Like James Dean’s signature white t-shirt, Audrey Hepburn’s black Chanel dress, or Steve McQueen’s tortoiseshell Persols, enduring style is classic, subdued, and unforgettable in equal measure. Iconic without being vulgar, evergreen design champions considered proportion, masterful planning, purposeful form, and calculated restraint, rather than bowing to prevailing desires for cheap spectacle or seasonal vogue. The rule of thumb: less is always more. The South African buildings on this list are a tribute to the longevity of timeless architectural beauty and proof that good taste never goes out of fashion.
1. City of Johannesburg Council Chamber Civic Boulevard, Braamfontein StudioMAS, 2017
This delicate, glazed, civic chamber hovers weightlessly above a circular reflective pond. The building forms an architectural metaphor for transparent governance, public accountability, and urban connectivity. The new chamber provides the perfect counter-point to the brutal, monolithic, seemingly impermeable concrete bunker of the 1970s Civic Centre that shares the same site.
2. Grand Central Water Tower Midrand Gapp Architects/Urban Designers, 1998
This underrated example of postmodern design lends sculptural dignity to the otherwise utilitarian necessity of a municipal water tower. Conceived as the centrepiece in a broader urban scheme for Midrand, the perfectly poised concrete cone is graceful, refined and a whole lot of fun!
3. Beverly Hills Hotel Lighthouse Road, Umhlanga Rocks Baba Selsick, 1964
Sol Kerzner’s first Southern Sun hotel, the Beverly Hills, has occupied a landmark position on Umhlanga’s beachfront since December 1964. Playfully pink, the wave-like, mid-century modern structure, with deeply recessed private guest-room balconies and quirky pool-side cabanas, blends Old Hollywood glamour with Durban’s quintessentially laidback lifestyle of sea, sun, and sand.
4. Marble Towers Jeppe Street, Johannesburg Mallows, Louw, Hoffe & Partners, 1978
This minimalist, marble-clad skyscraper soars 150m over chaotic Jeppe Street. Designed to house the head office of Sanlam, bands of white Carrara marble and an anodised aluminium curtain wall form alternating light and dark vertical ribbons that run the entire length of the structure’s considerable facades. Gazing up from the pavement, Marble Towers seems to shoot sky-wards; a crisp white sentinel, eternally searching the blue expanse above.
5. Ponte City Apartments Lily Avenue, Berea Manfred Hermer, 1976
Designed as a self-sufficient 54-storey city within the city, on its completion in 1976, Ponte was the tallest residential structure in the world. The building’s luxurious triplex penthouses came fully loaded with swanky, Jacuzzi-equipped rooftop terraces and expansive highveld vistas. Love this building or hate it, the towering cylindrical presence stalking Joburg’s horizon is an enduring symbol of the Golden City’s danger, ambition, dynamism, and magnetic promise of opportunity.
6. South African Reserve Bank Helen Joseph Street, Pretoria Burg Doherty Bryant & Partners, 1987
The SARB head office was the first flush-glazed skyscraper in the southern hemisphere. It is striking in its bold simplicity, while almost subsumed by reflections of the surrounding city. A civic plaza, adorned with public artworks, benches and urban greenery, forms a generous podium to the elegant high-rise.
7. Tuynhuys Apartments Keerom Street, Cape Town Robert Silke & Partners, 2019
This brand-new, sculptural apartment block is located on a postage-stamp-sized stand in the heart of Cape Town’s CBD. Playfully sculpted facades reduce the building’s mass, ensuring it slots perfectly and respectfully into the existing streetscape. The building is fresh, futuristic, and references historic design without becoming pastiche. Timeless South African architecture, right on point!
8. Anglo American Main Street, Marshalltown Burnet, Tait and Lorne, 1936
Ernest Oppenheimer’s project brief for Anglo’s head office required “a certain type of impressive external appearance… and a neutral aesthetic attitude that would last”. The timeless design of 44 Main draws comparison to the Federal Reserve in Washington and the League of Nations in Geneva, and remains a quietly assured and steadfast presence in the city.
• From the October issue of Wanted 2020.