The Secret Ruins of the Johannesburg Gas Works

by | Aug 25, 2022 | Johannesburg, Johannesburg City Centre, Museums and Buildings | 17 comments

Several months ago, Thorsten and I took a walk through the old Johannesburg Gas Works. Our visit happened spontaneously and we definitely shouldn’t have done it. Most of the Gas Works has been abandoned since gas production terminated 30 years ago, and the buildings aren’t safe. I felt guilty afterward and I don’t want to encourage anyone else to do this, which is why I didn’t blog about it for so long.

The overgrown Johannesburg Gas Works
The Johannesburg Gas Works, slowly being reclaimed by nature.

But we kind of just stumbled upon it. And once we peeked through the first doorway, a powerful magnetic force yanked us inside and kept pulling us further in. There’s something magical about this abandoned industrial space, filled with old machinery and stray piles of ancient coal, slowly crumbling away as weeds and vines creep through the windows and spontaneously sprout up through the floors.

I happened to have my camera that day and Thorsten had his sketch book. The opportunity was too good to pass up.

The Gas Works
Inside the Johannesburg Gas Works
The buildings appeared to be uninhabited. But every now and then we spotted signs of human visitation, like a broken chair or a plastic mannequin torso.
Vines creeping into the Gas Works
Thorsten sketching in the Gas Works
Thorsten doing his thing.
Sketch of the Johannesburg Gas Works
I think this is what he was sketching.
Looking down on the Gas Works
Old machinery in the Johannesburg Gas Works

We spent 30 or 40 minutes wandering around, photographing and sketching, before it finally started to sink in that those rusty floors could easily give way and we were probably inhaling a lot of asbestos.

A Very Brief History of the Johannesburg Gas Works

The Johannesburg Gas Works, owned by Egoli Gas, opened in December 1928 and was the city’s main gas producer for several decades. The plant produced gas out of coal, which was obviously not a very environmentally friendly process. The Gas Work’s production gradually decreased throughout the mid-20th century as the city began to source more gas from Sasol. The plant closed down completely in 1992.

The Gas Works is now considered an important architectural heritage site. The buildings are beautiful, in an early-20th-century-industrial kind of way. Egoli Gas still has offices in a section of the Gas Works property, and Liebermann Pottery occupies another section. While there have been various proposed plans over the years to redevelop the unused buildings, nothing has happened.

Looking at the Gas Works from Liebermann Pottery
Looking at the Gas Works from Liebermann Pottery.

I used to do a lot of urban exploration during my early years in Joburg, sneaking into abandoned buildings with my photographer friends and taking pictures of whatever we found. Exploring the Gas Works took me back to those days — to that heart-revving feeling of being in a place I know I’m not supposed to be, climbing rickety ladders and shooting through broken windows.

Looking through the windows of the Gas Works

As I crept through the Gas Works, I missed my buddies who I used to explore with back in the day. Most of them have since become wildly successful in various creative endeavors and moved away from Joburg to other corners of the world. Y’all know who you are — I wish we could all travel back in time to 2013, when Instagram was still cool, and explore the Gas Works together.

Mannequin in Gas Works
The kind of photo I used to post on Instagram in 2013.
Thorsten climbing down a ladder in the Gas Works
After reaching the top of this ladder, we opted not to climb out onto the roof. I’ve grown too old for that type of risk-taking. But the Gareth Pon of 2013 probably would have, and the 2Summers of 2013 might have followed him.

In conclusion: Please don’t visit the Gas Works. But if you do, please dress smarter than we did. And wear a mask.

Heather in the Johannesburg Gas Works
The end. Photo by Thorsten Deckler.

17 Comments

  1. Albert

    Beautiful building! A prime example of re-purposing an old industrial space is the conversion of the old Electric workshop into the swish new HQ of Anglogold Ashanti in the cbd. Hopefully something similar can be done for the old gas works.

    Reply
    • 2summers

      Yes, that would be amazing!

      Reply
  2. Alexey

    It’s a great industrial heritage site. When I was still doing my architecture undergrad, our year was given an official tour of the site by Monika Läuferts le Roux and Judith Mavungandize whose book, “The Johannesburg Gas Works” goes into spectacular detail with inserts of old plans, photographs and operational diagrams. It’s a shame that nothing can be done with it due to the extent of the ground contamination.

    Reply
    • 2summers

      I am so sad I missed that tour. I heard it was amazing.

      Reply
  3. AutumnAshbough

    LOL, you rebel! Great photos, though. I feel like someone should be shooting a dystopian future film there. I expect zombies to pop out of the floor.

    Reply
    • 2summers

      Haha yes, Joburg actually has a LOT of dystopian spaces! One of the Resident Evil movies was shot in Ponte City.

      Reply
  4. davidjbristow

    Our family’s “extra” house in Parktown North had a functioning huge old gas stove, right up to ;92 when it was sold, which felt very Dickensian to me.

    Reply
    • 2summers

      Same year as the Gas Works switched off!

      Reply
  5. Lani

    It’s a lot of fun though to get off the beaten path and have a look around. Let your imagination run a little wild and take some great photos!

    Reply
    • 2summers

      That’s totally it 🙂

      Reply
  6. Nancy McDaniel

    Is this in an area that i could be converted to studios and restaurants and markets and such (like so many other cool old structures in Joeys/environs) It looks amazing.

    Reply
    • 2summers

      Yeah, that would be great but apparently the contamination is quite severe and there’s one of the big issues. I’m not totally sure though.

      Reply
  7. Dean Anon

    After the gas works closed there was a metal club in one of the outbuildings called “The Fridge” – I think it was only open for 6-12 months….

    Reply
    • 2summers

      Wow, that sounds amazing!

      Reply
  8. Greg Faasen

    Thank you so much for taking us back to a bygone era in Jhb’s history – I often visited and played on the soccer training fields at Sturrock Park when BidVest Wits was still an entity and I often wondered what was inside those buildings 🙂

    Reply
    • 2summers

      Thanks Greg, I’m glad you enjoyed it!

      Reply

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