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University of the Witwatersrand, Cricket Pavilion - Interdenominational Prayer Room - The Sanctuary
Johannesburg, Gauteng

Geoffrey Eastcott PEARSE: Architect c1930
Amancio d’Alpoim Miranda (Pancho) GUEDES: Architect c1980

Date:c1930 : c1980
Type:Public Space
Status:Adaptive re-use

 


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Coordinates:
26°11'17.56" S 28°01'50.98" E Alt: 1728m

At the University of the Witwatersrand I transformed a cricket pavilion into a prayer room. I reinforced many of the original features of the building but the spaces became so interconnected and so related to the symmetries and axiality of the building that the previous haphazard interior subdivisions of the pavilion were totally eliminated. In other projects many of the alterations become so much a part of the original works that they seamlessly integrate into what exists.

Guedes, Amancio; Guedes, Pedro & Museu Colecçäo Berardo. Pancho Guedes: Vitruvius Mozambicanus, Lisbon, Portugal, Museu Colecçäo Berardo. 2009. pp 159.

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Pancho Guedes delivered a lecture to the Architectural Association in London in 1980 presenting seven related 'stories' about some of his recent work, all of which were 'Bubblies', his twenty-fifth style. Bubblies are a family of designs all incorporating curved forms. The second story described a cricket pavilion which became a chapel.

A Metamorphosis

A story about a cricket pavilion, by a disciple of Lutyens, that I turned into a chapel.

At the University of Witwatersrand there was an old cricket pavilion that had been designed by Professor Pearse in the late 1920s. Professor Pearse, the first Professor of Architecture at my university, was a keen disciple of Lutyens and Baker. The cricket pavilion had fallen into very bad shape. It was used as change rooms by the gardeners, as a store and as a rough party house. It had one main hall, a large tea kitchen, ladies' and gentlemen's change rooms and a large and curved colonnaded verandah. Next to it there was a lavatory block with a flat roof. There were some other afflictions as well. The building was in danger of slipping down the hill on the east side on account of some over-enthusiastic excavations.

The little central turret had been added to the building during construction. It had actually been copied from the details of a lovely turret that Lutyens had designed, and it had a few over-large clocks stuck onto it. Gordon McIntosh, who was later to become one of the pioneers of modern architecture in South Africa, had copied it whilst he was working as a student in Professor Pearse's office. After the drawings for the pavilion had been completed, Gordon had shown Pearse his drawing and had suggested that they put it on the building. That was how the pavilion had got its borrowed turret. (Some time ago when we had an exhibition of Mclntosh's original drawings, there, amongst the Bauhausy isometrics and other drawings, was his drawing of the Lutyens turret.) It had been designed as a roof ventilator to be part of an elaborate system of ventilation for the building, as if Johannesburg was frightfully tropical. The system had not worked but the turret was most successful visually even if it leant over slightly.

The building was decorated with some charming garlands which framed two wall vents and a rather elaborate coat of arms of the University that had become transfixed by a horizontal hot water pipe. Similar garlands are to be seen on many of the Edwardian buildings in Johannesburg. They seem to make their debut there in Lutyens' uncompleted Art Gallery in Joubert Park and then proliferate into the thirties. They all appear to be done by the same group of craftsmen.

Somehow I got the job of turning the pavilion into a chapel. My first proposals were to set the building on a circular base and raise the northern terrace to the level of the interior, to enlarge the main internal space by incorporating the convex colonnaded verandah into it, to add a concave entrance and a wind lobby on the south side, to build bay windows onto the two side rooms and demolish the later additions. I was also quite concerned with the correction of the unsightly and dangerous setting of the pavilion. The Vice-Chancellor had not liked the concave wind lobby, nor the circular base, and the final design had only the lateral remains of the base and no wind lobby.

The completed building, metamorphosed into the University chapel and named the Sanctuary, sits well on the reshaped hillside and the lateral remains of the circular wall provide it with a base which makes it appear larger than it is. The new parts fit in well with the fabric of the old building - some so much so that they appear to be part of the original design.

The interior ceilings and walls are enriched by bands of maranti hardwood, and in the central space there is a commemorative brass plaque that I designed which remembers the circular base.

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Extract from a transcript of a talk delivered to the Architectural Association (AA) in London in 1980 during an exhibition of Pancho Guedes' work hosted by the AA and arranged by his son Pedro Guedes. The talk was published by the AA.

Guedes, Pancho. Recent Work. Annals of the Architectural Association School of Architecture. Volume 1 No 1. Winter 1981 - 1982. pp 129 -132.

Submitted by Pedro Guedes via William Martinson from the Pancho Guedes archive.