Friday, October 11, 2013

Sleeping with the Ghosts of Automobiles

Each work day I see this scaffolding sculpture in my rear view mirror as I back into my parking space on the roof of my office building.  

Chrysler House

Built in 1936-1939, the Chrysler House, at 16 floors, was the fourth tallest building in Johannesburg. Occupying an entire city block, this pre-World War II skyscraper was a fanciful place filled with stainless-steel Bauhaus-style chairs and ashtray stands. The ground-floor showcased the newest US automobiles while state-of-the-art car lifts moved the cars to the upper floors for servicing (from Blue Plaques of South Africa). 

Unfortunately time took a toll on this elegant lady and she remained boarded up and unoccupied (at least by legal occupants).

The lack of affordable housing is a major issue here. Government solutions extend from building new settlements to simply ignoring illegal occupants in empty buildings. The efforts by property developers appear to be more successful in providing the desperately needed affordable safe housing in the city. Chrysler House is such an example. The property was purchased by Affordable Housing Company (Afhco) and is now being rescued and converted into 1000 apartments. Approximately 500 of the units will targeted toward individuals with income levels of less than R 4500 monthly (US $450).  

A first read of the post-renovation description of the units will likely challenge most Americans. However spend a few minutes on the streets of Johannesburg or in the Legal Resources Centre's case files that deal with the eviction of occupiers in abandoned buildings and you will quickly come to understand why someone would choose to live and pay rent in a building that features small apartments that include communal kitchens and bathrooms. Sleeping with the ghosts of automobiles is much safer than illegally occupying a building or sleeping on the streets.

The property is scheduled to open this fall. I can't wait to see the results; especially since the developer has saved the original inlaid marble floors on the ground floor and other architectural details. 

I look out over this scene while I'm waiting for the water to boil in the "tea room" at work. This building is another example of a reclaimed office building that has been converted into residential housing. The colorful laundry on lines on the rooftop brought back lots of childhood memories. 

J'burg Reclaimed Office to Residence Building

This residential apartment building stands next to the shell of a historic army barracks that suffered a fire over ten years ago. The 12-storey high Jozi banner hangs just two blocks from the burnt out barracks. 

All three, the apartment residence, burnt out barracks, and the sign are all easily framed in one photograph. The juxtaposition of all three in one photograph is an accurate portrayal of life here in J'burg.

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