Sunday, 4 December 2011

Glass and Chrome in Sandton , Johannesburg

Michelangelo Hotel SandtonMichelangelo Hotel Sandton

My path to becoming an eternal tourist began in December 2006 when my cousin Michael came to South Africa to visit. Suddenly I had to find out what we could possibly do in Johannesburg for three weeks and I discovered just what an amazing tourist destination South Africa can be.  I began to see the world around me through the eyes of a tourist, as if noticing everything for the first time, and it made sense to continue doing that when I arrived in London in 2007.

Despite my optimism and best intentions, Sandton was not an area that I could grow to love.  Sure, it has great restaurants, shops and cinemas but it's basically soulless. Then again, I worked in Sandton, so that probably coloured my perceptions, and I also had to spend between 2 and 3 hours a day in traffic just to get to and from work. 

The area known as Sandton has always been an affluent area and it used to be a series of farms and horsing estates.  Then Sandton City shopping centre was built in the late 70s (it is now one of the biggest shopping centres in Africa) and residences and office blocks began to emerge around it. 

Up until the early 90s, the financial centre of Johannesburg lay sprawled amongst the skyscrapers and listed buildings of downtown Johannesburg but crime forced many businesses to take flight and set up in Sandton, Midrand and surrounding areas.  Sandton’s capacity as the new financial district of Johannesburg was cemented when the Johannesburg Stock Exchange moved there in the late 90s.

Now some of the major companies in Africa have their head offices in Sandton, but it is also an area full of trees, shopping precincts, restaurants, hotels and office blocks.  We had some time to kill before Christmas lunch last year and so we took a look at some of the new and not-as-new architecture in the area.

Gautrain station SandtonThe Gautrain Rail Station

Our journey through Sandton started naturally with a visit to the Gautrain station, which had just recently been competed in June 2010. The Gautrain is the first mass rapid transit railway system in South Africa and it links Pretoria, Sandton and OR Tambo International Airport.  It was meant to alleviate the huge amount of traffic on the roads in the greater Johannesburg and Pretoria areas but anyone with half a brain would have known that the traffic flow comes from the suburbs which are not serviced by the new train system.  The lack of adequate public transport is my second highest reason for not returning to live in Johannesburg, after the crime.

24 Central Sandton24 Central

I couldn't resist taking a photo of 24 Central as I worked for the company that redeveloped it from tired old bank premises into a trendy office block with restaurants and shops.

First Rand Bank Ltd headquarters SandtonFirst Rand Bank Ltd headquarters

Quite a few banks have their headquarters in Sandton although the headquarters of three of the four major South African banks remain in Johannesburg.

Old Mutual headquarters SandtonOld Mutual headquarters

The Old Mutual Headquarters always amused me because they tried so hard to emulate classical architecture and they failed miserably.

Sandton CentralSandton Central

One thing you will notice wherever you roam in Sandton is the abundance of greenery and South African flags. 

15 Alice Lane Towers Sandton15 Alice Lane Towers Sandton

Finally, we made our way to the western edge of the business district to try and see the intriguing new black and white building that we had noticed peeking out above other buildings.  15 Alice Lane Towers is the new home of law firm Deneys Reitz and I was quite impressed with how modern and architecturally interesting it is.

So what do you think?  Do you agree with me that Sandton is pretty charmless or would you be willing to tackle up to three hours of traffic a day, simply to work in this green, sunny, modern business precinct?  This was a post in honour of my “Blue Skies and Sunshine” Sundays but it has had the strange effect of making me grateful for my easy journeys into grey and cloudy London every day.  I treasure my alone time on the train and the chance to sit back, read or play with my phone.

I might miss the sun but my love affair with London is far from over!

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13 comments

  1. Wow! Johannesburg looks like nothing I ever seen. I can not imagine a life without great public transportation system. Prague has a really good one and Cleveland is not oo bad either. But Cleveland is really just a "village" if compared to Prague or London :)

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  2. I have a feeling that this city is a bit abadoned - no people on the streets-maybe it is part of the day ?

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  3. @ Ivanhoe: downtown Johannesburg looks more like a city with its skyscrapers but it isn't easy to get permission to build very tall buildings in Sandton.

    @ Ola: it was Christmas Day! The area was very definitely deserted!!

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  4. Would you be willing to tackle up to three hours of traffic a day, simply to work in this green, sunny, modern business precinct? Absolutely positively not! I want to be home 30 minutes after I leave work, so the public transport system has to be great! And the jobs need to be within easy commuting distance from peoples' homes.

    But you hit the nail on the head re being a tourist in your own city. I know London, Paris and Vienna infinitely better than I know the centre of Australia.

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  5. From the photos, I agree with your assessment that it is soulless. From these views it looks like someone just plopped down some buildings here and there. No history. I like the checkered building though, I've never seen one like it.

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  6. It looks like a flat modern city. I agree that old world charm is more picturesque than modern cityscapes. But they too can have their charm. Not seeing it here though. It is tough trying to find the gem that stands out.

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  7. this is not really like I had imagined Johannesburg either.

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  8. Sandton looks and sounds like a place that would be hell for me. Give me a city with a heart and soul, any day the week, over constant blue skies and beautfiul weather...

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  9. Great architecture down there... love the Alice Lane Towers - reminds me of Lego! :-)

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  10. Looks great... at least for a visit. I am not sure about living there, though.

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  11. It looks nice and green, but three hours in traffic? Hmmm ... :-)

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  12. Did your cousin enjoy the visit? I like the Michelangelo Hotel's dome and the uniqueness of the black and white building. It reminds me of a QR code. I think I understand what you mean about your opinion being tainted. I feel the same way about San Francisco. It's a town I grew up and went to school in, but I would never live there now, but will do the occasional visit.

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  13. The Alice Lane building looks awesome. wow, spending 3 hours in traffic sounds very time consuming just to get to and from work. i don't like being stuck in traffic for long periods of time.

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