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Daventry Court
Killarney, Johannesburg, Gauteng

GRINKER and SKELLY: Architect
Israel (Issie) WAYBURNE: Architect

Date:1933-1934
Type:Flats
Style:Art Deco
Status:Extant
Street:Riviera Road

 


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Coordinates:
26°09'54.17" S 28°02'56.23" E

Daventry Court was commissioned and financed by brothers Samuel Hillel and Woolfe Jossel, who ran their property development company under the name of Jossels Mansions (also known as S & W Jossel Investments Pty Ltd). The Jossels were among the speculator developers who benefited from the building boom of the 1930s. Apart from Daventry Court, his firm erected (independently or in partnership) such buildings as Gainsborough Mansions (Berea), Automation House (Marshalltown), Longsbank (one of the first parking buildings in Johannesburg CBD), Brenthurst Court and Duke's Court (Killarney) and the Emmarentia Shopping Centre.

The original design of Daventry Court was produced by three young architects from Johannesburg – Israel WAYBURNE, Leopold GRINKER and Hugh Robert SKELLY. For all of them, it was their first big project. The builder was an Epstein.

The block, completed in 1934, was built along Riviera Road. In 1936, an extension to the building along 4th Avenue was erected, designed by a prominent Swiss-born architect Theophile SCHAERER in association with South African Charles SMALL. The complete building of 69 units presently occupies the stand number 689.

US-born IW Schlesinger wanted to transplant American ways to South African soil, and particularly to his domain, Killarney. Daventry Court, with its art deco-inspired streamlined design and obvious references to progress and technology, was part of his vision.

'Daventry Court was initially populated by the rising middle class', says architect and historian of Johannesburg architecture Clive CHIPKIN, who worked under Wayburne, and Grinker and Skelly early in his career. 'The tenants were mostly enlightened, educated people, prepared to give up the spaciousness of houses for the modernity of flats, which they possibly associated with Europe and America. Moving to flats was a new trend in the early 1930s.'

Daventry Court was probably the first multi-storied block of flats erected in Killarney in the 1930s. In the 1939 aerial photo of Killarney, there are seven apartment blocks in the area, and all except Whitehall Court (the suburb's only heritage site) and Daventry Court were completed in the second half of the decade.

Daventry Court was created as an art deco-inspired block of luxury flats. Such modernistic buildings drew their fair share of criticism from contemporary proponents of LE CORBUSIER and International Style. Gilbert HERBERT summed up their arguments in his book on the school of Rex MARTIENSSEN, or the Transvaal Group.

For Herbert, Daventry Court was a glaring example of the tendency of Johannesburg architects to produce 'in the name of "modernism", collages of the outward forms of the new architecture, rather than products of a clearly articulated philosophy of design.'

Meanwhile, Gerhard-Mark van der Waal in his architectural history of Johannesburg From Mining Camp to Metropolis spoke very favourably of Daventry Court:

'The mid 1930s brought more daring efforts in the modernistic style with some blocks even having futuristic features. For instance, Daventry Court had protruding roof ledges which ran in rectangles down the accentuated sections to suggest dynamic movement. These strips resembled art deco ornamentation applied to the façade on a gigantic scale.'

Clive Chipkin, perhaps the biggest authority on Johannesburg architecture, refers to Daventry Court as an 'extraordinary modernistic block' and a 'majestic building'. In his seminal book Johannesburg Style, Chipkin remarks on the block's ship aesthetic (which was developed further in Grinker's later work, Normandie Court) and the surface insignia that carries the emotional charge of cult speed objects of the 1930s:

'There, too, are vertical fins, joined in this instance to rounded flying cornices at the roof level. Once again, the design impulse is derived from that cluster of 1930s cult objects: the Blue Riband ocean liners, Supermarine aircraft and supercharged land speed racers. These influences have been incorporated into the architecture, leaving Daventry Court and its extensions as embodiments of the streamlined age of the 1930s. Even the name of the building is an authentic period piece, recalling BBC news reports beamed from Daventry during the Second World War and pre-war period.'

(Boris Gorelik, September 2013) Submitted by William MARTINSON

(SAB Dec 1933:41; SAB Apr 1935:xxxiii ill suppl)

All truncated references not fully cited below are those of Joanna Walker's original text and cited in full in the 'Bibliography' entry of the Lexicon.


Writings about this entry

Gorelik, Boris. 2013. 80 years of DAVENTRY COURT : A historical study. Private Publication . pp All
Chipkin, Clive M. 1993. Johannesburg Style - Architecture & Society 1880s - 1960s. Cape Town: David Phillip. pg 111 ill
Herbert, Gilbert. 1975. Martienssen & the international style: The modern movement in South African architecture. Cape Town - Rotterdam: AA Balkema. pg 140
van der Waal, Gerhard-Mark. 1987. From Mining Camp to Metropolis - The buildings of Johannesburg 1886-1940. Pretoria: Human Sciences Research Council. pg 224