A giant hole in the city scenery

The city council’s decision to blow up two of the cooling towers on June 16 has disturbed a good few people. Ill-timed and insensitive, they’ve called it. But they’re quite wrong.

June 16 resonates with all the appropriate symbolism: a time of sorrow, a time to reflect upon intolerance and bureaucratic crassness, a time to reflect upon past blunders.

Blunders like the City Fathers’ decision to choose June 16 to erect monuments of dust, smoke and exploding masonry … to the memory of their — and our — indifference. A monument to the future — like next year, Centenary Year — when we can point to the large hole in the landscape and say to visitors: that’s how Johannesburg cares for its heritage.

Why do the towers matter?

After all, they’re lacking in colour, lacking in elegance and lacking in any apparent function. The towers matter because they are unusual landmarks. Their beauty lies in the contrast of their vertical, voluminous, curved and circular forms with the sharp angular lines of the Stock Exchange building and the low, horixontal, rectangular lines of the old Market and Diagonal Street buildings.

They matter to enough architects, businessmen and engineers to have for their use: as an art gallery, a restaurant, a conference centre, a night club. Even as giant flower pots for spawning mushrooms.

When the towers crumble they will join a long list of fallen landmarks in Johannesburg. Indeed, nothing characterises this city better than the relish with which it destroys its landmarks.

To name just some of the more recent: the Colonial Mutual Building, Harmain House, Locarno House, Geneva House, Van Eek House, Villa Colette and the Colosseum. So watch the big hole in the landscape next to the Market. You’ll want to know how many pieces of silver your city’s heritage fetched.

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