Tshwane House


An iconic symbol of and for the City 

Location: Pretoria

Size: 35 000m2

Completed: 2014-2017

Cost: R1,2 billion

The history of this site is well documented in a thesis by L Cottle of the University of Pretoria. 

The site of the Tshwane Municipal Complex acquires heritage status and significance given that the first owner of the property was President Marthinus Wessels Pretorius.

The President, who was the city’s founder, later sold the property to Mr TW Beckett who later built the Blackwood Villa Hotel on the site. This hotel was the city’s leading hotel for many years due to the efficiency of its stables and the stable boys. In 1936 Mr Beckett’s son, who had inherited then property from his father, offered the site to the city council for R80 000 proposing that the site would be suitable for a market or garage for buses or bus parking. Following disagreements within the city authorities on the need for the site, it was only in March 1945 after WW2 that the city acquired the land from Mr Beckett.

‘On Tuesday 04 March 1997 the blazing fire that destroyed the west wing of the Munitoria complex finally came to rest after about 12 hours of fire-fighting. Records, documents and office equipment of various departments were turned into ash. The remaining structure was imploded in February 1998. The only remains to this day is the concrete basin.’ (Pretoria News. March 4, 1997.) (Rekord. March 1997.) (Pretoria News Weekend. July 3, 1999). [University of Pretoria etd – Cottle, L (2003).

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The regional, national, continental and international socio-political image and status of the City of Tshwane

Because this complex will be the seat of the Local Authority of the City of Tshwane, it is imperative that the complex celebrates the regional, national, continental and international status of the city as a Capital City of the Republic of South Africa. As such the architecture of the complex aims to borrow from local and global design concepts. Traditional and cutting edge 21st Century architecture and construction techniques are employed to express the status of the city.

The current immediate and regional built environment context of the City of Tshwane

Immediate context

The overall siting of the municipal complex is receptive and responsive to the existing pedestrian and vehicular traffic movements which themselves were developed around western and European town planning principles. Moreover, the different typologies and various uses of the immediate surrounding buildings have informed the treatment of the municipal complex’s footprint and street level building edge functions.

Regional context

In designing the City of Tshwane’s Municipal Headquarters it is important to take cognizance of the fact that this building is the administration centre of rural areas, townships, suburbs and the inner city, as such it is necessary that the building incorporates architectural principles from the diverse cultural back ground that constitute the regions of the City of Tshwane.

The brief from the client 

From a history of a non-democratic past, South Africa’s Constitution has been hailed as one of the most progressive in the world, a culmination of far reaching and inclusive negotiations. Human rights and freedom are central to this document and are stipulated as those of equality, freedom of expression and association, political and property rights, housing, healthcare, education, access to information, and access to courts. Democratic systems of government (be it National, Provincial or local) are central to the success of the constitution. It is with this in mind that the project team has proposed a municipal building that exemplifies the ideals of a democratic municipality representing and serving the people of Tshwane through elected councillors from the community, and the administrative structures.

“According to the Constitution of South Africa, 1996 (Act 108 of 1996), a municipality must structure and manage its administrative, budgeting and planning processes to give priority to the basic needs of the community, and promote the social and economic development of the community.”

(City of Tshwane website: www.tshwane.gov.za/citystructure.cfm)

The fundamental goals which have guided the design process are:

Producing an environmentally responsible design which meets the requirements of the Green Building Council of South Africa’s Five Star Rating. providing a democratic environment for public participation and interaction creating a pleasurable work environment for staff providing a quality building which also encompasses Value for Money for the City of Tshwane.

Create an iconic symbol of and for the city

“The CTMM covers an extensive municipal area (3 200 km²) stretching for almost 60 km east/west and 70 km north/south. The municipal area includes Pretoria, Centurion, Akasia, Soshanguve, Mabopane, Atteridgeville, Ga-Rankuwa, Winterveld, Hammanskraal, Temba, Pienaarsrivier, Crocodile River and Mamelodi. The area is inhabited by approximately 2,2 million people.”

(City of Tshwane website: www.tshwane.gov.za/citystructure.cfm).

This vast region sees the municipal building as their contact with government. It is for this reason that it is important that the offices clearly express the core values of the municipality and be representative of the interaction required for the functioning of a democracy. Environmentally conscious design should also demonstrate a responsible attitude to the environment.

The history of the people of Tshwane speaks of a melting pot of tribes. The architectural design proposal has attempted to create a physical manifestation of the diversity of cultures, people and places that not only make up Tshwane, but also of South Africa in general.

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How the brief was achieved 

The organisation 

In southern and most African cosmological beliefs the western side, being the side where the sun sets, is recognized to be the side of the world of the ancestors and the eastern the world of the living. As such the western side is believed to be the highest order and the eastern the lower order in the cosmological structure.

