Pretoria is almost carpeted with grand, unique and avant garde buildings, so this city is spoilt for insights into architectural ingenuity. Some buildings are provocative, some are simply monolithic and grand, and others have even impacted global trends. Here follow seven of the most accomplished, most beautiful or strangest buildings around Jacaranda City!
The Voortrekker Monument
Kom ons begin met die highly-charged, frequently-cited Voortrekker Monument. While those who hold their history and culture dear have an obvious affinity for the monument, a wholly new image is emerging for the rest of the citizenry. The former associations are falling away, and it is nowadays valued by all Pretorians more for its design and statuesque presence on the hill.
Its declaration as a National Heritage Site in 2011 is testimony to its natural value as a grand piece of architecture. Designed by Gerard Moerdijk, construction took more than a decade, with building starting circa 1937 and only ending in 1949. At 40m tall, the monument also contains the biggest marble frieze anywhere in the world, in the Hall of Heroes dome.
The Union Buildings
Now probably more famous for having the greatest concentration of unproductive morons to regularly gather in one place, the architecture here still outshines the politics. Designed by Herbert Baker, the Union Buildings have an almost regal and often fascinating element to them. Completed in 1913, the accomplished (Sir) Baker sculpted Cape Dutch, Neoclassical and Edwardian touches out of the sandstone used throughout the construct.
Also a National Heritage Site, many consider the Union Buildings to be Baker’s magnum opus. Although he built many other stunning buildings afterwards, few were ever on the scale of the Gauteng houses of parliament. Tours are available and, certainly as a Pretoria citizen, you should take one sometime, kind of like how it should be illegal to live in Cape Town unless you’ve been up the cable car.
What tally of wonderful buildings would be complete without a haunted house? Erasmus Castle is classified as a Victorian Art Nouveau building, but the mansion has a colloquial moniker too – die spookhuis! It’s allegedly haunted but – don’t worry – you’ll never get a chance to thrill yourself one Friday night with a group of chommas and a weak torch. The property now belongs to Armscor, and it would seem silly to go snooping around an arms manufacturer’s premises, don’t you think?
For those who value the historical description, the Castle is a combination of the “Gothic Revival Pointed” overtones of the 1840s, and the Queen Anne style that gained popularity between 1880 and the early 1900s. it adds a distinctive charm to the area, and you might even be lucky enough to hear the ghost moaning, or pass by at night when lights seem to be switched on inside the building, allegedly by the same apparition.
Keeping with older classics, on a hoekie on Church Square, sits a building aptly named Tudor Chambers. Architect John Ellis was commissioned by George Heyns to create what were then high-end retail stores and bespoke offices in the late 1800s. Today, the building is undeniably charming, having been restored to its former grandeur.
With classical late-Victorian presence, the intricacies and workmanship on the building is today testament to a former artisinal era. Art Nouveau features abound, most easily glimpsed in the framing around the ground floor windows, and brassware furnishings abound in all three storeys above. Looking at the building from a short distance away, it really is a snapshot of almost fairytale architecture from bygone era.
UNISA’s Theo van Wijk Building
Forever dominating first glimpses of Pretoria proper from the R21 highway, the Theo van Wijk building on UNISA’s campus is a grand architectural statement. Situated on UNISA’s Muckleneuk campus, this is one worth seeing up close. Epitomising 1970s architecture, the Brutalist style of construction is still striking.
One for the engineers, the building juts from the hill behind, seemingly balanced on a massive steel girder, itself supported by a monolithic concrete column. That slice of steel can withstand over three and a half thousand tons of pressure, while carrying two and a half thousand tons of constant load. Another influence perhaps of the Cold War era, the building was designed to withstand winds up to 250km/h.
UP’s Admin Building
Sticking with funky architecture on campuses, “ Die Skip” (the ship) as its fondly known by students who have paid their tuition fees, is another unusual university building. Emblazoned with grand designs, the irregularly shaped UP Admin Building seems to reach up above and towards the adjacent road.
Designed by Brian Sandrock, the three-corned construct was unveiled in 1968. People took a lot of drugs in the 60s, but luckily only the best impacts filtered through in this design. The building is imposing and singularly magnificent, with sweeping lines and an almost “embossed” feel to it, like it’s protruding from life itself, as a grand artistic statement.
AFGRI Head Office
Lastly, one for the modern era, the AFGRI building is now well known by all who use Pretoria’s southbound highway to commute. Called variably “contemporary” or “retro modernist,” the building is undeniably unusual in design. With rounded edges that encapsulate the entire construct like a boerie roll bun, the design was heavily influenced by Brazilian 1980s modernism.
Gushing with light, the building has a “second skin” of aluminium louvres to moderate just how much sunlight enters at various times of the day. Apart from anything else, it has to rank as one of the most fun places to call your workspace. Pulling into the car park in the morning has to feel better than pulling up next to the drab concrete slab that most people call the office.