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Worker's Library & Museum
Newtown, Johannesburg, Gauteng

Alan Robert LIPMAN: Architect
Henry PAINE: Architect

1996SAIA Award for Excellence


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26°12'11.72" S 28°01'56.24"

Award of Merit - Conservation


What to do with an embarrassment from the Apartheid era? Recycle one wing as a museum demonstrating its past function as a workers' hostel and adapt the rest as a library space!

The intervention speaks of a maturity of approach and restraint offering a dignity of place without mummification of the building or its grotesque past. The new mezzanine level and its elegant detailing floating within the existing building envelope introduces a spatial dynamics offering an appropriate setting for its new uses changing the perception of the mediocre space. Existing generic devices are emphasised to introduce legibility and dignity allowing the building to be transformed. Combining elements of its tragic past and dynamic present the project offers a sanctuary and balm for the workers soul.

The award is for an "ordinary" building with an extraordinary past recycled in a sensitive way as a device of empowerment.


In 2004 Alan LIPMAN and Henry PAINE received an SAIA Award of Excellence for their work on the Worker’s Library and Museum in Newton. It is cited as ‘a role model for all architects faced with the challenge of making our built history relevant to our changing society’( SAIA website). While the building is currently empty work is scheduled to start on it in the next 6 weeks.

The building was originally a municipal compound that housed workers employed at the Power Station as well as local artisans. When Henry PAINE and Alan LIPMAN renovated the building in the early 1990’s they converted the building into a small library that had books on labour history and socialist theory as well as a museum of migrant labour ( The addition of a new mezzanine level was done with elegant detailing and appears to float within the original structure (Architecture SA 1996).

I visited the building on the 2nd of October 2008 and found it to be empty but in good condition. The building is U-shaped, the partial courtyard faces south across a large grass area towards the Scibono Discovery Centre. There is another smaller building that is on the open edge of the building. All the buildings appear to be empty currently. It is constructed mainly from the redbrick that is seen in many other buildings in the area as well as having a stone base that has been restored.

It is difficult to form on opinion on the building as a library and museum due to their current state. All available information on the building implies that response by Alan LIPMAN and Henry PAINE is sensitive and without flaw.

The building is still the home of the Worker’s library and Museum even though it is currently closed. The planned work on the building includes addition of a visitor’s centre and museum as well as a fence to provide additional security. The additions are being done Henry PAINE (Paine 09 October 2008).

[Jennifer BRADLEY. 2008. Third year project, University of Pretoria School of Architecture]

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.