138 Jan Smuts Avenue
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Award of Merit Citation
This building at 138 Jan Smuts Avenue started life as a straightforward mixed-use development with commercial functions on the ground level and two floors of residential accommodation above. Jan Smuts Avenue is one of the more important and legendary roads of Johannesburg. It originates in the old CBD of the city and winds its way over hills and valleys ever northwards. In many ways it is a barometer of the city — it reflects the changes that have occurred over time in the city's urban fabric and architectural form. It also cuts across social and economic groupings while being a major and very busy road used by thousands of people every day.
This building is in the Rosebank area that has been constantly under development and re-development, leading to ever more density on the ground while it reaches constantly higher into the sky. In this way, Rosebank has become a vertical landmark competing in the Johannesburg skyline with the old Johannesburg CBD and the newer Sandton CBD. The bulk of the development in Rosebank has always been closely connected to Oxford Road. However, this is now changing with far more development taking place along Jan Smuts Avenue. The area where 138 Jan Smuts is situated has been named the 'Art Mile' because of the many commercial art galleries in the area. Due to all the pressure for development in this area, it is surprising that 138 Jan Smuts Avenue was not demolished for the site to be totally redeveloped. Maybe, however, it might also be that the architect had a convincing argument for the meaningful repurposing of the building that saved the day.
From the drawings that the architect has prepared of the context and from the reality of how the changed building makes a positive contribution to the context, it is clear that the architect truly understood the contextual influences on an intuitive and analytical co level. The architect did not perceive the building as an isolated object, but as part of the larger organism of the city. The building has now been transformed into commercial and office space. The original building was totally dependent on the services provided by the city, while the transformed building does everything possible to be as sustainable as possible. The original problematic west orientation of the main facade to the street has been ingeniously transformed to cope sensibly with this unfavourable orientation. The east and west facades that used to be the main sources of daylight for the original building have both been transformed to be far more sensible and sensitive to their role as light modulators. Daylight is also now entering the building through the new roof structure, creating wonderful workspaces in the two upper floors with their double volume spaces.
The east facade, by means of the re-use of bricks, illustrates the history of the building through material usage. The architect's innate sense and control of the practicalities of architecture beautifully come to the fore in this wall on closer inspection. All the openings in this wall, big and small, have been sealed with frameless glass, creating a poetic solution to a practical problem.
What the architect, Carl Jacobs, has achieved with this conversion of the building at 138 Jan Smuts Avenue is to transform a generic building into an inspired building imbued with many distinctive place-like qualities without losing sight of the building's essential urban role and relationships. This building can also act as an excellent and practical example of how to retrofit a building for more sustainable resource usage.
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