New life for city centre landmark

2014-11-17 00:00

THE city cannot continue sprawling.

This is how Mark Horner, architect with designworkshop: sa, summed up his project at the AGM of the Durban Art Deco Society at the KZNSA Gallery in Glenwood yesterday.

Horner detailed the proposed conversion and refurbishment of the Art Deco-style Pixley House at 398 Dr Pixley Ka Isaka Seme (formerly West) Street.

The refurbishment, which sees the conversion of the main tower from offices to residential units — including studio apartments, two bedroom apartments and five penthouses — is being undertaken by Propertuity, the property development company headed by Jonathan Liebmann, credited with reviving Johannesburg’s inner city with the Maboneng Precinct.

Propertuity is looking to work the same magic in Durban and have already launched 8 Morrison Street in Durban’s Rivertown area, the site of a weekly Sunday market.

Liebmann, in an earlier interview with The Witness, said his mission was to bring people back to the city. “Urban decay is not just a Joburg or Durban issue but [affects] cities across Africa. Post-apartheid there was a flight in capital and cities have since reorganised themselves.”

In Durban, that flight has been northwards, said Horner. “City growth has moved north from Umhlanga Rocks to Ballito, but there is a future in the city. It’s an opportunity, buildings are standing empty.”

Pixley House is one of them. Apart from shops and business on the ground floor, Pixley House has been empty for seven years. Built in 1938 as the head office for Payne Brothers Department Stores and latterly known as Prefcor House, it was extended in 1956.

“The building is heavily moulded with a vertical emphasis that maintains the rhythm of Art Deco,” said Horner

Currently the office tower is “pigeon infested and a health hazard,” said Horner. “The first step is to bird-proof the building so we can get inside and build a show apartment.”

But there is already keen interest in the venture. “Seventy percent of the units have been sold,” said Horner, including two of the five penthouses.

The conversion, currently in its early stages, is expected to take six to nine months and will include repainting the exterior. Over the years, Pixley House has had several colour schemes, blue and grey in the Sixties, peach and pink in the Eighties.

These colour schemes are associated with Art Deco buildings in coastal cities, such as Durban. But Horner said darker colours are found on inner city Art Deco buildings.

The Pixley House colour scheme will feature dark green, gold and yellow. “The dark green echoes Durban as a sub-tropical city,” said Horner, “It’s a leafy green.”

• Stephen.Coan@witness.co.za

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