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WWhether it’s the ‘English monumental’ splendour of Herbert Baker’s Union Buildings in Pretoria, the funky post-industrial vibe of Johannesburg’s Arts on Main or the eclectic mix of building styles in Cape Town and Durban, South African urban architectural design has much to offer visitors.
An urban architectural design tour is an unusual way to see and enjoy a very special element of South Africa – striking buildings representing a wide range of schools can be discovered from the southernmost tip to the northernmost reaches of the country.
The fabulous swoop of the Union Buildings in Pretoria is an obvious example, but noteworthy buildings also include the Constitutional Court precinct in Johannesburg or, not very far from there, the individually styled rooms of the 12 Decades Hotel in Main Street, which celebrate the city’s history since its founding in 1886.
South African urban design encompasses unique Cape Dutch architecture, found all around Western Cape province – from parts of the Houses of Parliament (where it was originally blended with neoclassical elements, a style that predominated in the 1980s extension of the parliamentary precinct) to Groote Schuur, once home to British arch-imperialist Cecil John Rhodes.
Staying in Cape Town, other influences are visible as you walk up funky Long Street, with its wrought-iron balconies and art deco exteriors, its Latin bistros and the hint of New Orleans in its pavement bars and cafés.
And there’s so much more. Visit Arts on Main in Johannesburg, which was converted from five downtown warehouses into an exciting collection of restaurants, galleries, a publishing house and historical archives. Both Cape Town and Durban, among many other towns and cities, have several suburbs in which Islamic, Indian and South-East Asian influences permeate the design culture and add to South Africa’s eclectic diversity.
Fans of art deco architecture will find it scattered liberally around Johannesburg, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town, but for a treasure trove of this century-old aesthetic, you need to visit Springs, a small town east of Johannesburg in Ekurhuleni on the East Rand. More than 30 fine (but in some cases, not well looked-after) examples of art deco architecture are clustered in a relatively small area, so there’s lots to see.
To see old Johannesburg, in particular the mansions built by the randlords – the wealthy gold magnates of early Johannesburg, so-called because they lived high up on the rand, or ridge, with beautiful views and well out of the way of mine-dump dust – there’s nothing better than a walking tour with the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation.
TTravel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Johannesburg Heritage Foundation (walking tours in Parktown and Westcliff, Johannesburg)
Tel: +27 (0)11 482 3349
Cape Insights (Cape Town)
Tel: +27 (0)21 424 0018
- Designing South Africa
- Durban Tourism
- Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism (includes Port Elizabeth, Despatch, Uitenhage)
- Cape Insights
- City of Johannesburg
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