Turbine Hall and cultural tourism

Lore Watterson is the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of Creative Feel Magazine

In a recent editor’s note I talked about cultural tourism and, after spending the last long weekend with a number of international tourists in a conservation-sensitive Karoo destination, I believe more than ever that we could build a strong case for cultural tourism right here in South Africa and, more specifically, right here in Johannesburg. The City of Gold is not generally promoted or seen as a tourist destination and many visitors skip it during their trips to South Africa. But talking to these recent visitors, I was amazed at their stopovers in our country, which clearly included Joburg and with it, the Cradle of Humankind, the heritage of gold mining, Constitution Hill, the Apartheid Museum and the Hector Pieterson Museum.
     Several of these visitors commented on the special hype of Joburg, the friendliness of its people and the general vibrancy that one encounters during a visit.
     In view of the upcoming RMB Turbine Art Fair, I thought I would share the history of this beautiful, iconic building just across the Nelson Mandela Bridge. The Jeppe Street Power Station, built in 1927, was the largest and last of the three steam-driven power stations in Newtown. It housed Turbine Hall, the North Boiler House and three concrete cooling towers. The new electricity provider consumed ‘a trainload of coal a day’. However, within a few years, demand again outstripped supply and further extensions were required. Still, outages were a regular occurrence in Johannesburg throughout the 1930s.

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     The power station lost its importance when a more modern station was built in Orlando, Soweto in 1942, but it was only in 1961 that the plant finally shut down. The station was given new life four years later when two Rolls Royce gas turbines were installed for use in emergencies and peak loading periods.
     As neglect and indecision-plagued Newtown’s future in the 1970s, this fine example of early 20th-century industrial architecture was threatened. Over time, 300 squatters occupied the cathedral-like space.
     Several proposals were made for the building as part of inner-city renewal efforts. Ultimately, AngloGold Ashanti’s proposal to build its new headquarters here revived the fortunes of Turbine Hall. After protracted consultations between architects and heritage practitioners, it was agreed that the North Boiler House could be demolished to make way for the development. In 2005, the City relocated the squatters to stands in Orange Farm and the spectacular transformation of the building began. It was completed in 2009 and for the sixth time since 2013, it will host the annual Turbine Art Fair, now with a new headline sponsor. This is a really interesting development and, of course, we spoke to both partners involved in this new sponsorship in our cover feature.
     Remember to cross the all-important bridge and embrace the arts and culture of Joburg, the destinations on the other side are simply awesome!

Editor's note

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