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Award of Merit Citation
The Westbury Clinic in Johannesburg is situated in an area just to the west of the older suburbs of Melville and Auckland Park. This is an area comprising Westbury, Sophia Town and Westdene. Sadly, most of the historical fabric of Westbury and Sophiatown has been wiped out by the apartheid government. The physical memory, as embodied in the built fabric is thus, mostly non-existent. The area is now characterised by mass-produced housing not really conducive to a healthy public life. The buildings, as objects in space, do not produce properly defined public space where the private-public interface is well-defined and controlled. The area is furthermore currently known for its degraded social life and is negatively perceived for its high incidences of criminal activity.
The site is relatively close to the Perth-Empire 'Corridors of Freedom' rapid bus transport system. This brought the area within walking distance of a faster and safer public transport that affords it integration with the metropolitan transport system. This, in a way, reduces the largely inward-looking nature of the suburb. Generally, there has been some infrastructure upgrading within this corridor by the Johannesburg Municipality and its different entities. The Westbury Clinic forms part of this upgrading.
Under the apartheid government, most of the public infrastructure was wiped away. So much so, that even the original street layout disappeared. However, the Westbury Clinic was placed across the road from one of the few remaining and original public facilities in the area. This building has been built in facebrick with a relatively prominent pitched roof. The Westbury Clinic responds closely to this typological form. It is also built in a facebrick of a similar colour done in an English Bond. In this way, it also refers to a larger tradition that is quite prominent in the older parts of the city.
The site is relatively small in relation to the functional programme of the building. This resulted in a double-storey building using the available site area in a very efficient manner. The architects also understood that they had to create urban space to 'mark' the building as such. This they have achieved by using the building form to define the edge of this newly created urban space. This public space was made prominent and habitable with planting and seating. Placing the most important functional space, namely the waiting area of the clinic, adjacent to this urban space enables social interaction between the two spaces while ensuring visual surveillance and thus, public safety. The usual security fence that South Africans have come to expect at such facilities has, as a result, become less of a presence and a symbol of social insecurity.
The double volume entrance and waiting area of the clinic is the most important and memorable space in the building. It is fitting that this near cathedral-like space should be so prominent. It brings some drama and dignity to an area mostly devoid of such elements.
This space orientates the public while it enables them to remain in contact with their surroundings both inside and outside of the site. The way that the ramp between the ground and first floor has been designed is masterful. It connects the movement of people in a practical and near poetic manner to the internal and external context.
Clinics are relatively complex building types and the architects have handled the requirements of the brief expertly. While adhering to these standards, the architects remained focused on creating a humane building with a distinct emphasis on making the public feel at home and cared for. This is mainly achieved with the careful design of natural light and with easy access, both visually and physically, to green space.
All the developmental goals such as using and training local labour have also been achieved with this project. The care taken with the construction and the quality of finishes achieved has created a building that is characterised by its sense of permanence. This feeling of solidity might also be the architect's greatest achievement with this project. It is these qualities that signify a return to human dignity and care to counteract the scars of the tumultuous and sad history of the Westbury.
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