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In the shadow of authority

Part 2 Dissertation 2009
Guy Trangos
University of the Witwatersrand Johannesburg South Africa
John Vorster Square, an international symbol of apartheid brutality (now known as the Johannesburg Central Police Station), flanks the western extent of Ferreirasdorp, a small western Johannesburg inner-city enclave of significant immigrant heritage. The station, a defiant modernist office block built to streamline apartheid power and influence, forms an exclamation point at the end of Commissioner Street, (historically, Johannesburg’s main inner-city commercial stretch). This building of pained memory and association is currently occupied by a new, struggling, community-oriented police service – unintentionally symbolically assigning many old apartheid associations and memories of the building with the new service.

Here, a hybrid urban and architectural intervention is advocated, one which surgically rewires the contemporary experience of the building and its surrounding area, with a focus on the police station. Paying cognisance to the building's memory and troubled legacy, the intervention implants into it a new and foreign dynamic - the greater public – thereby fostering an inhabitation of the dark apartheid shadow, where a reference to the past is woven into an architecture of preventative transparency.

The theoretical exploration of control, networks, urban traces, landscape, space and time culminate in a rigorous mapping process. This exploration seeks to uncover and depict various urban forces and traces, informing an urban scale set of focussed interventions, which include the major architectural component of this dissertation - the insertion of a public trajectory into the police station.

This insertion is divided programmatically into ten constituent parts, each with its own identity and conceptual significance. These include a new entrance, a large counselling facility, an oral history facility, a large exhibition space and an aviary, all inserted into, onto or between the buildings of the existing police station.

This dissertation seeks to advocate an alternative approach to the gut reaction of demolishing the Johannesburg Central Police Station, one which, through sensitive textual, graphic and design investigations creates a hybrid. A building cognisant of its past, yet rooted in better serving South Africa today.

Guy Trangos


This thesis, “In the shadow of authority,” received the highest average mark awarded by the jury for the 2008 March (Prof.) final-examination of the Master of Architecture (Professional) course “Architectural Design and Discourse,” School of Architecture and Planning, University of the Witwatersrand. Members of the Architecture Programme at Wits believe that Mr. Trangoš’s thesis is an exemplary contribution to the field of architecture by combining rigorous research with creative design. At both theoretical and practical (architectural) levels of inquiry, Mr. Trangoš’s investigation was undertaken with discernment, clarity and a maturity of thought.

“In the Shadow of Authority” examines the Johannesburg Central Police Station, in inner-city Johannesburg. A building with a notorious history involving the violent abuse, torture and death of many activists detained there during the darkest decades of apartheid. Previously known as John Vorster Square, the building flanks the western extent of Ferreirasdorp, a small inner city enclave of significant immigrant heritage. The Station, a defiant modernist office block built to streamline apartheid power and influence, is currently occupied by a new, struggling, community-oriented police service.

Paying cognisance to the building's memory and troubled legacy, Mr. Trangoš’s design implants a public trajectory (essentially a completely new and foreign dynamic) into the building and surrounding urban environment.

For his outstanding design, Mr. Trangoš received South Africa’s Corobrik Award for being the top student in the course.

Randall D. Bird, AM, MArch, PhD

Tutor(s)
Prof. Randall Bird
Professor Hilton Judin
Ms. Hannah Le Roux
2009
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