The area around the Union Buildings is characterised by contrasts. This is where you can stay in the super-luxury Sheraton Hotel, but also see prostitution and drug trafficking in bright daylight between dilapidated apartment buildings.

And among all these is a beautiful architectural gem that few people know of, namely Tiny Town.

In 1921 the Dutch-born developer and architect, Hendrik Horstmanshof (1886-1974), decided to emigrate to sunny South Africa. Over time, he began to make a living from the building of houses which he then sold again. In 1929, Horstmanshof and a partner built Tiny Town, a complex consisting of 14 residential units. It was his most ambitious project up to that point and was initially known as Trianon.

Horstmanshof’s idea was to create dwellings in the style of the Arts and Crafts movement within a formal park environment for middle-class Pretorians. Much attention has therefore been paid to the detail of finishing and craftsmanship. The idea of such a complex in a park environment that was not exclusively meant for the rich, was well known in the Netherlands, but less typical of Pretoria. From 1930 to 1934, Horstmanshof and his family stayed in one of the single-storey dwellings in Tiny Town.

From Church Street, the complex is almost invisible, and one can easily miss the entrance. Perhaps it contributes to the feeling that one is walking back through a time curtain when entering the complex. This probably explains why residents live there for many years, as opposed to apartments in the area that have a large turnover of tenants and owners. Apparently, the owners themselves later decided on the name Tiny Town, because the complex, with its fish ponds, ornamental arches, distinctive street lights, bridges, pavements of Pelindaba slate and other unique features feels like as a small town within the larger city.

In time, it became a home for, among others, art students. It did not escape the environmental reality; by the beginning of the 21st century, there often were burglaries and other crime incidents. In December 2002, a young art student was even killed when a house robbery went wrong.

Over the years, the units have begun to decay until a developer, City Property, bought it. They acquired the services of VDO Architects to restore the complex. Because the buildings are over 60 years old, the South African Heritage Resource Agency (SAHRA) had to give permission, and their input was also obtained to complete the project. Since 2009, Tiny Town’s ancient glory has been restored.

It was a complicated project. The architects had to consider the requirements of the owner, law and SAHRA. They wanted to maintain the original nature and appearance of the buildings as far as possible, but some aspects, such as light fittings, were not suitable for modernisation. Other aspects, such as wooden floors, steel ceilings and enamel baths, could be successfully maintained and restored. Beautiful photos of the fully restored complex can be seen under ‘projects’ at www.vdoconsulting.co.za.

With the big task completed, Tiny Town nowadays is a security complex for tenants from the middle to higher income group. It still offers a unique and peaceful island for the residents amidst the turbulent environment at the foot of the Union Buildings.

This post is also available in: Afrikaans

Alana Bailey
Alana Bailey
Alana Bailey is Adjunk Uitvoerende hoof van AfriForum verantwoordelik vir Internasionale skakeling, taal en kultuur.

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