In 1886, the discovery of gold in – what used to be farmland – easily labelled Johannesburg as an economic powerhouse in Africa. It also became a home to a collection of historical and modern buildings. A rectangular grid pattern is adapted to the master plan. The city’s central business district displays four architectural styles: Victorian Colonial, Edwardian Baroque, Art Deco, and Modernism. A few other older structures adopted their building styles from the British Empire, its colonial parent, while some emulated New York City’s prowess. The amalgamation of these influences added flavour and spice to the location’s humble beginnings. As a result, a dynamic architectural flare mixed with a rich historical context is presented. 

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Johannesburg Sunset_©Thomas Bennie

Victorian Colonial.

 A notable example of this style in Johannesburg is the Victory House in Marshalltown. Originally known as Permanent Buildings, this structure is famous for having the city’s first-ever lift. Its purpose was to assist people of small means in acquiring property and earning interest from their deposited savings. The building combines unique compositions hence dubbed as a creative, eclectic style – an expression of the Victorian approach seeking to reflect the new era. A few characteristics include corrugated iron roofing, decorative wrought iron ornamentation, and red brickwork. It is bold, proud, and handsome. 

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Victory House_©

Edwardian Baroque.

 The Johannesburg City Hall is constructed in 1910 and 1914 and emphasises an Edwardian Baroque style. The building is a national monument with features like a Neo-Renaissance half-dome entrance and a linear Ionic columned portico. A paved square in front of the main entrance welcomes guests. There is a collection of mosaics and marble used to decorate the vestibule. It also houses an imposing organ. The Johannesburg City Hall is a colonial architectural jewel in the city’s heart. 

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Johannesburg City Hall_©

Art Deco.

 Completed in 1937, the Anstey’s Building remains one of South Africa’s Art Deco landmarks. It is designed in a ziggurat style. It comprises 20 stories and stands 55 meters high. It became the tallest building on the African continent in a short period. The building sits on a four-story podium possessing a curved edge towards its street corner. The three upper levels have flat, stark facades with narrow horizontal bands of windows. It is composed of steel-reinforced concrete, which allowed the main floors to be largely free of internal columns, creating open expanses for the shop. The Art Deco is characterised by angled geometries and zigzag patterns and shows the influence of ancient Egyptian and Mayan structures. 

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Anstey’s Building_©


 As a popular design style in the 20th century, modern architecture influenced this location and continues to evolve significantly. It is characterised by clean, sleek lines and a minimalist style, truly captivating and fresh to the eyes. The use of metal, reinforced concrete, and glass contribute to striking outputs that emphasise functionality more than ornamentation. A few residences and governmental buildings practice this approach in design. For instance, a brutalist style is presented in the austere Braamfonetin Civic Center. The design came from a competition won by Monty Bryer and a consortium of architects; most of the gentlemen’s educational backgrounds and architectural approaches were influenced by the United States. The building signified the progressive city as the years progressed, adapting to the changing from the location’s humble beginnings. 

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Braamfonetin Civic Center_©

This city’s economic and architectural relationship is complex and dynamic. The sixties became a prosperous decade with the economic boom, and no more so than for Johannesburg. A transformed masterplan of urban living in high-rise apartment blocks of Hillbrow and luxury suites in Killarney undeniably changed into a dynamic cityscape. It was a decade of expansion; the city grew and recalibrated its thinking and ideologies leading to even planning for the next half-century. This even influenced nearby and remote locations to consider innovative buildings. There were proposed regional shopping centres like Sandton and Eastgate, which aim to create a lifestyle one-stop-shopping centre that caters to the well-being of the people in the community.  

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Johannesburg City Center_©Jacques Nel
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Johannesburg City Street_©Vije-Vijendranath
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Sketch of the City_©Mar_NodalReview_AE

At present, the advancement of science and technology and the quest for knowledge allow researchers and designers to conduct the Spatial Development Framework 2040 for Johannesburg. It identifies the spatial vision for the future city, outlining a set of strategies leading to the realisation of this objective. Anchored to the notion of spatial transformation, this goal can be achieved by incorporating principles of equity, justice, resilience, sustainability, and urban efficiency, which seeks to translate into development policy. Other professional disciplines contributed to this proposal through a participatory process and are a dynamic master plan; meaning it serves as a strategic planning model that adapts to the changes of time as deemed necessary and rational. The idea is to create a spatially just world-class African city for the community as if uncovering gold from the earth. 

Night In Johannesburg_©


GPSmyCity. (n.d.). City Walk: Historical Buildings Walking Tour, Johannesburg, South Africa. [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 Dec. 2022].

My Guide Johannesburg. (n.d.). Johannesburg City Hall in Johannesburg. [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 Dec. 2022].

TimesLIVE. (n.d.). ‘The legacy of different architectural styles in Joburg is phenomenal’. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Dec. 2022].

Different. (n.d.). Anstey’s Building. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Dec. 2022]. (n.d.). Busting Out – Transplanting the heart of Johannesburg in the 1960s | The Heritage Portal. [online] Available at: [Accessed 17 Dec. 2022].

‌ TimesLIVE. (n.d.). ‘The legacy of different architectural styles in Joburg is phenomenal’. [online] Available at: [Accessed 17 Dec. 2022].

Moore, M. (2020). What is Modern Architecture and Its Impact in South Africa? [online] IVETT & REED: QUALITY SET IN STONE. Available at: [Accessed 17 Dec. 2022].

Spatial Development Framework 2040. (n.d.). [online] Available at:


John Victor Gonzaga is a young architect practicing in the Philippines. He is a highly driven and motivated man especially when it comes to his creative pursuits. He enjoys exploring anything related to the abstract arts; few other interests include writing, painting, reading, music and travel.