The financial capital of south Africa, Johannesburg has a rich cultural history. In the 19th-century the city was a gold-mining settlement since then town experienced rapid growth as the gold deposits were exploited, and is now South Africa’s largest urban centre. As a result, the Johannesburg area has a wide variety of architecture, from early Art Nouveau to post-modern buildings.

The architecture of Johannesburg is deeply influenced by the political conditions of that era. Its sprawling Soweto township was once home to Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. Soweto, although today it is incorporated into Johannesburg, in the past it had been separated as a residential area exclusively for Blacks, who were not permitted to live in Johannesburg proper. Lenasia is predominantly populated by English-speaking South Africans of Indian descent. These areas were designated as non-white areas in accordance with the segregationist policies of the South African government known as Apartheid.

1. Apartheid Museum

The Pillars of the Constitution is the first exhibit visitors see when visiting the Apartheid Museum. Located in the courtyard, it includes one pillar for each of the seven values that are enshrined in the South African Constitution: democracy, equality, reconciliation, diversity, responsibility, respect and freedom.The Apartheid Museum graphically portrays the apartheid story through photos, artefacts, newspaper clippings, chilling personal accounts, and film footage. The sights and sounds of the apartheid era assail visitors as they move through the thought-provoking permanent exhibits on an emotional journey through South Africa’s history. Paths follow the country through decades of oppression to the birth of democracy. At least five times a year events are held at the museum to celebrate the end of apartheid and the start of a beautiful democracy for the people of South Africa.

2. Constitution Hill

Constitution Hill is a former prison, which provides fascinating insight into South Africa’s history. At the site, you can explore provocative exhibits at the Number Four museum, the Women’s Gaol museum, and the Old Fort museum. Together, the precinct was once known as The Fort, and it forged a reputation for its brutal treatment of political prisoners, common criminals, and passive resistors; famous former prisoners include Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi. Today, the old Awaiting Trial building has been transformed into the Constitutional Court of South Africa, a symbol of freedom that works to protect the rights of all the nation’s people. The court welcomes visitors who want to attend hearings and watch the judicial process. Guided tours of Constitutional Hill offer valuable insight into its rich history.

3. Gold Reef City

Gold Reef City is an amusement park, located on an old gold mine which closed in 1971, the park is themed around the gold rush that started in 1886 on the Witwatersrand, the buildings on the park are designed to mimic the same period. There is a museum dedicated to gold mining on the grounds where it is possible to see a gold-containing ore vein and see how real gold is poured into barrels. And multiple shops around the park can be located.

There are many attractions at Gold Reef City, including water rides, roller coasters and the famous Gold Reef City Casino. The live shows of Idols South Africa are filmed live in the “Hippodrome”, a large auditorium based in the park. Gold Reef City is located to the south of the Central Business District off of the M1. It is also the site of the Apartheid Museum.

4. Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum

The Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum, which honours the brave students who protested apartheid during the Soweto Uprisings, some of whom were shot by police, including the museum’s namesake, who was only 12 years old.

5. The Maboneng Precinct

The vibrant Maboneng Precinct is a fantastic example of a successful mixed-use urban renewal project. Once a rather run-down neighbourhood, Maboneng, meaning “place of light,” now fizzes with life. Funky restaurants, cafes, art galleries, shops, hotels, and entertainment venues mix smartly with residential buildings. A top attraction here is the weekly Market on Main with food from all over the continent. Arts on Main and Revolution House are two of the first developments where warehouses are transformed into artists’ studios, galleries, and shops. Other developments host Bioscope, an independent cinema; a community centre; designer hotels; and boutiques. This is a wonderful area to wander around, feel the vibe of the city, and grab a bite to eat or a cool drink.

6. The market place

The Market Theatre complex is housed in a converted market building. Initially it was an Indian market and now it plays a major part in Johannesburg’s cultural life. It has four live theatre venues where some of the finest productions in South Africa are presented. The complex also includes a bookshop, art and photographic gallery, and restaurants. Kippie’s is a popular jazz venue, with music by well-known musicians in the evenings. In the huge parking lot opposite the Market Theatre complex, a large flea market is held every Saturday. Adjoining the Market Theatre, Museum Africa displays reproductions of the huts, tools, arts and crafts, dress, and toys of South African tribes.

7. 78 Corlett Drive Building

78 Corlett demonstrates sector leadership in considering context, environment and occupant well being – redefining the way people work and experience their built environment. 78 Corlett Drive is a new office development located on a brownfields site in the heart of Melrose North. The project is leading the local green building sector into a new phase of evolution by achieving a Net Zero Carbon Level 1 Certification as well as a World Leadership 6-Star Green Star Office v1.1 Design Certification.

The project is an example of implementing sustainability from the design stage. Simple measures like shaded building envelope, raising the building footprint by providing street parking so that minimise excavation on a sloping site, compact service core & an array of PV solar cells on the roof.

8. Drivelines Studios

Located in Maboneng, an area of recent urban transformation and renewal, it responds to the post-apartheid generation’s desire to repopulate the city’s downtown through new models of urban living.Embracing the triangular geometry of the site, the building is conceived as a billboard where two separate volumes of residential units are hinged at the narrow east end of the lot, framing the social space of the open interior courtyard. As in a billboard, the building outer facades are straight and flush with the lot line while the facades in the inner courtyard are articulated by the staircases, the elevator tower and the bridges connecting all levels, and by the open circulation paths activated by the units spillover onto their outdoor space.

9. Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital

The competition-winning design broke away from housing all departments in a single ‘box’ building, which often leads to deep floorplates where the patients and staff have little contact with the outside world. After extensive consultation, it was clear that long, institutional and windowless corridors should be avoided in favour of a plan that connected to its natural surroundings. Sheppard Robson and JCA’s concept revolved around creating six wings, each with its own specialism. These were connected by a ‘street’ that ran through the centre of the project. This ‘street’ was vital for connectivity, with three main junctions that enable efficient flow of people. The separation of floors avoided cross-over and assisted way finding.

10. Ponte City Tower

It was built in 1975 to a height of 173 m, making it the tallest residential skyscraper in Africa. The 55-story building is cylindrical, with an open centre allowing additional light into the apartments.The history of Johannesburg’s Ponte City Apartmentsis a provocative one: built in 1975 and designed by Manfred Hermer as the height of luxurious (white-only) living in South Africa, the continent’s tallest residential building soon became a notorious vertical slum, filled with crime and poverty, its signature hollow core re-purposed as a trash dump and a suicide drop.

11. 115 West Street Building

Completed in 2012 and designed by Paragon Architects, is one of the most contemporary buildings in Johannesburg and consists of eight office floors set above six parking levels. The massive office space is considered a “green” building with a 4-Star Green rating due to its efficient energy and water saving practices.The east and west elevations are characterised by scalloped profiled zinc sheeting. The design required a flexible building hence the large floor plates, punctuated by two atria to maximise the natural daylight into the office spaces and the ground floor below which was designed to create a park like environment with the introduction of 6m high Ficus Benjamina trees, sunken into the floor. The light sources are twelve giant 8.4m cones, which float above the atrium space like giant clouds. The external areas are xeriscaped with indigenous low water consumption plants. The work areas are punctuated with colourful breakout spaces to provide relaxation areas for the staff with re-cycling facilities to assist with the change of mindset regarding sustainable office culture.

12. Circa gallery

Forming an art precinct in the north western corner of Rosebank, its design focuses on a comprehensive way of looking at art and in so doing, creates a flexible, multi-purpose building, that gives the visitor complete exposure to all types of art within the ambit of supporting amenities.Circa, when viewed together with the existing Everard Read gallery is conceived as more than just a gallery and is therefore equally considerate about the public realm around it. It integrates itself with the city and offers more user variety, like a coffee shop and bookshop which are within the open ground floor and spill onto the sidewalk. It contains exhibition spaces for crafts and mixed media and large meeting places for public events or smaller private functions. The purpose is to create a building responsive to the art on show, offering something physical and real; something that alters perspectives of everyday life. The space between the galleries creates an opportunity to enjoy and exhibit large scale sculptures much like a sculpture garden or park or square, thereby making more of our shared public space; not just road surfaces for cars and hiding places for criminals. The gallery’s main feature is an aluminium façade that allows views into and out of the building and, although small in size, it’s one of the top galleries in the city. The building was also designed to be sustainable as electricity is generated using solar panels and harvested rain water is used throughout.

13. Mad Giant beer interior

Mad Giant beer plays with scale referencing oversized metal toy construction kits. The result is a creative and welcoming industrial space that brings to life the DIY ethos of the renegade South African craft beer, while contributing to the urban regeneration of inner-city Johannesburg. The interior concept draws on the mad, DIY mindset of Mad Giant and plays with scale to emphasise the giant behind the brand. Emerging as the perfect brand mascot, a giant yeti forms a centrepiece installation. This also translates onto the new brand identity of the beer bottle labels and other graphic design elements.Standing from floor to ceiling behind the front bar facing the entrance of the brewery, the 7-metre-tall icon is made from laser-cut yellow zinc-passivated steel, riveted to a mild steel framework. It is spot lit from the ceiling, making it radiate from every angle of the space. At its base is the bar display with a large circular bar counter and branded Mad Giant beer taps in front of it.

14. Alexandra Interpretation Centre

The new Interpretation Centre is a mixed used 3 floor structure, conceived as bridge spanning over the animated and loud streets of Alexandra. The program contains an exhibition space to tell the story of the place, a jazz archive for the rich musical history born here, a library, training facilities, shops and restaurants. Through the design the building also generates two urban squares, places to be taken over to the resident’s liking, envisioned for both organized events like movie projections and the informality of street life. On a sunny day you might find someone getting a haircut or having a birthday party, or both, in the same place.

15. Optic garden

The Optic Garden functions as a sculpture on a traffic island celebrating the 2010 World Cup and marking one of the major routes to the inner-city match venues. The project was commissioned by the Johannesburg Development Agency as part of a citywide public art program leading up to the 2010 World Cup.The standard chevron sign is used as ‘drawing material’ with 195 signs ‘planted’ to form an optic mass measuring 30m x 6m in plan. Red and white patterning associated with the traffic signs is adapted to outline an iconic image, visible from the exact point of perspective of a driver approaching Johannesburg.As one rounds a bend in the approach road, the field of signs converges and aligns to reveal the outlines of a soccer playing field. Upon passing, the image fragments back into the individual signs – alluding to the temporary nature of sports events and their potential to bring people together.


Renuka Shinde, an architect turned environmental strategist loves voicing her opinions regarding her perception of architecture which, considering where you are reading this is, makes perfect sense. She is an IGBC AP and currently works as a green building consultant in Mumbai. Having worked as a set designing intern, a design architect and now a writer she believes life should be lived in experiences.

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