Tower_Intencity creative research submission

Tower_Intencity , Submission for Creative Research Assessment, 2020 for 2019

Architect:             Heather Dodd | Savage + Dodd Architects

Phd Candidate | UFS Architecture Department

Client:                   Zahavi Properties (Pty) Ltd

Collaborators: Thiresh Govender | UrbanWorks

Reflection by Author – Heather Dodd


Re-imagining Tower on Main to include EQUITY, DIVERSITY and DENSITY in the inner city of Johannesburg.


The project entitled Tower Inten_city, presents an alternative future for a 30 storey tower building built in the late 1960’s in the inner city of Johannesburg. The building, ABSA Towers, earmarked for renewal located at 160 Main Street is a landmark within the city. At inception the project was a proposal call from a Bank that wanted to optimize an existing asset within their portfolio to transform their precinct and relationship with the city. The building was put on the market for developers and designers to reimagine its future and in doing so consider the symbolic, social and political consequences of its future.

Rapid growth and investment resulted in an unprecedented concentration of high-rise developments in Johannesburg in the 1960’s. These mono-functional vertical enclaves served the exclusive interests of corporate capital. After the end of Apartheid and the dramatic economic, demographic and political shifts of a new dispensation, these towers remained unchallenged to serve their new context – one which is Urban, African and Cosmopolitan.

This project was entered as a Future Project into the World Architecture Festival 2019 held in Amsterdam in November 2019. Tower Inten_city was shortlisted in the Future Competition Category and named as the World Architecture Festival WAFX Power and Justice Winner 2019.

Scholarly Framework



Dot Matrix Map of racial distribution of Johannesburg from Census 2011 data showing the legacy of spatial Apartheid    Adrian Frith 

In this project the tower is remade both inside and out, and redefined as a new iconic symbol within its urban context. As a development strategy, it offers a means through which to contemplate how radical and impactful change could be realised within the context of high-rise tower block adaptation and as an urban strategy. Tower Inten_city is an example of spatial justice showcasing the conversion of a previously inaccessible 30-storey inner city tower block into a mixed-use environment. Spatial justice links the concepts of social justice and space and in this context refers to the lasting impact of geographical or locational biases based on race that have resulted in lasting socio-economic division. The term was advanced in the work of geographers David Harvey and Edward Soja.

The design combines dense apartment living for families, and micro units for singles, which are integrated with communal social spaces located throughout the vertical structure. An arrangement that creates an interplay between dense urban living and social amenity. The public realm is extended into the building with the concept of a ‘social lobby’, envisaged as a public ‘living room’ and retail mezzanine level which extends into a plaza around the tower. The lowest eight floors of the tower remain as commercial office space. The building is also a public landmark by virtue of the tower’s roof which serves as an event space and hosts one of Johannesburg’s largest rooftop electronic billboards which is repurposed into a public notice board broadcasting events and content relevant to its community.

The intention of all of this was to create a dense concentration of living, working and social spaces in a tower that radically shifts the status quo on urban living in Johannesburg. The potential of the proposed design solution, if replicated in other corporate enclaves within Johannesburg, is a renewed balance of live, work and play spaces within the city.


Contribution to new knowledge

The adaptive re-use of existing buildings is a specific genre and specialisation, whilst the adaptation of tower buildings is a specialist field in which there is little experience in South Africa. This project shows the possibilities for spatial transformation of existing assets within the built environment. Competing at the World Architecture Festival against the Chicago based Architects Studio Gang who presented the Tour Montparnasse – which involved the reworking of a landmark tower in Paris – placed this project within the debate on the re-use and adaptation of tower buildings. This includes not only the sophisticated technology and façade detailing but the concept of social connectivity in tall buildings and their response to the urban environment. Tower Inten_city places itself within this debate relating to the historical debt due to the inequality perpetuated by Apartheid spatial planning, and which is played out through the everyday experiences of living and working in the city.

The project brief involved re-imagining the use of the building and its presence in the city through restructuring and managing the urban realm surrounding the building. The sheer volume of stacked real estate presented an opportunity to address some of the pressing urban and social concerns in Johannesburg. The intention was to create a dense concentration of living, working and social spaces in a tower typology that radically shifts the status quo on urban living in Johannesburg.

Officials examine Johannesburg ‘Native Townships’ plan. Apartheid Museum Photograph: Apartheid Museum.  Source: The Guardian 
Floor Plan of ABSA Tower. Architect and Builder 12/1976

Apartheid was not only manifested within the urban realm but also existed within buildings where separate entrances, separate toilets, circulation and services were provided for different races. Whilst this manifestation of ‘petty Apartheid’ has been erased, the legacy of the spatial provision of multiple utilities provides an opportunity for alternate uses for these former service spaces. Furthermore, the change in use from commercial to residential allows the former HVAC services to be removed, making the building passively ventilated and freeing up these spaces. Thus, an examination of large-scale public buildings with a view to adaptive re-use reveals the opportunity for these spaces to provide a different social dimension. This demonstrates how the potential of adaptive re-use tied to the urban realm can be used to re-imagine the city.

We are at a juncture in our democracy where there the term ‘radical economic transformation’ has become a political rallying point. In this project we position a unique and new proposition as a form of spatial disruption in order to leverage opportunity as ‘radical spatial transformation’.

Public Profile

Heather Dodd presents Tower_Intencity as a WAFX winner with Thiresh Govender on the Festival Hall Stage at WAF 2018 In Amsterdam with Jeremy Melvin facilitating.

Awards :

2018      World Architecture Festival Amsterdam December 2018

Shortlisted in Future Competitions Category

Winner WAFX Power & Justice Award

Exhibited :

2018      World Architecture Festival Amsterdam December 2018

Published :

World Architecture Winners Catalogue 2018

SA Building Review Volume 7 2019

Konsep Projeler  2018

Online Links :