Architecture & Heritage

The building is a local heritage site and an important example of the Modern Movement. The conversion of the site preserves the modernist functionalism of the architecture while incorporating new, bespoke design elements.

The architects’ intention was to conserve the original character of the building in such a way as to ‘touch the building lightly’ by making sure all additions were subtly separated from the old and defined as new.

JCAF’s 450 m2 exhibition space is a museum-standard environment with UV-filtered glass windows, HVAC air temperature control (18–22°) and humidity control (55% RH), an FM200 gas-detection and fire-suppression system, a digital security system and an art storage-and-delivery area. A bespoke track system accommodates museum spotlights produced by Procédés Hallier. The result is a museum-standard environment for exhibitions that is the antithesis of the white cube.

Johannesburg is a city of rapid change and innovation, whose growth has accelerated in post-apartheid South Africa, driven by a need for social transformation and global connectedness within the African context. JCAF looks to this energy for inspiration, while seeking to serve as a place of intellectual and creative rigour, and contributing to the advancement of the city and society.

JCAF is located in a former electrical tram shed and substation that formed part of a network of trams that ran between 1906 and 1961. The first electric trams serviced the inner boundaries of old Johannesburg. Trams as a symbol of the urban suggest the rich heritage of JCAF’s location and its identification with the city. JCAF acknowledges this complex history while embracing an innovative approach to design.

Contemporary Johannesburg is a thoroughly polyglot urban formation whose influence, connections and identifications extend beyond its locality and well beyond South Africa. It is also an engine of art, architecture, music, fashion, theatre, literature and religious life.

Achille Mbembe and Sarah Nuttall