On the corner of Darling and Parliament streets, Cape Town Central, 8001, City Bowl, Cape Town
On the corner of Darling and Parliament streets is the Old Mutual Building (officially The Mutual Building). Old Mutual no longer work from here; they began moving as early as the 1960s to more modern facilities, although they retained ownership of the Assembly Room and Banking Hall.
The art deco building is a masterpiece, used often for movie shoots and now fully converted into an apartment block, known as Mutual Heights, rather than as corporate offices (it’s like stepping into a little piece of New York).
It used to be the tallest building in Africa when it opened in 1940. It also had the fastest lifts. Whether or not they are still fast is debatable, but they are period pieces with etches of an indigenous bird or animal on their automatic, three speed left doors.
When the building opened in 1940 it was such a big deal that the local paper ran a 16 page supplement.
According to an account by Giovanni Camerada, grandson of Adolfo Lorenzi the sculptor, the architect travelled overseas to learn everything he could about skyscrapers, for the Old Mutual directors required a building of significance, a landmark to designate the company’s strength.
The entrance hall is magnificent with its black vertical marble walls, and a staircase leading to an ornate banking hall, characterised by stainless steel trim and ornate light fittings. When we visited the building in early 2016 the hall was bolted closed, although the doorman at the desk quickly took us up a couple of floors so that we could overlook the incredible hall. Rumour has it that an events company will use the facility.
An incredible top to bottom atrium graces the residential area of the building, extending from the roof of the banking hall, to the top of the building. The circular windows of the atrium are now part of the apartments at the front of the building.
The outside of the building is interesting for its continuous frieze, created by sculptor Ivan Mitford-Barberton, and executed by Adolfo Lorenzi and his four brothers, from carved stone showing different facets of the country’s history. The nine reliefs on the side of the building show different black tribal groups of southern Africa, although a couple are now out of date, whilst the enormous granite animal cornerstones are incredible.
And the triangular windows, up and down the height of the building, set this building apart from the buildings that inspired it.