A Ballenesque Cultural Landmark


In early 2018, artist-photographer Roger Ballen acquired a property in Forest Town, Johannesburg, with the vision of creating a building that housed not only offices but also an exhibition space for local photography and other art forms. Looking for a building that could be considered an artwork itself, Roger Ballen Photography appointed JVR Architects and Interiors to design this iconically curious space inspired by the signature aesthetic of Ballen’s own work.



The brief was to create the new home for the world-renowned Roger Ballen and his artistic medium in the Inside Out Centre for the Arts, also known as The Roger Ballen Centre for the Photographic Arts. It is the goal of the centre to promote art that reveals deeper psychological meanings within an African context. Ballen’s work is known for the dark, surreal, and disturbing qualities that confront the viewer and challenge them to come with him on a journey into their minds as he explores the deeper recesses of his own. Appropriately, requested with this project was a translation of this Ballenesque ideology into functional architecture. The centre needed to be multifaceted and flexible, incorporating offices and the administrative support for the organisation’s work and archive, while including the foundation in the advancements of photographic arts.



As its name implies, Forest Town was established on the edge of a manmade forest.  At the end of the 19th century, wealthy British planted this forest to provide wood for the burgeoning mining industry, as well as an area to hunt in. The suburb was founded shortly after, in the first decade of the 1900s, and has been described as Joburg’s first middle-class suburb. Prior to this Johannesburg was a sprawling mining camp with only one wealthy suburb, Parktown. The site is situated on the major artery of Jan Smuts (48 Jan Smuts Avenue) in Forest Town and forms part of a trio of cultural centres, joining The Joburg Contemporary Arts Foundation and The Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre.


Photographer: Marijke Willems

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