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

Grand Central Sub-station
Midrand, Gauteng

Marnus C BARNARD: Design Architect

Client:Midrand Town Council
Type:Electricity Sub-station


Click to view map

25°59'58.01" S 28°08'16.48" E

The design of the electrical sub-station, because of the prominence in the city scape, was entrusted to an architect.

The project faces on to one of Midrand's major arterial roads. The architect would like to see the screen used as an electronic hoarding, but this device elicits, for the provincial traffic engineers, visions of mass suicide.

Without this the building has very little use, other than as a piece of urban decoration. Such sub-stations are quite capable of standing out in the veld, all the transformers, isolators and other electronic paraphernalia bared to nature. That is the way this architect would have preferred. But the city minders thought that would not do for an emergent metropolis. So they needed a building. The engineers determined size and volume, the architect the proportioning and imagery.

What does an attractive sub-station 'building' look like? Well, it should certainly look 'industrial'. But an 'industrial' 'building' could possibly be thought 'ugly'. So it needed a 'screen'. Industrial buildings have stairs and catwalks, and so does this. They are purely devices of an 'architecture parlante'. Should you follow them, you're headed nowhere. They affirm your first suspicion. This is an industrial building. The stair to nowhere is really about composition and seemed like a nice addendum.

The building is also dangerous. It stands in splendid isolation on its piece of land, just in case there is an accident. The brick box is engineered with deliberate weak areas to release the energy, should a transformer explode. These things do happen. The public is also aware of the danger. Why else the steel mesh screen? We feel comforted. Not only do the powers-that-be not want us killing ourselves in cars but also not killed in cars by flying debris.

So what we have is an 'ugly' 'industrial building' playing peek-a-boo with a screen.

When the building was designed the greater development plan for Midrand had not yet been finalised.

Although aware that there was a neo-baroque Central Midrand Plan, it was ignored because the orientation was determined by the danger of explosion.

(Fisher 1997 - first published as Hoarding power: Grand Central Sub-station, Midrand in Archetecture SA. May/June pp. 30-33)

This building was chosen as an exhibit at the Pretoria University School of Architecture 50 year Alumni exhibition held at the Pretoria Art Gallery.

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