Esselen Clinic / Ntsika Architects

  • Architect:Ntsika Architects
  • Location:Johannesburg, South Africa
  • Awards:Shortlisted For The World Architecture Festival 2017

Esselen Clinic

Description of Ntsika Architects.

Esselen Street Clinic – ‘Regeneration of Hillbrow’

The partnership between the City of Joburg and the Wits University Reproductive Health research unit, produced an opportunity to regenerate a heritage building in the inner city of Johannesburg.

Situated on the corner of Esselen and King George Street and within the Hillbrow Health Precinct (HHP), the existing clinic was a prime location to create a cornerstone primary health care facility, as part of the Corridors of Freedom initiative.

© Michael Shmucker, Ryan Leukis and Ntsika Architects.

Designed and erected by Willem Pabst, between 1943 and 1951, the building has been proclaimed a heritage site in South Africa. Originally the building was designed as the Colin Gordon Nursing Home. According to Pabst, the function of the building heavily influenced the shape and spatial experience of the building. In Chipkin’s Johannesburg Style (Chipkin,1993) he describes how Mauthner had some difficulty ‘trying to make sense of Pabst instructions that the building must be “pregnant like a Woman’”.

There was speculation around Chipkin’s description, but regardless, the overarching idea was that the poetic design language remained intact, throughout the refurbishment.

© Michael Shmucker, Ryan Leukis and Ntsika Architects.

The purpose of the refurbishment was to breathe new life into the existing structure. The building had undergone numerous alterations and upgrades over the years and very few of the existing finishes and fittings remained.

Our design aimed to:

  1. Create an environment that heals, through a more functional, durable and efficient health care facility
  2. Highlight and celebrate the building’s heritage value
  3. Create a greater cohesion between the clinic and the neighbouring building
  4. Create an active street edge


© Michael Shmucker, Ryan Leukis and Ntsika Architects.

Create an environment that heals

The courtyard functions as an outdoor waiting room and is pivotal for the prevention of the spread of communicable diseases. Well-planned exterior environments provide a greater sense of privacy and the circulation of cool air through the consultation rooms. The courtyard becomes the green lung of the facility. Planted trees creating shaded seating areas encourages patients to wait outside, where the chance of transmission of airborne disease is greatly reduced.

Highlight Heritage Value

Care was taken to maintain as much of the existing structure and materiality as possible. Certain architectural elements were also restored. One example is demonstrated in the restored marble staircase, which was originally conceived as a light well through the building and over the years had been closed and boarded up. Another example, is the reproduction and reinstatement of solid timber internal doors. To pay homage to the original aesthetic of the space, all major additions and alternation made to the building were done in aluminium and glass, in order to mark the change of era. They ‘touch’ the old building ‘lightly’, retaining the integrity of both old structure and new intervention.

© Michael Shmucker, Ryan Leukis and Ntsika Architects.

Neighbouring Building

The East Structure that neighbours the Pabst building, is an even older building. It has a floor level which is approximately one metre higher than the ground floor of it’s neighbour. Prior to the renovation, both buildings functioned as is, with a makeshift staircase linking the two with little cohesion between them. The solution was a sensitive yet bold one; the old inaccessible staircase linking the two was replaced by a ramp which linked two open waiting areas. These spaces were opened up between the two buildings, which meant that the programmatic functioning of the building was greatly improved. The shared courtyard became a celebrated and accessible space by both buildings.  Generous doors opened from the now lower waiting area onto the courtyard as well as from the secondary waiting area onto the same space. The building’s aesthetic on the exterior was tweaked and repainted to tie in with the Pabst alterations. This creates a more cohesive structure that is identifiable as one facility.

© Ntsika Architects. Elevation.

Urban Value

Hillbrow’s reputation precedes itself: it is a volatile environment. With the upgrade of the Esselen Street Clinic building it became important to address the street edge and to create a more active front. This was successfully achieved through widening the entry way of the existing building, and proposing outdoor furniture and landscaping to be implemented along the harsh building edge.

The unmistakable curved canopy over the entrance remains unchanged and the building has a presence on the street once more.



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