Focus on Architecture

Words: Lauren-Kate Bydawell
Photographs: Gareth Pon


With powerful architectural wonders that dominate the world’s skyline to the pristine and imaginative art deco spaces, we seem to be in a period balancing between a love of the new and the historical.  Johannesburg’s resident architect, Brian McKechnie, tells of some of the current trends in the field of contemporary designs and his favourite building in the City of Gold.

McKechnie, who is well-known in Gauteng for his role in heritage architecture, consults to local government and sits on the board of the Gauteng Institute for Architecture (GIFA) representing the historical wing. “Personally I prefer to work with clean linear geometries, [and] love simple spaces, such as rectangles or squares – unadorned and free of stuck on stylistic elements” He expresses. We are seeing more of this trend of strong shapes and sharp linear geometrics in many of the contemporary works of today’s architects. It is evident that CBD’s around the world are being built up with clean lines and strong angles, such as New York’s Freedom Tower.

The official opening of the One World Trade Centre (or Freedom Tower) this year cannot be ignored as a current influence and major player in the world of architectural design. After the demise of the Twin Towers, almost 13 years ago, the new sky scraper has taken a mighty form in the New York Skyline boasting of the 4th tallest building in the world. Designed by Daniel Liebskind, the One World Trade Centre impresses with linear geometries and tapered seams that extend to its spire. Its reflective panels humble its mighty form by mirroring its surroundings of the greater city.

McKechnie disagrees with attempting to interpret meaning from shapes, however, he does suggest that “form follows function” is a true representation of design. A beautifully composed building would thus adhere to these parameters. However, different people can interpret the function of a building differently. For instance, a head quarters of a corporate needs to do more than hold the important staff but also reveal that it is a mighty brand. We need to question the purpose of building when judging how it is architecturally structured.

Another favoured building by McKechnie is the One New Change in London neighbouring the ancient St Paul’s Cathedral. Similar to that of the stylistic forms of the Freedom Tower, the “One New Change creates the seemingly impossibly…”McKechnie explains “the perfect and effortless marriage of a global traditional landmark building, and a contemporary paired down contemporary aesthetic”. The ability to incorporate the cotemporary with the historic is a difficult task, but reveals that respect for heritage buildings is a major consideration.

The most favoured Johannesburg building by McKechnie is the Anstey’s building designed by Emley and Williamson in 1935, which perfectly captures “the optimistic spirit of the roaring 30’s, when Americanisation and Modernisation were sweeping the globe, a time when the sky was truly the limit” he explains. The Anstey’s being a personal preference of McKechnie as he is heavily involved in the heritage scene as well as in the re-development of this Art Deco classic.  The Anstey’s holds great history for the city of Johannesburg, marking the age of the beginning of department stores, flapper glamour and early residence in the CBD. The actual form of the building does resemble some of the simplicities of linear skylines but holds its beauty in its stepped form on the ziggurat.

Despite shape or form “exemplary architecture remains beautiful and captivating, whether you view the building as it is completed, or 1000 years after it was designed” McKechnie advises. In agreeance with this we can safety appreciate the more linear forms of contemporary works, the simplicity of strong form rather than arbitrary additions, or as McKechnie refers to as “stuck on” pieces. However, we find true appreciation of structures to be those that transcend periods and forms and rather begin to resemble something more than a building but that which marks a significant addition to its surroundings.

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