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A new Joburg Skyline is emerging

A new Joburg Skyline is emerging

The heart and soul of every South African beats to the rhythm of the African drum. It’s shape and form comes to mind as the new Joburg Council Chambes rises in front of the contrasting Metro Centre directly behind it. The drum beats faster as you enter the chambers from the existing Metro Centre building into the newly completed Council Chambers.

Like the African drum for centuries has been used as a form of communication to summon leaders to tribal council, the Chamber calls our Joburg district Councillors together to attend sessions that determine our future and make critical decisions.

The architects vision of the drum shape, determines many of the features in the building itself which challenged not only the sound and audio design but also how the currently elected councillors were placed to face the Speaker and each other in a way that embraced solidarity with each other.

From floor to ceiling, each facet of the building has a story and a reason for being designed in a particular way.  From the architectral drawing to a reality, the common thread has shown community involvement and produced excellence in every way.  Community, togetherness and transparency has been the key to unlocking the doors to the growing rejuvenation of the City of Johannesburg.

It is fitting that the month of April celebrated not only the 23 years since all South Africans of voting age stood in line for hours to cast their vote for the first time in a free and democratic election but that the building completion date was scheduled for 31 March with the official opening 3 May 2017.

The Council Chamber circular shape is followed through by many of its internal finishing  touches.  In the passages leading up to the Chamber, various artists have shown the journey in artforms from glass through to copper interweaving their own stories into those of the struggle to freedom.

The “Oh Wanderer” glass encased panels tracing the footsteps of the growth of Johannesburg by Pamela Sunstrum is placed perfectly along the first walkway, reminding those who enter the Chamber that decisions made inside affect those outside who trust them.  An imposing copper wall sculpture, by Sam Nhlengetwa,  encloses the staircase to the upper media area depicting the queues of South Africans in the voting lines of 1994 and showing the assertion of diverse individual identities within our changing living environment which still exist today.

Along the passages surrounding the Chamber, the diversity of those that live and work in our city and their stories, of crime, hate, love and existence beyond those council walls are depicted in a series of 134 wooden totem poles.  Totem poles serve many purposes beyond their beauty, and their meanings are as varied as the cultures that make them. After a competition lasting nearly 6 months, South Africans from all walks of life and age groups were asked to submit entries of their lives in drawings.

From a three year old drawing and colouring in a heart to a 70 year old holding a crayon for the first time, these totems made from Kiaat, were used to be a graphic representation of their stories.  Out of 570 entries, 134 stories were selected and besides the artists being compensated for their contributions, their stories will forever be woven into the fabric of the building where decisions are made that affect them directly.

The basement exterior

Once you enter the Chamber, the transparency of the glass becomes evident in the view of the daily lives of all those who live, work and hope to survive the ravages of city life.  And those outside can view the roof mounted circular TV showing the sessions as they take place.  The striking drum shape of the building together with the glass panels that are shaped to ensure that the audio within does not distort, is a world class design and final finish.

The SMART meeting technology installed in the chamber was originally conceptualised by the project AV technology consultant for the National Parliament Assembly Chamber in 2002. The SMART system integrates a delegate meeting system and a network touch screen information system. At the time, it was one of the most advanced chamber meeting systems in the world.

The software used for the system was fully developed in South Africa by South Africans. Since 2002, various versions of the system have been installed in provincial legislatures. The NCOP chamber and the National Assembly chamber SMART meeting systems have also been, since then, updated. The SMART system installed in the Johannesburg Council Chamber represents the most technologically advanced version to date.

The Chamber interior

Due to the circular nature of the space, it would be challenging to provide optimal video viewing coverage for all seating areas; in addition, as the chamber is a glass walled space, very high ambient light levels would prevent the use of conventional video projection technologies.  To overcome these challenges, the latest large format full HD LED walls were provided. This ensures high quality video images and presentations can be view by all delegates and public participants in the chamber.  The video information can also be view by council delegates through their individual 15-inch touch screen video displays.

The touch screen information system can provide preloaded meeting information, council rules and all other information relevant to the council proceedings. It can also be used by individual delegates to call for assistance and services. An emergency evacuation system was installed to facilitate fast evacuation when required.

The fundamental philosophy underpinning this world class Council Chamber with SMART technology is space enabling for the intended users; the outcome truly is –  political transparency enabled!

The seat itself, is on a sliding rod and cannot be removed or picked up therefore ensuring noise reduction when councillors leave the room while a session is still in progress. It is also designed to spring back against the desk to allow for fast evacuation in the case of emergencies.  The staircase in the front of the room descends to a safe place below the building where there is an exit door into the Piazza below.

The newly developed People’s Piazza below the Green 5 Star rated Council Chamber has been developed around the Placemaking concept of creating quality places which is interesting, visually attractive and mixes public art with creative activities.  And the People’s Piazza is just such a space.  Developed with our mixed cultures in mind together with being pedestrian oriented, safe and yet comfortable, quiet yet able to create a space for sport on a national scale, it meets many of the criteria that promotes and facilitates civic engagement and allows a physical fabric where people can connect with one another.

The Piazza’s design softens the concrete Metro building which rises above the Council Chamber and brings together a community where green spaces with creative energy is but only a dream.  The Rainbow Walkway to Freedom gives pedestrians the ability to walk safely under the solar streetlights to the outdoor chess and planter benches where public workers and councillors alike can relax and enjoy the sunlit gardens while having lunch.  The skate park and outdoor gym as well as the outdoor Table Tennis can be used by anyone who wishes to exercise together with those who would rather play the outdoor chess or watch the big screen.

As the sun sets and whether you are arriving at the Joburg Theatre to watch ballet or a local production or you are going home using the newly developed Gautrain from Park Station, the breathtakingly lit Council Chamber is a daily reminder that the Jozi skyline is undergoing a massive change. Thanks to the Joburg Property Company whose vision and drive to make a difference is becoming apparent to those who not only live here but those who choose to visit Johannesburg.


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