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Radoma Court
Johannesburg, Gauteng

Harold Hersch (Harry) LE ROITH: Architect

Date:1937
Type:Flats
Status:Extant
Street:Cavendish Road/Yeo Street

 


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Coordinates:
26°10'56.84" S 28°03'55.71" E

Working drawings by K JONAS (Herbert, 1975:142)

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The Le Roith Archives record the following description of the paint colours used at Radoma Court:

"The balcony recesses are pale blue, with fawn squaring on the parapets (referring to the terracotta tiles on the face of the balconies. The same or similar tiles can be seen on some of the balconies of Lhenveolan in Killarney), and the wire mesh parapets are white. The south wall is pale blue with white window frames. The entrance porch is in a deep plum colour on a rough textured plaster, on which the name of the building in white lettering is fixed. The squared panel is pale grey, doors are white and the floor black. The solarium walls are pale 'Eau-de-Nil'"

Information provided by Stephen Le Roith, 2014. Submitted by William MARTINSON

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Press Release May 2014

Written by Hannah le Roux, School of Architecture and Planning, University of the Witwatersrand
hannah.leroux@wits.ac.za

In the last few days the architecture community has become aware of the illegal addition of a floor to the landmark modernist apartment building, Radoma Court, in Yeoville, Johannesburg. This addition has entailed the demolition of the solarium and covered porch leading to a roof garden that was one of the features of this highly avant-garde building, constructed in 1937-38.

The City of Johannesburg issued a stop order to the builders, but as of today, builders were still on site and moving materials. In addition, as the building is automatically protected from changes without Heritage approvals, the Provincial agency has also issued an order to cease work that has also had no effect. The reality is that illegal building and alteration is rife in Johannesburg, and such orders are routinely ignored.

Nevertheless, the extremely high cultural significance of Radoma Court means that it deserves to be especially well protected, and ideally, restored. It was one of the handful of Johannesburg buildings from the 1930's that came out of "le Groupe Transvaal", to which le Corbusier dedicated the second volume of his Oeuvre Complet. Inspired by the aesthetics of international modernism, remarkably young architects were involved in the design of buildings that achieved recognition in famous journals such as the Architectural Review, l'Architecture d'Aujourdhui as well as the South African Architectural Record.

Radoma Court deserves this recognition as an extraordinary design. Built over four floors, it consists of 27 light-filled studio and one bedroomed apartments, with customised kitchen, bathroom and built in fittings to support a truly modern lifestyle. Apart from the solarium, the building included a stairwell wall of glass bricks, porthole windows, a rubbish shute and a lift. The aesthetic of the details, including oak floorboards, mesh balustrading, light fittings, building signs, mobile cupboards and windows, was as modern in style as western ones, but were artisanally produced, so shifting local production towards cleaner lines and industrial materials.

The building's design was concerned with the creation of generous social space, while giving a good return to its owner through it clever and compact planning. The deep recessed balconies on the west makes the building climatically comfortable while supporting a relationship with the street, while the courtyard and gallery arrangement, and dynamic staircase, provides connection between the residents.

Radoma Court came out of the offices of Harold le Roith, a recent graduate from Wits who was to produce many important residential buildings and synagogues in Johannesburg. The young designer who signed many of the drawings, Kurt Jonas, was himself a remarkable character who was to have a great impact on South African social housing policy. Jonas, who was in his 20's, had initially trained as a lawyer in Germany, in Frankfurt at the height of the "neue frankfurt" boom of modernist housing and design. He returned to South Africa in 1933 in the wake of rising anti-Semitism, and choosing architecture instead as a transnational career. But unsatisfied with the limits of his new professional path, he became the leading left wing intellectual on the Wits campus, teaching his peers about Marx.

Jonas wrote:

"the architect…cannot pursue his art in the seclusion of a studio, but must help to prepare the ground for it on the battleground of social forces" [ Kurt Jonas (1938) Foreward to special edition of Town Planning, South African Architectural Record, vol 23 no 8. p 269 ]

One of his admirers was Rusty Bernstein, the architect who was to become the co-ordinator of the Freedom Charter, the manifesto of the Congress movement that took up the struggle against apartheid in the post-war period. Bernstein said: "he pointed me in the right direction". The idea of housing rights is embedded in the Charter and now the South African Constitution, thanks to Jonas.

