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Pretoria, Gauteng

Anthony Carden (Tony) DOHERTY: Design Architect

Type:Municipal Offices
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The Munitoria building, a municipal building in Pretoria burned down in 1997. The fire spread though the building very quickly and was already out of control by the time fire fighters arrived. It took four days and 252 fire fighters to put out the fire completely and was the biggest fire the country had ever seen at the time. In the end, nothing could be salvaged.

The damage was estimated to be R 353, 4 million. Thousands of public records were destroyed. The building was 44 years old, non-compliant with the South African national building regulations,SANS 10400 and known to be a fire hazard. There were no casualties as the fire started after hours. (South African History Online)

2013 07 07 - The 44-year-old building was imploded in the city centre, it tumbled down at midday in a thunderous blast, followed by large billows of smoke and dust.

The building, which had been wrapped in a blast curtain, was demolished to pave the way for a new municipal headquarters, named Tshwane House.

The structure had been damaged by fire on different occasions.


Some memories from Trudi GROENEWALD who worked on the building.

"In 1965, as part-time second year student, I cut my working teeth on Munitoria. I detailed some 590 precast terrazzo coping stones - plan, section, elevation and isometric, worked out to 1/16th inch. In the video clip played on the NUUS tonight, in the background of the last scene there was a row of about a dozen of these coping stones, unbroken and still in place on a section of roof edge beam, on top of a heap of rubble. The LUPINI BROTHERS made them well.

Munitoria was one of the first buildings in South Africa to have reflective Solarshield glass. Tony DOHERTY did a lot of research in the USA and was instrumental in Pilkingtons setting up their PE operations to manufacture the Solarshield locally.

The Council Chamber (which burnt down in the 1990's) was clad with acoustic panelling faced with random pattern hardwood slats. All the hardwoods used were indigenous and included stinkwood, yellowwood and blackwood."


Article by Hans WEGELIN; SA Architect March 1998

Early heat-reflecting glass

Pretoria Municipal Building 1968

The Pretoria Municipal Building (Munitoria) was recently in the news when the West Block was gutted by fire. This block is soon to be imploded, and whether it is to be rebuilt or not is still uncertain. But what is interesting about this building is that it was one of the earliest curtain wall buildings in South Africa, glazed with the then new heat-reflecting glass, locally known as Solarshield (the Santam building in Cape Town, designed by Chris LOCHNER, was the first). Architect Tony DOHERTY recalls a visit to the United States in the early sixties where the office of Kevin Roche and John Dinkeloo gave him information on the new laminated reflective glass. The Shatterprufe Safety Glass Company Limited, based in Port Elizabeth, had then taken licence from Kinney Vacuum in Holmdel in New York State for the manufacture of vacuum-coated glass, and the first vacuum-coater was installed in Port Elizabeth in 1964. The inner face of one sheet was coated before lamination to the second sheet. The silver coating for the Munitoria building was achieved through coating with aluminium, giving a shade factor of 0,36 and a visible light transmission of 60-70%. After a few years the silver coating disappeared through a chemical reaction with moisture inside the lamination, and all the glass was eventually replaced! Nowadays the silver coating is achieved in the polyvinyl butyral interlayer.

It is also interesting to note that laminated glass has been manufactured in South Africa since 1929, with a celluloid interlayer, mainly for the automotive industry. Polyvinyl butyral has been used as interlayer since 1946, and laminated architectural glass has been manufactured in Port Elizabeth since 1960. This was before the days of float glass, so that the glass for lamination had to be specially selected for its true surface.

Since the curtain wall faces north, south, east and west, air-conditioning engineer Henk Spoormaker accompanied Tony Doherty to the Yellott Solar Energy Laboratory in Phoenix, Arizona, to test the facade's heat penetration and reflective properties. The building is air-conditioned by central plant, piped and diffused through a boxed window cill.

The role of safety glass during a fire is also noteworthy. Though in a small fire the glass will remain intact, in a large fire it might be better if the glass breaks or falls out of its frame, thus concentrating the fire and allowing water jets from fire hoses to penetrate the wall. The fire in Munitoria's west block did not spread out of control because of the glass curtain wall, but because of an unusually high fire load, no fire compartments, no sprinklers, and vertical spread through service ducts.

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

Greig, Doreen. 1971. A Guide to Architecture in South Africa. Cape Town: Howard Timmins. pg 211
National Building Research Institute (Compiler). 1985. Handbook of South African natural building stone. Pretoria: National Development Fund for the Building Industry. pg 97 (photo)