Art Deco architecture
Did you know?
Art Deco is characterised by geometric designs, bold colours, and the use of plastic and glass.
The 1930s was boom time in South Africa. The international demand for gold was high and we had it to burn. Buildings were going up like umbrellas in the rain. Art Deco was the fashion and South Africans were very fashionable.
Although things have moved on, the legacy of this period still remains. Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban all have some magnificent examples of the style.
In Johannesburg the Astor Mansions is one of the best examples of Art Deco buildings in South Africa. Erected in 1932, the arch inset echoes the Chrysler building in America. At 11 storeys it was the tallest building in the city at the time.
His Majesty's on Commissioner is a veritable 'palace' and stunning example of the period, taking up a whole block with 3 office towers. It was the home of the first radio broadcasting service in South Africa and activist icon Joe Slovo also had his offices there. The East Rand town of Springs is said to contain the 2nd most Art Deco buildings in the world - behind South Beach, Miami, USA.
The Mutual Heights building in Cape Town is one of the most gorgeous Art Deco buildings in Africa. At the time of its construction it was the tallest building in Africa bar the pyramids and its residents claimed it had the fastest lifts. Carved figurines and detailed relief give the building its dramatic facade. The double volume foyer looks like something out of a Bogart film. Whilst it may not be the tallest building anymore, the lifts are still fast.
If jazz chevrons and geometric eagles speak to your inner deco, the Colonial Mutual Building in West Street in Durban will get your pulse racing. Aside from the classic Art Deco styling the building also incorporates animal motifs symbolic of its place in Africa. It probably contains the only Art Deco antelopes in the world.
There are tours available of the Art Deco buildings in most cities.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Parktown and Westcliff Heritage Club
Tel: +27 (0)83 300 8084
Durban Art Deco Society
Tel: +27 (0)31 301 1951
How to get here
Johannesburg, Springs, Cape Town and Durban all have stunning examples of the style. All three cities are serviced by international airports.
Best time to visit
It is possible to see these edifices all year round.
Walking is the best possible way to explore these marvels of modern architecture. There are a number of walking tours.
What will it cost
Whilst many of these buildings are national monuments there is no charge to look at them, although most are still being used so it might be difficult to see the interiors.
Where to stay
It is possible to stay in Mutual Heights in Cape Town