Contact Artefacts
please if you have any comments or more information regarding this record.

Unicorn House
Johannesburg, Gauteng

John FASSLER: Architect
Jacobus Joachim Christoffel (Kobus) ESTERHUYSEN: Artist Sculptures
Client:Union Corporation
Type:Corporate Headquarters

This was the project after the Rand Water Board which was commissioned in the early 60s through John FASSLER's connection with Ian Greig ( Dr Doreen Greig's husband ) chairman of Union Corporation.

RFB worked on the building much later on (during the 90s I think) and if I'm not wrong saved it from imminent demolition. I seem to remember that John FASSLER also rendered a watercolour perspective, as was his wont, which must have originally remained in the client's possession.

He was at that time interested in the "New Brutalism" and in particular in the work of Marcel BREUER. The shaping of the double volume columns on the ground floor reflect Breuer. He was also interested in the combination of a bush hammered in situ off shutter concrete structure with the insertion of precast concrete panels. The precast sections comprised an outer frame surrounding two windows with alternately splayed spandril panels beneath them and a rain water spout. He developed a 1/2 inch to 1 foot (approx 1:20) elevation with a superimposed section rendered with textures and shadow projections to explore this. The drawing was similar to the one of Senate House where he explored similar themes.

John FASSLER was always as much concerned with the setting of a building within the urban city fabric as he was with its architecture. In this instance the building was set back on its north and south sides to allow for mini plazas which were raised from the pavement and served as a plinth for the building's setting also giving the opportunity for pools (no longer water filled) and planting.

The sculpted columns give a grandeur to the ground floor that is outwardly double volumed with a mezzanine floor set back internally. The west windows are filled with "dalles de verre" coloured glass panels designed and made by the English studio of Patrick Reyntiens who made the windows for Frederick Gibberd's Liverpool Cathedral. (Stephanie Fassler had served an 18 month apprenticeship in the design and making of stained glass windows in his studio). Above the modelled precast panelled office floors a projecting cornice cast strong shadows to finish the building against the sky.

John FASSLER considered the inclusion of artists' work in his projects of paramount importance.
Examples of these were:
Dental Hospital at Wits - the bas relief of St Apollonia the patron saint of dentistry by Eduardo Villa (his first architectural commission)
John Moffat Building at Wits - Mosaic panel on the ground floor of the spiral staircase by Cecily Sash
Rand Water Board Building - Bronze statue of Demeter by Moses Kottler at the entrance - Stained glass window of Helios the Sun God by Stephanie Fassler
Union Corporation Evander Mining Hostels - Mosaic Unicorn by Stephanie Fassler.

I can't remember the reasons put forward for the demolition of the building nor of how it was saved.

[Mira FASSLER KAMSTRA, July 2011]

Sculptures were done by Kobus Esterhuysen.

Writings about this entry

Greig, Doreen. 1971. A Guide to Architecture in South Africa. Cape Town: Howard Timmins. pg 157, 158 (ill.)