Sontonga, a teacher and lay preacher from the Eastern Cape, wrote the hymn, Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika (God Bless Africa), which was eventually incorporated into South Africa’s national anthem.

Richlabs’ vision was to preserve the inherent character of the old buildings. The converted double-volume loft apartments form part of an urban lifestyle precinct, the Braamfontein Lifestyle Living Precinct. Enclosed in the precinct is a lush 1.4 hectare private greenbelt, equipped with a running and walking track, static gym and exercise platforms; a unique green lung in the city setting.

The development offers one, two and three bedroom units across three buildings. The apartments range from 46 m2 for a one bedroom to 149 m2 for a three bedroom. “Braamfontein has predominantly small bachelor apartments,” explains Robert Rich, principal architect and partner at Richlabs, who worked on the project with his partner Shawn Labuschagne, “and we decided, along with the developer, that creating larger apartments would fill the gap in the market. The global standard for a two bedroom is 70 m2 and this market is not only saturated, but compromises on either dining- or living-room space.”

Robert continues, “There’s a global trend in larger cities to convert underutilised industrial buildings into affordable loft apartments. We were inspired directly by the existing buildings and interfered as little as possible to convert the large factory floors into comfortable living in a way that merged a modern approach with the industrial past. We’re proud of how the authenticity of the existing buildings has been preserved and how we have balanced the cold industrial elements with sculptural stairs and double volumes for liberated living.”

Designing with existing buildings – and then endeavoring to change them as little as possible – can be a challenge, especially in terms of facilitating services reaching each apartment discreetly and ensuring the historical facades are changed as little as possible while still maximising light and ventilation. One solution Richlabs employed was to open up the roofs to allow light.

“Much like the typical Highveld sunroom, the crow’s nest receives sun all year round,” Robert says. “It also enables the inhabitants to regulate hot and cold air by opening windows that release the hot air or suck in cool air.”

To commemorate Enoch Sontonga’s contribution to the South African anthem, Richlabs designed a sculpture that sits on a corner wall branding this area with historic significance and supporting the City of Johannesburg’s 2040 spatial and urban renewal development framework of developing Solomon Street as one of the significant Corridors of Freedom.

Find out more about Sontonga Lofts at