The Influence of Yesterday’s and Tomorrow’s Architects in Pretoria

As cities go, South Africa’s administrative capital is a relative newcomer. Founded by Voortrekker leader Marthinus Pretorius in 1855, despite its short history, this city on the banks of the Apies River is characterised by the diverse works of a succession of talented architects. Today, in and around Pretoria, many of these outstanding structures can still be seen, as the latest generation of designers are busily confronting the many new challenges posed by urban living and commerce in the twenty first century.

In an age uncomplicated by concerns over sustainable resources, the carbon footprint and its ecological consequences, these artists in brick and stone were at liberty to place their emphasis on the beauty and ambience of their constructions, unconstrained by the environmental issues faced by those architects who practice their artistry in modern-day Pretoria. The Jacaranda city may have become dwarfed by neighbouring Johannesburg, but the giant city of gold can boast little to compare with the majesty of Sir Herbert Baker’s Union Buildings that house the offices of the nation’s president.

Built on the city’s highest point, the buildings were completed in 1913 and combine the best of both English, Edwardian, and Cape Dutch styles. Its twin towers symbolise the English and Afrikaans languages, while its inner court was intended to represent the former Union of South Africa. However, in addition to Baker, a number of Dutch architects have also influenced construction in Pretoria.

One of the most notable of these was Sytza Wierda who was responsible for the design of the imposing Palace of Justice at the northern end of Church Square. Started some 14 years earlier, but interrupted by the second Boer War, it was only completed in 1901 and later became the site of the nation’s most famous political trial – the Rivonia Trial. Wierda developed the style known as Republican or Eclectic Wilhelmiens with its undertones of Italian influence also evident in his other works around the city.

The temple in Marabastad, designed in 1927 by Hindu architects, Govender and Krishnan, is a visible reminder of cultural diversity in Pretoria. Its pyramid-like structure contrasts sharply with western concepts, but typifies the Dravidian style popular in Southern India.

Today, as we face a future threatened by dwindling natural resources, atmospheric and marine pollution, and global warming, those responsible for the buildings of the future strive to retain the beauty of their constructions whilst maximising their functionality, but limiting their environmental impact. Working at the cutting edge of design and construction, JK Designs, a group of young and dynamic architects, is creating new and exciting structures in Pretoria, leveraging new materials and technology for a healthier, more sustainable future.