My home the coastal city of Durban South Africa is well known for its magnificent beaches, hotels, world class shopping and diverse cultures that are steeped in history. What you may not know, is that hidden between the high rise buildings and residences are some of the most incredible Art Deco buildings dating back to the 1930’s. In fact, Durban has been named the Art Deco Capital of South Africa. Sadly many of these buildings have been neglected but thanks to the efforts of The Durban Art Deco Society more awareness of these heritage buildings is being created by organising lectures and tours, instilling hope for these incredible buildings.
The word Art Deco evokes memories of Hollywood between the wars and the movement spread around the world between 1925 and 1940. The name Art Deco came from the Paris Exhibition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Moderernes held in Paris in 1925. It was a new style celebrating a new era. The sensuous lines of Art Nouveau gave way to the jagged rhythms of Art Deco. The new style celebrated the machine age with geometic lines and shape with vibrant colour schemes. Characterised by unfuctional “modernism” it soon spread to the United States and Europe during the building boom in the 1930s. Recognisable by repetitive geometric patterns, stylised organic and animal motifs, sunbursts and sensuous colours. Many Of Art Deco’s greatest practitioners worked in many media (Art, architecture, interior design, jewelry, film sets) including Frank Llyod Wright, Ely Jaques Kahn and Sir Giles Gilbert Scott to name a few.
Durban’s best examples of Art Deco Buildings are residential blocks built between 1930 and 1940. A characteristic is the round or square pilasters attached to the building which go the whole height of the building. Decorative elements like fauna, flora, fish and birds as well as some mythical creatures finish off the look.
These are 12 Art Deco buildings I have often driven past but have never taken the time to stop and appreciate. The beauty and detail is awe-inspiring.
1. Surrey Mansions – 323 Currie Road
Laughton & Barboure – William B Barboure 1937
Driving up Currie Road my eyes lit up in wonder when I saw this building, it is well maintained with an authentic colour scheme that changes depending on the light of the day.
Fluted pilasters the entire height draw your eyes to the lion heads. The building also includes intricate design detail on the curved walls.
2. Cheviot Court – Musgrave Road
A great example of how colour can enhance a building, showcasing the detail and adding value.
3. Victoria Mansions – 124 Magaret Mncadi Avenue
Nelso Secome 1935.
Beautiful animal and marine decorative features.
The mosaic above the entrance includes a ship called the Union Castle that called in at Durban for many years. (special to me as I have been on the Union Castle as a child.)
4. Berea Court – 399 Berea Road
Stucco finish with fluted pilasters that rise through the facade face with lion features at the top. I feel the features of this building could be enhanced even further with colour. It looks a bit washed out. The Art Deco Society does have 3 colour palettes on their site.
A close up reveals the beautiful detail of this building.
5.Lower Berea Road
Not all buildings are multi-story, I couldn’t resist adding these brightly coloured ones. A great example of how an area can be uplifted with a bit of maintenance and a lick of colourful paint.
6. Broadwindsor – 7 Dr Yusf Dado Road
WC Moffastt & Hirst 1935
Badly in need of maintenance. This building on the bay has long pilasters which lead upwards to flying birds at the top.
7.Manhattan Court – 11 Broad Street
A G Frolich 1937
8. Quadrant House
This former residence of Merchant Navey Cadets. Situated near the harbor it is now a national monument and is very well maintained.
9. Wakefield Court
Recently painted Wakefield Court behind Addington hospital is a great example of what can be achieved on buildings less impressive than some of the high rises. The colours complement and enhanced the design to great effect.
10. Enterprise Building – 47 Samora Machel Street.
A A Ritchie McKinley 1931. A classic Art Deco Building, with stylized geometric animal and abstract figures. An amazing eagle over the entrance. Sadly this building has not been maintained as well as it should be.
11. Pixley House – 398 Dr Pixley Kaseme Street
This iconic Art Deco building in the city centre has recently been renovated, consisting of 115 sought after residential units. The dark paint colour with gold trim is elegant but also functional in that it masks the dirt associated with city life.
12. Memorial Tower Building UKZN
The Memorial Tower Building at the University of KwaZulu Natal was built after 1945 to celebrate the lives of young men and women who went to war against Fascism. Next to the Memorial Tower Building is the building of Howard College, it was made possible by a donation from Thomas Davis in remembrance of his son Howard who was killed at the age of 21 in the battle of Somme in WW1, as well as to commemorate other students who had died in both wars.
The walls have recently been painted to look like the original cement.
Visiting the Art Deco buildings in Durban would not be complete without visiting the Cenotaph in Albert Luthuli Square. Brought about by an architectural competition in 1921. Cape Town firm Eagle, Pilkington and McQueen won and the sculpture was unveiled in 1926. The Durban War Memorial is a memorial to the fallen in both world wars, the body of the fallen soldier lies at the base of the Cenotaph. The blue and gold art deco sculpture features a fallen warrior being transported to heaven in the arms of two angels.
Driving around Durban looking at the Art Deco buildings I was amazed how many there are, sadly far too many are in bad need of maintenance. What a huge opportunity for the city Durban to show off these incredible buildings to the many tourists that visit.
I wish to convey my thanks to Michael Mulholland and Carol Allan from the Durban Art Deco Society for the work that they do to try and preserve these heritage buildings and for assisting me with this post.
I will be sure to do more investigating into Art Deco in future posts – please let me know any you have seen and loved.
Have a great week