THE RESTORATION OF AITON COURT

An International Style Modernist Apartment Block.

Aiton Court, completed in 1938, is an international style modernist apartment block located in Hillbrow, Johannesburg. The building was designed by pioneering young architects Angus Stewart and Bernard Cooke, graduates of the school of architecture of the University of the Witwatersrand and part the group of young upstart architects dubbed the “Transvaal Group” by Le Corbusier.

An early high rise building in Hillbrow the building, fitting onto a former suburban stand, is formed by two blocks, orientated northwards towards the sun. The lower street facing block is raised on piloti creating an entrance foyer, an extension of the public space of the street into the building.

In the 1980’s Aiton Court was one of the first buildings to break apartheid segregation laws by welcoming black residents into the area, with the building becoming a base for political activities as well as being a hiding place for political operatives from the police. It was during this period that a mosque opened in two of the courtyard facing apartments, a feature of the building which has been retained by the current owners. The building’s fortunes however declined and by the 2000’s it was in a crumbling state of disrepair and was eventually ‘hijacked’ by tenants.

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In 2012 the building was purchased by Trafalgar Property Management. Before long process repair and restoration started the building was used as a tool for teaching architectural conservation, with full social and architectural documentation of the building being undertaken by architecture students from the University of the Witwatersrand.

The building functions as affordable rental housing for lower income residents. As such the budget was extremely low with conservation needs having to be balanced with commercial realities. The resulting process can best be described as sitting somewhere between repair and the traditional understanding of restoration and is possibly a model of how inner regeneration can be balanced with heritage responsibilities and commercial needs.

The limited budget was used to work in the interest of conservation with the repair, restoration and reuse of original fabric favoured over replacement. After urgent structural repair and the replacement of severely deteriorated services, the reinstatement of the buildings public realm was prioritised. Paint colours, through a process of archival research and on site investigations, were returned to the original colour scheme and the internal courtyard restored to its 1930’s layout including its water feature, now doubling as a gathering space for the mosque.