Circa Gallery, an elliptical three-storey building located next to a filling station in a busy Johannesburg intersection, has become the city’s latest architectural landmark. 

Working within the confines of a relatively small and narrow site, the architects have managed to build a dramatic structure destined to become a cultural gathering place in an unexpected urban environment.

Metal mimics Nature

The sculptural profile of Circa Gallery was achieved by the use of multiple vertical fins surrounding the facade, a design element that serves to partition inside and outside spaces while allowing both gallery visitors and pedestrians glimpses of the other’s activity.

Inspired by the thorn-trunk fences around Zulu kraals (cattle enclosures within a village) and the “vertical elegance of reeds and grasses,” the architects encased the building with anodized aluminium battens that simulate the organic warmth of their inspirations.Aluminium Facade System

Like timber, but better

Rising up to 14 metres high, some 500 aluminium fins were attached to the building using custom-designed brackets. Seven shades of bronze were specified to heighten the play of light and shadow along the facade of the building.

Aluminium Facade System

Whether from afar or upon closer scrutiny, the aluminium fins of Circa Gallery evoke timber-like attributes, but aluminium as a screening material has inherent advantages over timber:

  • Aluminium is corrosion-resistant, unaffected by moisture, and immune to the harmful effects of UV rays, making it virtually maintenance-free.
  • Timber-grain finishes can easily be achieved in aluminium batten screens. In addition, electrostatically sprayed polyester powder coating opens up a world of colour and optical effects.
  • Aluminium batten screening is a more cost-effective alternative to using timber.
  • Easier installation on account to aluminium’s lighter weight overall (due to its greater strength-to-weight ratio).
  • Aluminium does not expand or contract nearly as much as timber, enabling it to better accommodate temperature-induced stress.
  • Aluminium products can be extruded at longer lengths (up to seven metres), whereas timber length is limited by the size of the tree source. 

The poetic use of aluminium fins has promptly earned Circa Gallery—“a small building with a big attitude,” as the architects describe it—iconic architectural status in South Africa’s largest city.


Architects: studioMAS  Location: Johannesburg, South Africa  Photographs: Tristan McLaren