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From Kraal to Boutique Museum

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The Secret Affinities workshop takes place at Satyagraha House, a venue intentionally chosen to facilitate a scholarly conversation centred on urbanisms and the city in general, with particular focus on the city of Johannesburg and the African city. We hope to provoke an opportunity to ‘think’ the city from the site through the multiple meanings suggested by the historical space, the architectural imagination, historical recreation and practices of heritage curation and display. Satyagraha House has been remade on the site of a dwelling built in 1907 by the architect Hermann Kallenbach. It was shared from 1908 to 1909 with his close associate Mohandas Gandhi during a period claimed to be the time when the two men consolidated and perfected the ideas that led to the flowering of Gandhi’s teachings of passive resistance and non-violence.

The German-born Lithuanian architect Kallenbach in his design linked together two African-inspired circular constructions or ‘rondavels’. Known in those days as The Kraal (colonial Dutch/Afrikaans term describing a livestock enclosure constructed by African farmers), the house was built by Kallenbach as an alternative to his affluent residence on Linksfield Ridge. It was among his first built interventions in Johannesburg, a city to which he would make a profound architectural contribution in the course of his life. In his architectural practice, in particular in his partnership from 1923 until his death in 1948, he built commercial buildings, residential blocks, residences, hotels and churches in the Transvaal, Natal, Cape Colony and Orange Free State. Kallenbach drew up plans for model ‘garden city’ housing at Orlando East, Soweto, and also for the construction of Johannesburg’s scenic passes Munro Drive and Sylvia’s Pass (the latter he reportedly built himself with the help of some labourers).

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Our Secret Affinities tour will take us to two landmark religious buildings designed by Hermann Kallenbach and still standing in central Johannesburg, where they continue to serve active religious communities:

The Cathedral of Saints Constantine and Helen, a domed, Byzantine Greek-orthodox- style church located in Wolmarans Street, Joubert Park, opened in January 1913. The classic Greek church exterior features four levels of differently angled domes. It is modelled on the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul and is the first example of a building with a pendentive dome in South Africa. It was designed by Kallenbach, who supervised its construction while living at Tolstoy Farm with Gandhi and others during the years 1910 to 1912. For many years, the congregation comprised Greek immigrants living in the surrounding neighbourhoods of Hillbrow, Berea and Yeoville, as well as from further afield on the Witwatersrand. More recently, as many members of the Greek community moved away from the inner city, the church has attracted new congregants, some being Ethiopians of the Coptic faith, who now worship together with the original congregants. The site is recognised in terms of South Africa’s National Heritage Resources Act (1999) as having ‘special heritage significance’ because of its architectural importance as well as its place as a marker of the cosmopolitan underpinnings of early Johannesburg, a feature that perpetuates in the present.*

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The Art Deco-styled Temple Israel on the corner of Paul Nel and Claim Streets in Hillbrow, was officially opened in 1936. It was designed by the prominent architectural practice of Kallenbach, Kennedy and Furner. This was the first place of worship, or shul, to be erected to serve the newly established Progressive Reform Judaism community in South Africa. Its founding in 1936 marked the beginnings of the Progressive movement within South African Judaism. During its heyday, the Temple Israel attracted large crowds. Today, it continues to serve a congregation drawn from Hillbrow and further afield, and provides premises for a pre-school for children from the surrounding neighbourhoods. The Temple has been designated for protection in terms of the South African National Heritage Resources Act (1999), in recognition of its special association with a particular spiritual, social and cultural community, and its potential to contribute information to an understanding of South Africa’s cultural heritage.†

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The tour will visit Gandhi Square, re-invigorated transport hub and commercial centre in downtown Johannesburg named for the activist Mohandas Gandhi, who established law offices close to the square during his legal career in South Africa in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Gandhi’s law Sites related to Gandhi’s years in South Africa and his friendship with Hermann Kallenbach. Gandhi’s law office was located at Court Chambers, 15 Rissik Street (between Anderson and Marshall streets) until 1910. The building is no longer standing, but it was opposite the Alexandra Tea Room (Annuity House now occupies the site), a vegetarian restaurant where the Gandhi and Kallenbach met regularly. A 2.5-metre-high statue of Gandhi dressed in the robes of an attorney is a leading attraction of the square.‡

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*Information based on Itzkin, E. 2011. Immovable Heritage Inventory Form: Cathedral of Saints Constantine and Helen. Department of Arts, Culture and Heritage, City of Joburg.

†Information based on Itzkin, E. 2007. Immovable Heritage Inventory Form: Temple Israel. Department of Arts, Culture and Heritage, City of Joburg.

‡Information drawn from Itzkin, E. 2000. Gandhi’s Johannesburg. Wits University Press.


Image credits:

Satyagraha House; exterior, interior (by Manuel Zublenaand) & plan (courtesy Satyagraha House)

Cathedral of Saints Constantine; early and contemporary views (photographs by Lucille Davie, courtesy of City of Joburg website)

Temple Israel; exterior early view and interior (photographs by Jonathan Cane)

Gandhi Square; aerial photograph (Google Earth) & landscape (photograph by Jonathan Cane)


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