Jonas died tragically young in 1942, in Palestine. Radoma Court is the single monument to this remarkable man, who bridged between Europe and South Africa, trying to use his skill in design to define ways of life that are simultaneously communal and private, elegant and restrained, healthy and aesthetic and above all, innovative and yet legal. The alteration in progress is a scandal in the light of what Radoma Court represents. South Africa's struggle and post-apartheid moment are indebted to serious and principled thinkers like Jonas. Over and above the symbolic force of the building, it was a great design, and for over sixty years, until its current abuse, stood for the best that Johannesburg has produced.

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See also The Heritage Portal

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South African Architectural Record, August 1946.

Erected prior to the war, Radoma Court occupies a site with frontages on the south and west boundaries. This situation imposed difficult problems in orientation, out of which emerged the articulated plan and hence the lively three-dimensional composition in which the main theme is the contrast between the sun-soaked western facade and the shaded southern elevation. On the south continuous banded windows were possible, while on the west, the necessity for protection has resulted in a deeply recessed treatment, in which even the balcony fronts lie behind the main face of the building, defined by the broad horizontal bands top and bottom, and the connecting vertical piers. These two contrasting elevations are moulded together in the composition by the soaring stair tower with its sparkling glass brick. Its articulation from the western block gives emphasis to its verticality and its subtle curve ties it to the south wall. The entrance hall may be approached from either street.

The building comprises 27 flats, of which 4 are two-room and the rest bachelor " flats, a basement parking garage, and servants' quarters on the roof. In the north-east corner of the site there is a garden court with flower beds and pool, and on the roof a solarium and loggia with planting boxes is provided.

Construction and Finishes

A conventional reinforced concrete frame is used, with brick panel walling, all of which is plastered and painted. Deep blue facebrick with white recessed horizontal joints forms the wall of the basement garage which is entered at the north-west corner of the site. The balcony parapets on the central portion of the west facade are patterned with coloured squares, the others are of wire mesh in steel frames.

Colour plays an important part in composition of the building and externally it serves to define the forms and give added interest and significance to the surface planes. The balcony recesses are pale blue, with fawn squaring on the parapets, and the wire mesh parapets are white. The South wall is pale blue with white window frames. The entrance porch is in a deep plum colour on a rough textured plaster, on which the name of the building in white lettering is fixed. The squared panel is pale grey, doors are white and the floor black. The Solarium walls are pale " Eau-de-Nil,' which, with the strong sunlight and the sharp interplay of shadows, produces various shades of green.

Internal Finishes

The floor finish in the living and bedrooms is wood block, that in the kitchens and bathrooms is rubber between white tiled walls. The kitchens are completely equipped with built-in fittings, electric stoves and refrigerators. The bachelor flats are provided with a specially designed fitting between the living room and bed recess, which allows for conversion according to its function as a dining table or a bed fitting.

The colour schemes in the living rooms, in pastel shades, vary in the different flats. In some cases there is a contrast between pale green walls and off-white ceilings, while in others the walls are pale blue with white ceilings.

The Entrance hall on the ground floor has a floor of fawn coloured Mosaics. The walls are coloured terra-cotta and lemon yellow, with a contrasting blue ultramarine column. The free standing letter boxes are cream with a tomato red surround. The stairs are finished black with white wire mesh balustrading and handrails.

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

Chipkin, Clive M. 1993. Johannesburg Style - Architecture & Society 1880s - 1960s. Cape Town: David Phillip. pg 154, 169, 172-174, 173, 174, 175, 226
Chipkin, Clive M. 2008. Johannesburg Transition - Architecture & Society 1950 - 2000. Johannesburg: STE Publishers. pg 100
Herbert, Gilbert. 1975. Martienssen & the international style: The modern movement in South African architecture. Cape Town - Rotterdam: AA Balkema. pg 142, 143, 144, 145, 215, 225
van der Waal, Gerhard-Mark. 1987. From Mining Camp to Metropolis - The buildings of Johannesburg 1886-1940. Pretoria: Human Sciences Research Council. pg 224, 225