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Federico Freschi (U. Johannesburg): 'Poetry in Pidgin': Notes on the Persistence of Classicism in the Architecture of Johannesburg
Johannesburg has since its inception as a gold-mining town in the 1880s boasted an unbroken tradition of classical buildings. From the Beaux-Arts facades of the early banking houses and Randlords’ clubs, via the elaborate neoclassicism of the University of the Witwatersrand campus, to the columned porticoes in the rapidly expanding suburbs of the 1920s and 30s, and ultimately to the egregious proliferation of ‘Tuscan’ references in recent commercial projects and speculative housing clusters, the classical sentiment has prevailed. Taken at face value, these various classicisms seem to create a kind of palimpsest of the complexities and contradictions that constitute an aspect of Johannesburg’s architectural imaginary. In this paper I argue that, at its heart, this ‘poetry in a pidgin language’ (as Edwin Lutyens described Johannesburg’s early architecture) in effect begs some important questions about notions of history, time, space and belonging, and how they are enacted in the construction of Johannesburg’s cosmopolitan identity.
Federico Freschi is full Professor and Executive Dean of the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture at the University of Johannesburg. He is an art historian with a particular interest in the political iconography of South African public buildings. A secondary line of research has been into the construction of the canon of modern South African art, and more recently how the art market is implicated in this. He has published a number of edited books, research papers, and book chapters on these and other subjects.