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Monday, December 14, 2015 - 09:19

When people look back on the demolition of iconic structures many question why more wasn't done to save them for future generations to admire. As time passes the complexities of each case often disappear. We really enjoy digging deeper into the debate of the day and trying to unravel the motivations and interests of the parties involved. In the case of the Newtown Cooling Towers there were strong arguments on both sides. The short Sunday Times article (1985) below highlights a few of the complexities of the time.

Although Johannesburg's four cooling towers in Newtown will soon come tumbling down the 6680m2 site is not top priority for the areas redevelopment. John Mortimer, chairman of the city council committee responsible for advising on the redevelopment plan, says the decision to implode the towers is a result of an investigation into the feasibility of redecorating the towers for Johannesburg's centenary next year. The centenary festival committee wanted to spend R500 000 on renovating the towers but the city electrical engineer found they were in too dangerous a condition to allow work on them.

According to the overall plan, the cooling-tower site is the last part of the area to be developed. Dr Mortimer says: "We see the Newtown site being developed from the north-east side towards the motorway." The City Engineering Department's mechanical workshops are situated around the towers and new premises will have to be found before the site can be put to other use. As the site is next to the motorway, noise would be a problem and the planners suggested the site should not be used for offices but as a recreation area.

The Mallows Kirchoffer report which formed the basis of the council's redevelopment plan recommended that the cooling towers 'be considered as popular landmarks to be retained if possible.' The report suggested an entertainment zone be made between the two taller towers and the Market Theatre. Another suggestion in the past few years by architects and planners was for floors to be built in the larger towers. They would house an entertainment centre, including a theatre, art gallery and restaurant.

Nigel Mandy of the CBD Association mourns the passing of the cooling towers and says although he knew the two smaller towers were unsound, he thought the larger towers were stable and worth preserving as a landmark on Johannesburg's skyline. 'People who are making new facilities would pay hundreds of thousands to build a landmark such as that says Mr Mandy.


Archive shot of the Newtown Cooling Towers (source unknown)


The north-eastern part of the Newtown site will be redevloped first. When the plan was announced in November last year, the suggestion was to put 35000m2 of space near the Johannesburg Stock Exchange on the market for development. Dr Mortimer says the council will announce later this year when the first pieces of land will be available for redevelopment. According to the original plan the 20 hectares of land owned by the Johannesburg City Council will become a complex of offices, shops, parking garages and an entertainment area around the Market Theatre and Africana Museum.

A bridge to connect Newtown with Yale Road is planned. A long-term plan for an underground station is also being considered.


The demolition of the Newtown Cooling Towers


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