Durban’s Art Deco Treasures

By 27th November 2019 Events
The 1930s Colonial Mutual Building on West Street (now Dr Pixley KaSeme St)

It’s often claimed that Durban has the largest collection of art deco buildings in the world, outside of Miami, the deco capital. Sadly it’s not true, but walking around Durban’s CBD you can understand why people might think that to be the case – we can be extremely proud of some of our architectural treasures, and while we may not be number one, we do make the list of world’s best examples of art deco design, and are said to have the only building in the world to show off a pair of art deco antelopes!*

Many of the art deco structures found in Durban are very tall buildings that can rival the likes of those seen in Gotham City, but we also have some really interesting two story examples that can be found in the area of the city, referred to by locals as ‘Grey Street’.

The Gandhi Memorial

Recently the Durban Art Deco Society hosted a ‘Talk & Walk’ of the Grey Street area (now officially known as Dr Yusuf Dadoo Street). Fittingly the walk began at the 1860 Settlers Heritage Centre in Derby Street. Many of the area’s first traders were descendants of the 1860 settlers, who came to South African as indentured labourers to work in the burgeoning sugar industry. The tour also included a visit to the Gandhi Memorial, which now forms part of the Durban Liberation Heritage Route.

The talk, which was entitled ‘Casbah Chic’, was led by architect and author, Profesor Franco Frescura. Prof Frescura has been involved in an extensive architectural survey of the Grey Street area, and provided some fantastic insight.

Abad Court & Essop Moosa Building, 125-131 Dr Goonam Street

While many people would assume that the buildings in Grey Street would have been influenced by the ‘white’ areas of town, this may not have been the case at all. In an article entitled “10 Cities Where Art Deco Architecture Reigns Supreme“, Durban sits right alongside Mumbai, which ironically is the city that’s actually estimated to have the world’s largest number of art deco buildings outside of Miami. So it may well be that rather than copying existing Durban buildings the businessmen and traders were influenced instead by their home country!

* The antelopes can be seen on the Colonial Mutual Building, which is located on Dr Pixley KaSeme Street. The fourteen storey skyscraper, which was designed by Australian firm, Elsworth, Hennessey & Hennessey in 1931, was the city’s tallest building until 1939.

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