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Empire Exhibition: Transvaal Chamber of Mines Pavilion
Johannesburg, Gauteng

Kenneth Edward Frederick GARDINER: Architect

Type:Exhibition Centre

Built for the 1936 Empire Exhibition at Milner Park, Johannesburg.

Writing from 1936

Transvaal Chamber of Mines'
The Empire Exhibition


The Pavilion stands upon an elevated piazza over looking the amphitheatre and lake. A broad flight of curved steps leads up to a circular promenade surrounding a fountained lily pool, and rising from the pool stands a gilded pillar seventy feet high. Encircling the base of the pillar is a bas relief panel depicting a phase of man's endless quest for gold. A circlet of lettering tells that the size of the pillar equals the output of gold from the Witwatersrand mines during the years 1933 to 1935, inclusive.

The shaft of the pillar is embellished with a repetitive motif symbolizing the myriad wheels of industry set in motion by the use of gold for exchange purposes. Forty feet above water-level the circular drum merges into an octagonal capital representing the great and little mines to which the total output of gold is due. The capital supports a bubbling and over flowing crucible, from the purifying vapours of which rises a new and allegorically golden world.

The sculptured base is lighted from below, underwater floodlights illuminate the fountain jets and column shaft, and whilst spotlights play on the blue-and-gold sphere, a concealed light makes the crucible glow red, and a flickering beam gives reality to the golden flames.

The pillar is half-encircled by a colonnade, the small piers emphasising the scale, and the voids give horizontal contrast, to the main feature. Golden fountains in the wing niches afford interest to the windowless walls and suggest a prolific abundance of the precious metal. The plain sides are relieved by coupled flags of Great Britain and the Union of South Africa.

The colonnade serves as a connecting link between the display sections of the building. On the main axis, three golden doors provide access to the Main Hall, in which various examples of mining activity are exhibited, including mining implements, models and dioramas of surface workings, and the Gordon Collection of gold-bearing minerals.

Around the upper portion of the hall is a continuous frieze depicting, in colour, the evolution of Johannesburg. The general colour scheme is in cream and gold contrasted with black. The dioramas are recessed into the walls to suggest a "window" effect. Offices at one end allow accommodation for a supervisor and enquiry clerk. Above the offices and dioramas screened from public view, are galleries for the electrical and ventilation engineers, with access to the roofs and ceilings.

Adjacent to the Main Hall, on the south side, is the metallurgical chamber, where sectional models of surface workings, together with a relative Flow Sheet, can be examined. Gold and Silver, in quantities proportionate to their production are the predominant "colours", and a corbelled ceiling, suggestive of the varying levels at which the mines are worked, is a distinctive feature. Concealed lighting throws an upward illumination upon a silver Star of Purity, emblematic of the refining process.

Entered from the south end of the colonnade, the De Beer's exhibit displays another facet of South Africa’s mining industry. Many secret protection devices have been incorporated in the design of this room, and a scale model was first made for experimental purposes. The décor is black and silver as a setting for the gems. Above the dais, with its revolving stand, is a black glass mirror centered between two illuminated panels illustrating diamond mine scenes.

The north wing of the building is devoted to the exhibit of the South African Institute for Medical Research. As a contrast to the "modernism" of the diamond display, this hall is designed in the Classic manner, reminiscent of the Institute's famous Johannesburg home. The ceiling is vaulted and floodlit, and a focal point is provided by a high niche which contains a portrait bust of Pasteur. Entered from the colonnade are three small rooms, closed to the Public. The first is an office for the supervisor, the second a cinematograph projection room, and the third a work room for the repair of specimens.

On either side of the Main Hall, staircases lead down from the colonnade to a full-size replica of typical mine workings. This "Mine" is cut actually into the rocky hillside and shows in detail some conditions of underground work.

The Pavilion is steel framed throughout, with a covering of lath and plaster. The central column is built hollow, of reinforced concrete. Except in the Main Hall, artificial lighting and ventilation obtains throughout. Advantage has been taken of the sloping ground to provide a basement entered externally, in which is housed most of the machinery which "works" the building.


Transcribed from:

Chamber of Mines of South Africa. 1936. Empire Exhibition, South Africa, 1936. The Transvaal Chamber of Mines. Catalogue : A description of the Transvaal Chamber of Mines' pavilion and exhibits. Johannesburg: Transvaal Chamber of Mines. pp 11-13


Sculpture, Modelling and Painting




J. GARDNER, A.R.C.A. (Lond.), M.I.A., F.R.S.A.

The processes through which design passes in the creation of plastic and pictorial Art may be interesting to the general public who have not had the experience of creating such work.

Bas Relief around Base of "Pillar of Gold."

Mining in the middle ages, which forms the subject of the Bas Relief around the base of the Pillar of Gold, was selected in order that a comparison might be made between the methods of those days and of the present time.

As a first step in the creation of the Bas Relief, information as to the methods of the past was collected from various classical works and especially from the well-known book on mediaeval mining, De Re Metallica, written by Georgius Argicola about the year 1556.

