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Design of new council chamber building in the CBD reflects the dialogue between residents and officials

An innovative design for Joburg’s city council chamber, inspired by the Tswana word “lekgotla”, has won an international prize.

Traditionally, a lekgotla is a circular, outdoor meeting space.

The chamber is in the form of a transparent drum, a cylindrical structure inside a glass façade with vertical glass fins covering the curved outer skin of the building.

This glass envelope enables an uninterrupted visual link between the indoor and surrounding outdoor spaces, and allows the outside world to see in to the activities of the building’s occupants, “symbolic of a constant dialogue between the public and municipal officials”, according to a spokesman for the Joburg Property Company (JPC), managers of the City of Johannesburg’s property portfolio.

The company won an International Property Award in the “public services development” category at a recent awards ceremony in Dubai.

The spokesman said the company was honoured to be shortlisted for the award, and then delighted when it won. There were 14 entries in total for African and Arab countries.

The interior of the chamber. Picture: Supplied

In a statement JPC said: “Being a part of the IPA public services development category has shown that the council chamber, a world-class architectural innovation, stands as one of the best in its class. This award has given JPC the opportunity to showcase the chamber and its surrounding piazza.”

The vision was to consolidate the municipality’s offices scattered across the city and rented from third parties, into a single location owned by the municipality.

The idea is that the council chamber and the surrounding planned Metro Centre will act as a catalyst for future mixed-use development – promoting investment, economic growth and job creation in the city centre.

“The vision was for the Metro Centre to become the epicentre of efficient operations and services for the City of Johannesburg.

“In addition, the precinct would become a civic landmark, a beacon to evoke civic pride and identity. The relationship of the Metro Centre to its immediate urban context is therefore pivotal to encouraging this civic identity.”

The architect, Pierre Swanepoel from StudioMas, wanted to celebrate African principles of space-making, while incorporating smart technologies and green building systems.

The open air piazza alongside the chamber encourages the local community to come together and enjoy what has been built for their pleasure, including an outdoor gym, a children’s playground and an outdoor chess set.

The glass building ‘envelope’. Picture: Supplied

The chamber provides seating for 361 councillors as well as for 158 members of the media and public. This is 80 seats more than currently needed, so as to cater for future expansion.

The state-of-the-art audio-visual and delegate system is programmable and customised to be updated in line with any future changes in the way the chamber operates.

The building of the chamber provided employment for 500 people from surrounding communities.

The art selected for the interior was intended to tell a story from past to present. It entails paintings and sculptures using materials from copper to steel and canvas to glass.

The spokesman said: “As the years go by, the story will still be told in the way it should be, that of the journey of Johannesburg and its residents to that of freedom within the city.”

One of the features of the building was last year’s Council Chamber Totem Art Competition, which was open to young and old professionals and hopefuls.

They were invited to submit drawings, paintings and prints that told a unique story about their community and their community’s history.

Exterior and coat of arms. Picture: Supplied

The winning designs have been translated into wooden totems placed inside the chamber building.

The artists were encouraged to base their designs on the overarching theme of the warmth and inclusivity of the new chamber.

From more than 500 entries, 134 winners were selected, ranging in age from children of pre-primary school age to adults.

“The building stands tall and proud and those who work and live in Joburg are reminded every day of the emerging skyline that is changing within the Joburg CBD, and that we will once again have a city that is world-class and visited by millions of tourists every year.”

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