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Great Synagogue
Johannesburg, Gauteng

Theophile SCHAERER: Architect

Street:Wolmarans Street


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26°11'38.37" S 28°02'57.73" E Alt: 1762m

The Wolmarans Street or Great Synagogue is Byzantine in design (in red brick with stone trimmings) which was covered by the first steel reinforced concrete dome in South Africa.

It is a large domical shelter based on spherical geometry. It was at the shul building that Schaerer, the engineer-architect and late product of the age of eclecticism, was inspired to adopt Byzantine prototypes for the orchestration of volumetric space suitable in scale for a congregation of 1 400 people and appropriate for Jewish ritual. The reinforced concrete central saucer dome (with welted and seamed copper-sheeting), raised up on a cylindrical clerestory drum, is supported on pendentives between a series of giant arches which define the congregational space of the interior. Barrel-vaulted forms and hemicycles crowned with semi-circular side domes are used to restrain the thrust of the main cupola in a marriage of new reinforced concrete technology and traditional Byzantine load-bearing construction. The details, from the modulated exterior brickwork and the bold terracotta grillework in the surrounding precinct walling to the sheer urbanity of the main street-entrance loggia (four granite steps up from the widened pavement in order to create a ceremonial entrance route), are all products of an architectural intelligence operating in a closely observed urban context.

(FRIBA nom papers 1927; Afr Archt Jun 1913: xiii ill:214, 215; The Star 8 Nov 1984)

The building is no longer used as a Synagogue. William MARTINSON, October 2010.

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 50 ill
De Saxe, Morris & Goodman, IM. 1929. The South African Jewish Year Book : An Official Record of Matters Jewish in the Southern Portion of the Continent of Africa. Johannesburg: The South African Jewish Historical Society. pg 93
Greig, Doreen. 1971. A Guide to Architecture in South Africa. Cape Town: Howard Timmins. pg 141
Mendelsohn, Richard. 1991. Sammy Marks : the uncrowned king of the Transvaal. Cape Town: David Philip, Ohio University Press in association with Jewish Publications-South Africa. pg 204
Oxley, John. 1992. Places of Worship in South Africa. Halfway House: Southern Book Publishers. pg 135-137
van der Waal, Gerhard-Mark. 1987. From Mining Camp to Metropolis - The buildings of Johannesburg 1886-1940. Pretoria: Human Sciences Research Council. pg 119, 120 ill