The next step was to sketch small-scale trial designs and thereafter to make a full size drawing of the approved design.

In the meantime a template of the base of the pillar had been set up in the studio and around this there had been placed in the form of a layer about 2 tons of modelling clay.

On the surface of this clay the design was traced from the full size drawing and then the modelling was commenced.

At this point the art of the sculptor came into play. The depth of the relief had to be considered; this and the matter of perspective in bas relief presented more than the ordinary difficulty on account of the drum shape of the work which presented a receding surface from every point of view.

After the modeling came the casting, of which the first stage was to prepare an outer plaster mould or negative of the modelling.

This mould was filled with cement, and later, when the cement was of sufficient hardness, was chipped away.

In the panel are illustrated methods of pumping water from a mine and of providing ventilation to the underground workers as practiced in the middle ages. The hoisting of ore by means of a windlass forms an interesting comparison with some of the great winding engines in use to-day, which lift loads of 8 or 10 tons of rock from depths of over 4,000 feet (1,219.2 m) to the surface at a speed of from 30 to 40 miles per hour. (48.28 to 64.37 kilometers)

The "flageller" breaking up the ore by hand, the labourer wheeling the broken ore in a barrow to the primitive stamping mill, the “washer” with the “pan” collecting the valuable products and the smelters at the furnace, are all prototypes of the men employed in the great crusher plants, stamp batteries, tube mill houses and reduction works of the modern mines.

Models of Surface Layout of Mines

The method employed in making the surface models of the Government Gold Mining Areas and of a portion of the Crown Mines was decided by their size and by the necessity of making them as light and at the same time as strong as possible in order that they might be transported with safety from the studio to the Main Hall.

It was decided that the most suitable scales were 1/1250 for the Government Areas model and 1/714 for the Crown Mines.

First a wooden frame and base were made and on the latter the contour lines were marked out. Screws were inserted in the contour lines to the correct contour heights. Woodwool soaked in plaster was then packed between the screws and covered to the level of the contours with neat plaster. The surface plan of the mine suitably adjusted in scale, was then traced on to the plaster and models of the buildings, dumps, etc., were placed in their proper positions.

Much use was made of aerial and ground photography and annotated sketches in the endeavour to provide a correct reproduction; even the trees on the golf course were counted.


Preparation for the construction of the full size model of the stope under the Main Hall called for many visits to the underground workings of the mines for the purpose of becoming acquainted with underground conditions and to secure the necessary data by means of sketches.

The hanging wall, footwall and face of the stope and the sides and roof of the drive have been made up and treated so as to resemble as nearly as possible the actual appearance of such underground workings. Some of the supports are constructed in the same way, whilst others are specimens of the actual articles used in the mines.

In the ordinary mining practice the stope and drive face would be illuminated only by such acetylene lamps or candles as are used by the persons employed in such working places. Some parts would be in darkness and others only dimly lit – the main illumination being, of course, concentrated on the actual places at which work proceeds. Special colouring and lighting effects have therefore been devised which, while preserving the general effect of underground light conditions, enable visitors to see the nature of the supports, machines, etc., which are illustrated.


A Diorama, as may be seen, is a combination of model and panorama which is designed to give a wider and more comprehensive view than would either a picture or a model.

The making of a diorama presents many difficulties, not the least of which, when it is made to illustrate phases of industry, is the modelling with due regard to perspective of the many forms of plant and material as, for instance, trucks, corrugated iron, girders, rocks, etc., which form the subject.

The success or failure of dioramas as a pictorial means of supplying information, depends on the skill of the artist.

Mural Decoration

This frieze, which is 7 feet 6 inches (2.29 m) high and 203 feet (61.87 m) long, is a coloured representation of the growth of the Witwatersrand, and does not purport to be a photographic presentation of facts.

An enormous amount of research was conducted before a pencil was put to paper. Old records were examined, photographs and engravings collected or copied, and when all the necessary data was at hand, a small scale drawing and a colour sketch were made. From these and with the aid of living models a full size drawing was prepared on cartoon paper, and traced therefrom on to the stretched canvas.

Then began the great work of painting. In this work, able assistance was rendered by fifteen or more students from the School of Arts and Crafts, Witwatersrand Technical College. Among these who saw the work in progress, some were in Johannesburg in the early days, and their knowledge of the conditions then prevailing was most helpful to the artists in their endeavour to make the various scenes realistic.



Transcribed from:

Chamber of Mines of South Africa. 1936. Empire Exhibition, South Africa, 1936. The Transvaal Chamber of Mines. Catalogue : A description of the Transvaal Chamber of Mines' pavilion and exhibits. Johannesburg: Transvaal Chamber of Mines. pp 14 - 18

(Submitted by William MARTINSON)

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

Chamber of Mines of South Africa. 1936. Empire Exhibition, South Africa, 1936. The Transvaal Chamber of Mines. Catalogue : A description of the Transvaal Chamber of Mines' pavilion and exhibits. Johannesburg: Transvaal Chamber of Mines. pg All