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Public Library
Johannesburg, Gauteng

John PERRY: Architect
Peter KIRCHHOFF: Artist roundels with portraits
Mary Agnes STAINBANK: Artist season panels
Moses KOTTLER: Artist facade sculptures

1931SAIA Award of Merit


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26°12'17.03" S 28°02'18.43" E Alt: 1762m

(SAAR Sep 1935:269-79)

There were Season panels made for this building by Mary Stainbank, the large figures (representing Literature, Sculpture, Architecture, Medicine, Music, History, Philosophy and Painting) on the facade were the work of Moses Kottler, while the roundels with portraits of famous writers and scientists on the flanking walls were carved by Peter Kirchhoff.

Extra information on the external artworks supplied by Professor Elizabeth Rankin, Department of Art History, University of Auckland, New Zealand (2014).


Cumming-George 1934

THIS building started in April 1932, stands on its own ground with frontages to President Street on the north, Market Street on the south, Sauer Street on the west, and the Town Hall Gardens on the east, the fronts to Sauer Street and the Gardens being 200 Cape ft. (63 m), and to President and Market Streets 150 ft. (47 m), rising to a height of 70 ft. (22 m) approx.

Granite base, Flatpan freestone from base to eaves on all elevations. It consists of basement, semi-basement, ground floor, mezzanine floor, first to second floor. The basement is used for electric sub-station, low tension chamber, emergency lighting chamber and ventilation equipment, ventilation ducts being spread in various directions under semi-base, and rising through vertical ducts from which ducts are spread over each floor. The heating is what is known as the electric panel system which is automatically switched off on attaining a certain temperature.

The semi-basement disposition is, south wing 125' x 56' (38 x 17 m) approx., Public News-room and Reading-room. North wing throughout used as the main stack-room in two decks, capable of accommodating 300,000 books, there being about seven miles of book shelves. Centre portion of semibasement: lecture hall or theatre, capable of accommodating 367 persons, with stage convertible for lecturing, cinema or stage plays, with two dressing-rooms, the remainder consisting of foyer and cloak-rooms, subsidiary stack-room, record and strong-room.

The ground floor consists of Lending Department and General Office, Reference Library and Children's Lending Department; and Exhibition Hall which is immediately inside the main entrance doors, the hall being faced with marble panelling. The stairs of the main staircase are also of marble, and the staircase panelled with it.

On the mezzanine floor is the Librarian's Office, Children's Reference and Staff quarters, a Common-room and kitchen quarters. On the first floor there are two studios, Music Library, lecture hall accommodating two hundred persons, committee rooms and others. There is also a Geological Museum and curator's quarters, a large room overlooking the gardens, and in the western half the caretaker's flat.

The second, floor which is an addition to the original contract, will be used entirely for the Africana Museum.

The roof is constructed of a combination of pattern tiles and copper, the copper portion being almost flat. The window frames throughput are in bronze, and the ceilings throughout are of fibrous plaster.

A delightful feature of the east elevation is the three high arches extending from the ground to first floor ceiling, the windows at the back of these arches have beautifully designed bronze grilles. The panelled stone arches over the main entrance will be flood-lighted from urns over the main entrance doors. The entrance doors are of cast bronze.

On the President Street and Market Street elevations, are twelve plaques carved out of solid stone, depicting Art and Literature. At the four corners of the building, and at the four recesses in President Street and Market Street are eight large figures in full relief, depicting Music, Art, Literature, Architecture, and others.

The cost of the building is over £300,000 (R600,000).

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. 2008. Johannesburg Transition - Architecture & Society 1950 - 2000. Johannesburg: STE Publishers. pg 38, 53, 70
Cumming-George, L. 1934. Architecture in South Africa - Volume Two. Cape Town: The Speciality Press of S.A. Ltd.. pg 27-28
Greig, Doreen. 1971. A Guide to Architecture in South Africa. Cape Town: Howard Timmins. pg 144