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Ons Eerste Volksbank
Pretoria, Gauteng

COWIN, POWERS and ELLIS: Architect

Street:Mutual Lane


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25°44'44.02" S 28°11'20.01" E Alt: 1333m

The Ons Eerste Volksbank (Our Peoples First Bank) was constructed in 1930, during the leadership of Prime Minister Hertzog of the National Party. The inception of the Volksbank could be attributed to the Afrikaner Nationalist ideology, wherein Afrikaners pushed to remove the last vestiges of British control, increase local capitol, and support impoverished Afrikaners. As one of the first banks under Afrikaans ownership, the Volksbank was born out of a willingness to help the citizens of South Africa. In this regard the "people first bank" really was for the people as it gave out small loans to individuals who were not eligible to from other banks.

The 'Ons Eerste Volksbank' is situated in Pretoria's Church Square and makes up one of few red brick buildings in the area. However, unlike its highly ornate counterparts, the Volksbank is humble in its appearance, yet possesses sophisticated brick detailing that reveals the craftsmanship of the era. The Volksbank is built out of Kirkness Bricks, a historical South African brick company, that has become a hallmark of Pretorian (and to some extent Afrikaner Nationalist) architecture. The distinctly red bricks and red roof tiles gave it the nickname the "Red Building".

The architecture of the Volksbank displays clear influences from Cape Dutch and Greco-Roman design. Brick Gables frame the building, paying homage to Afrikaner roots in the Cape, whilst brick reliefs take their inspiration from Greek temple fronts. The main entrance is framed by brick Doric pilasters, an architrave, frieze, and cornice. The concept of symmetry is also employed with the 'temple front' relief being mirrored over the opposite window. The three bottom windows are bordered by brick arches with exaggerated keystones, revealing a relationship to the Baroque, of which the Cape Dutch style also shares similarities. The Oregon-Pine main door sits below a timber transom window, decorated by carved volutes and acanthus; a clear influence from the Greek Corinthian period.

In contrast to the humble brick exterior the interior is, surprisingly, stark white. The only connection seeming to be the Oregon-pine timber being brought through in the form of wainscoting and door frames. Furthermore, the classical language is vaguely seen on the interior with only reference being columns with abstracted volutes.

The Volksbank is part of a revitalization scheme by GASS Architecture Studios. Although the main façade has been left in original condition, there is much contention over the modernist insertions of black steel accents and large glass panels on the Northern Façade. The white brick of the new adjacent building is contrasted with the rich red of the Volksbank, whilst the space in-between is activated with street furniture and sculptures. The play between the red and white, whilst unifying materiality, creates a successful relationship that does not let the Volksbank be overshadowed by its younger counterpart.

(Teag Theron, July 2021)

These notes were last edited on 2021 07 21

Writings about this entry

Swart, Johan & Proust, Alain. 2019. Hidden Pretoria. Cape Town: Struik Lifestyle. pg 162-163