Joburg Gen

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.

Photowalk chaos.

The ivory castle.

Modernist lines.

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.


9 responses to “Joburg Gen

  1. Haha, you caught me unknowingly blocking the view of 10 photographers trying to catch that door. Whoops. I like your shot of the ivy covered stairs 🙂

    • There were so many lensies milling around, shouting to get you all out of the way was impossible 🙂

  2. Great Pics – I’ve bookmarked your blog and will read some more when I have a chance. I’ve also friended you on FB. Here’s my blog if you care to have a look:

  3. Pingback: Stilte in die hospitaal | In Joburg – living on the rand

  4. Great pics, and I even saw a friend in one of them!

  5. Just gorgeous! I love old buildings and the stories and mysteries they hold. That semi-squatted villa on the hospital grounds is just lovely! I hope someone gets to renovate that and restore it to its former glory – WOW

    • The villa is on the brink of deterioration alas – apparently it’s used semi-legally by employees of the hospital. Funny they’re farming in the middle of Hillbrow in the garden there. The cabbage out front was quite tasty.

  6. Hi, great blog… just thought I’d leave a short note – that’s definitely not the Joburg General hospital!

    • When the hospital moved from this location in Hillbrow to the monstrous brutalist slab of concrete parked on top of the ridge in Parktown, it took along the name. So this is the original Joburg Gen.

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