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Maps of early Johannesburg were used by Clive Chipkin in his seminar on Memory in the City at Wits University.

Joburg's architectural history was explored by author and architect Clive Chipkin, who has written two books about the city of gold, at the University of the Witwatersrand on Tuesday, 11 August.

More than a hundred academics, including from the university's School of Architecture, listened as Chipkin detailed the beginning of the world-famous city that today is home to millions of people - and is still growing. His talk was entitled "Reading the streets, a walk through Johannesburg".

The talk, which was illustrated with the use of various maps and photographs of the old gold mining town, was part of a series of seminars being held by the School of Architecture and Planning, called Memory in the City.

One of the illustrations showed an undeveloped Johannesburg in 1885, a year before gold was found. He pointed out that in 1888, Johannesburg was a "city in the middle of nowhere". Though it was already becoming industrialised because of the gold mining, its architecture had not yet gained meaningful momentum.

The Melville Koppies, however, "do catch one's attention" he said, showing an earlier map of what was to become the thriving metropolis of Johannesburg.

Speaking about the buildings that came later, Chipkin said a range of old buildings in Joburg - as well as the Union Buildings in Pretoria - were influenced by English architecture. Well-designed buildings in Paris and London were also discussed.

Asked for a comment on the calabash-style design of Soccer City Stadium, on the outskirts of Soweto, Chipkin said: "I thought the old stadium, where we welcomed [Walter] Sisulu and [Nelson] Mandela was simple and South African.

"I'm disturbed by designs that try to be South African by application."

Chipkin is the author of Johannesburg Style and Johannesburg Transitions, both of which explore the development of the city's built environment and its inhabitants.

The Wits seminars started on 28 July and will run until October. The next talk will be delivered by Ali Hlongwane, the chief curator of Museum Africa, on 18 August, who will analyse the memorials and monuments built in commemoration of the 16 June 1976 student uprising. The uprising began in Soweto and spread across the country.

Eric Itzkin, the deputy director of immovable heritage in the City's arts, culture and heritage department, will lead a seminar discussing the transformation of Gandhi Square, in the inner city, on 22 September.

Fana Sihlongonyane, Liz Gunner, Phillip Bonner and Kathy Munro will also lead seminars, while the final in the series will be delivered by Federico Freschi, a visual arts lecturer at Wits. He will discuss the diversity of the country's public buildings and spaces.

For more information on the seminars, contact Zakiyyah Ayob on or Naomi Roux on, or phone 011 717 7730.

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