The Joburg Photowalkers descended on the Johannesburg General Hospital (‘Joburg Gen’, the city’s oldest hospital), in the infamous Hillbrow district last weekend. Used until the mid-1980s, the hospital has some buildings and walls which date to the city’s earliest beginnings, built within a few years of the discovery of gold in 1886. Replaced by a really ugly new hospital plonked on the ridge, Joburg Gen was partly reused, partly mothballed, and partly left to rot. That leaves it in the weird situation of having fully functional clinics (including Africa’s largest HIV/AIDs research clinic, with 200 new patients per week apart from the hundreds of regulars) scattered between derelict empty buildings and old nurse flats which have been squatted – all within the security gates. Tours are rarely given here, which is why the usually small Photowalker group now ballooned to about 50 people. We were shown around the complex to see the heritage and the efforts that are being done to create a Hillbrow Health Precinct by renovating the historic old hospital buildings for new use.
After decades of neglect, the old main building is being renovated and will get a modern new 3rd floor.
These glass walls overlooking the operation rooms allowed the doctors to work by daylight. Students used separate entrances around the back of the building to access the viewers balcony between the inner and outer windows.
The ivory castle.
An unreal-looking Hillbrow Tower.
The first operating room, apparently one of the oldest remaining buildings in Joburg. In the days before lightbulbs and anaesthetics the slanted roof had glass panes to allow the daylight in.
An ornate ivy-overgrown iron staircase.
An old villa in the hospital grounds, now semi-squatted, with the garden used for urban farming.
Reliefs over the entrance to the huge empty 1930s hospital building (note the chappie has underwear while his girlfriend doesn’t).
The sandstone chapel for the nuns.
The pressed ceiling of the renovated historical management building (click here for an exclusive uncut behind-the-scenes making-of this photo).
Finally, a gem just outside the main hospital grounds: the wonderful Esselen Hospital, built in 1943 and designed by Wilhem Pabst, a German architect who emigrated to SA in the 1930s.