Jozi Conversation piece

This piece belongs to the range of products that explores the urban topography of South African cities.

The idea is simple – (re-)discover our cities or simply re-imagine them.

The map for the Johannesburg (Jozi to the locals) conversation piece was carefully selected to reveal the DNA of the city, its topography, layering and complexity.

Most of the following series of facts were gathered from Clive Chipkins’ book on Johannesburg Johannesburg Style (1993).

During the historic year, 1886, gold was discovered on the farm “Langlaagte” in the Transvaal.  Within a short time, a vast mining encampment sprang up on the nearby triangular uitvalgrond (surplus ground) – the city of Johannesburg was born.  The triangular uitvalgrond where the city form originated, was the inspiration for this piece.

The central triangular uitvalgrond (surplus ground) was where southerly trade routes diverged to cross the east-west horizon of the gold-bearing conglomerate reef.  Two strong directional pulls were accommodated inside the grid plan of the townscape:  the north-south passage determined by political economy, and the east-west route responding to geology.

New colonial urban settlement in South Africa, developed along a north-south axis and an east-west axis.  At the intersection would be the functional and symbolic heart of the town. Towns and cities grew up around these centres.  There is a relationship between the historical founding of the centre and how the city developed.  Johannesburg grew up around the mining belt – the origin of its existence. All development took place to the north and south of the core.

A distinctive physical feature of the town, which is derived from its origins, is the grid conversion of uitvalgrond into small, uniform blocks.  Each block measured 100×50 Cape feet in extent – apparently the two surveyors started on opposite sides of the triangle to set out the blocks.  One was using Cape feet and the other Dutch feet.  There is therefore a discrepancy in the size of the blocks on one side and blocks on the other, so that when they met, the grid of their blocks did not align.

The grid of standardized units lacked any defined sense of place.  Since development was so rapid, the grid system became the only ordering device. The black population initially settled on the peripheries of mining properties.  The black suburb Soweto (South Western Townships) was only established formally during 1904, followed by the townships of Sophiatown, Martindale, Newclare and later Orlando.

Other (totally!!!) random facts:

There are 10 million trees in Johannesburg that were planted by people, this is why the city prides itself with possibly the largest man-made forest in the world.

The local (and internationally renowned) artist William Kentridge made his first animated short film in 1989. “Johannesburg, 2nd Greatest City after Paris” (1989) was made from 25 charcoal drawings.

In 2009, together with the artists Gerhard Marx, they created a 10-m tall sculpture of the city entitled “Fire Walker”.

Gerhard Marx also made a 3-ton aerical mosaic of Johannesburg  for the Spier Architectural Arts in 2013. From a distance it looks like an enormous print of an aerial photograph, however, up close you will find that it is a huge 56-panel sculpture made of mosaic pieces.