Architectures of visibility and invisibility: a reflection on the secret affinities of Johannesburg’s cross-border shopping hub

DOI: 10.1080/23323256.2019.1575250
Author(s): Tanya ZackSchool of Architecture and Planning,, Thireshen GovenderGraduate School of Architecture, South Africa


The inner city of Johannesburg, South Africa, is the site of an intense wholesale and retail trade in fast fashion. Here mostly migrant entrepreneurs supply billions of rand worth of Chinese apparel to local and cross-border shoppers from across sub-Saharan Africa. The retail phenomenon pulsates from the incrementally adapted interiors of modernist office buildings. The buildings now host secret shopping centres, with mini retail outlets and coffee shops transforming dormant interior corridors and stairwells into lively internal streets. This compressed urban environment caters exquisitely to the ambiguous needs of being both visible and invisible — to display and to conceal — in this urban context. Walter Benjamin’s musings on the architectures and social positioning of mid-nineteenth century Parisian arcades offer insight into how adaptive, rogue architectures respond to mass consumption in contemporary Johannesburg. They support the argument that the arcades of “Jeppe” are deliberate, responsive architectures.

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