In traditional homestead and village design, the above-mentioned orders are applied in a manner that ensures that at the level of the royal homestead, the Chief’s dwelling would be flanked by the dwellings of his wives on its western (right hand) and eastern (left hand) side. The dwellings flanking the Chief’s dwelling are positioned in accordance to the order of the hierarchy established by the marriage chronology of the wives of the chief because this chronology further determines the succession of the heirs to the throne.

It is clear that the building is to be seen as a public building, providing easy accessibility to the public while at the same time providing a manageable and secure building envelope.

There are a variety of departments that need to be autonomous, but yet definitely part of the whole.

Architectural responsiveness

The architectural language is a response to both the modern and African characteristic requirement of the project. The modern tectonics and innovative elements of the building work congruently with African notions of space and hierarchy. The building layout on the plinth allows for a complexity of spaces that interact with the public at a human scale. The chamber building, by virtue of its design and location may be seen as a landmark, allowing the general public to interact with it visually. The park is located adjacent to the mayor’s wing provides opportunities for interaction between the mayor and the general public. This is also where a public address by the mayor may take place.

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Democratic value of transparency

The design deals with the idea of transparency on two levels;

  • Façade treatment allowing visual dialogue between those inside the building and pedestrians outside.
  • Interior design’s open space planning which ensures visual dialogue between work stations.

Transparent dialogue with the public realm

The building borrows the indigenous Southern African treatment of the kgotla with it’s undulating gumpoles enclosure with its “slivers of apertures” allows those within the enclosure to be visible through the “slivered slits” to passers-by outside the enclosure.

This method of ensuring connectivity between municipal officials within the building and the public outside of the building is also drawn from the traditional homestead where low walls of the lapa promotes visual dialogues between those within the lapa and pedestrians on the street.

These historic transparency design applications have been contemporized on Tshwane House by way of the façade treatment being a curtain-wall that is juxtaposed with solid wall panels of varied sizes offering the public a series of “windows” of varied sizes into the activity and energy of the workings of the Municipality. The public realm at street level is therefore offered views into the most active of spaces, depicting a highly active and animated municipality. The end effect of the “incomplete” curtain-wall is symbolic of the building being a reflection of the “work-in-progress” status of South Africa’s democracy.

Transparency at plinth level

At the level of the top-of plinth the buildings are arranged in an H-plan layout around the arrival court and the northern piazza, where the court and the piazza have a curtain wall allowing views onto them. This plan layout accentuates visual continuity of the indoor onto the outdoor and vice versa to allow the eye to “travel” and see through the building’s façade. The result is an open and fully transparent semi-public square with adequate inter-building visual communication as working officials in the east and west wings of the building can view each other across the arrival court and the piazza, given the transparent façade that surround the arrival court and the piazza.

The programme of use assigned to this level includes inter alia, such public use as the restaurant, reception, meeting rooms, library, waiting rooms etc. The sensitivity to programme ensures active transparency conferred by the users’ energy as opposed to perceived transparency. The result is an open hive of activity, dialogue and interaction in a defensible enclave on the plinth. This unique design feature combines the north east African defensible courtyard plan with the southern African organic compound.

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Street level around the perimeter

As mentioned above the street facades are animated with apertures of varied sizes. These apertures all relate to, and are comfortable to the human scale. The use of horizontal planes from top of plinth down to pavement level serves to “break down” the plinth to human scale whilst at the same time giving the building a sense of “ascending” out of the ground onto the plinth. The requirement of a raised plinth in the design presented the opportunity to present the building as the seat of power (of Local Government). 

Images: All the images from the previous submission for this section

Meet the team

Architects: LYT Architecture

Landscape Architects: The Landscape Studio

Structural, civil and facade engineers: Pure Consulting

Electrical and mechanical engineers: Spoormaker & Partners

Interior Design and space planning: LYT Interiors and HEAD Interiors

Sustainability Consultant: PJC Consulting


Façade: Rheinzink–021 671 2600

Access Control: Smart Line Integration – 011 450 1939


Bosun – 011 310 1176

Smart stone – 010 442 0377

Corobrick – 011 871 8600

Planters: The Landscape Studio –

Paint: Dulux – 0860 330 111

Carpets: Belgotex – 033 897 7500

HVAC/Airconditioning: Cold Air Projects – 011 974 2951

Sanware: Modern Plumbing – 011 034 0740

Lighting: PPA Lightco – 011 447 0390

Sky Lights: Burger Emoyeni Skylights – 011 792 7742

Lifts: Mitshubishi Lifts – 011 830 2080

Screens: Ailania – 011 683 1774

Stone Cladding to Basement: Minaco Stone – 011 222 8915

Glass Balustrade: Steel Studio – 011 608 1963

Screen Louvers: Diri Aluminium – 012 666 9022

Wallpaper: Wall Coverings Inc – 011 262 5213

Waterproofing: Evolight –

Please leave space for 5 more 

LYT Architecture

@ lytarchitecture


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