Like us on Facebook
 

Orlando Cooling Towers in Soweto

Petar Djajkovski

In northeast South Africa, inside the City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality, lies the township of Soweto. For a while, this small township was way out from the outskirts of the big city and was its own separate municipality.

However, years went by and Johannesburg was growing fast, swallowing all the autonomous municipalities in its vicinity. Soweto was also spreading out and in time came to be the biggest township in South Africa.

Orlando Power Station Towers, Soweto, South Africa – Author: Anagoria – CC BY 3.0

Orlando Power Station Towers, Soweto, South Africa – Author: Anagoria – CC BY 3.0

Plans for the construction of Orlando Power Station started at the beginning of 1935. A new and more potent way of acquiring electricity was needed as the Johannesburg population was constantly rising and the township itself was becoming more and more developed.

The previous City Generating Station located in downtown Johannesburg was not enough to cover the demand for power. The new power station was going to be built in a practical location, close to both the railway lines that deliver coal and to the water supply for cooling.

Construction started four years after the plan was drawn but was halted two years later due to the beginning of the Second World War.

Over a decade later, in 1955, the final phase of construction was finished. After the two steam engine locomotives that brought in the coal were acquired, the operation ran smoothly up until 1990.

Orlando power station, Soweto, South Africa – Author: Prosthetic Head – CC BY-SA 4.0

Orlando power station, Soweto, South Africa – Author: Prosthetic Head – CC BY-SA 4.0

The two massive cooling towers are a well-known landmark of Soweto. They were constructed around 1951 and were some of the last structures to be built at the plant. Their job was to extract sewage effluent from the Johannesburg sewage works system and use it to dissipate the heat produced by the power station.

Inside the Orlando Power Station Cooling Towers – Author: Pavel Tcholakov – CC BY 2.0

Inside the Orlando Power Station Cooling Towers – Author: Pavel Tcholakov – CC BY 2.0

After the towers were decommissioned, they were idle for several years before the idea that they could be used as a huge marketing billboards was born. One of the towers was painted with an advertising message, but the second one was luckier. It became a canvas for the largest mural painting in all of South Africa.

At the beginning of 2006, construction work on the towers started again; however, this time there was a fresh concept behind it.

Orlando Power Station Cooling Towers, now a major bungee spot in Johannesburg – Author: Pavel Tcholakov – CC BY 2.0

Orlando Power Station Cooling Towers, now a major bungee spot in Johannesburg – Author: Pavel Tcholakov – CC BY 2.0

The idea was to convert the old cooling towers into a leisure and entertainment center. Both of them were restored, secured, and tightened up for the upcoming extreme sports project. They were converted into something that is not just an everyday adventure place.

A platform was installed connecting the two of them, and in the middle a bungee jumping rope was secured. Soon enough, this was the main attraction in all of Soweto.

Ropes for climbing the towers were also included, and activities such as free-fall, abseiling, and power swinging were also facilitated.

On the ground, bars and rest areas were opened, and the commercial painting on the first tower was covered with yet another big mural.

Decorated cooling towers, Orlando Power Station, Soweto Johannesburg – Author: Media Club – CC BY 2.0

Decorated cooling towers, Orlando Power Station, Soweto Johannesburg – Author: Media Club – CC BY 2.0

The Orlando Cooling Towers, being cool as they are, have featured on television several times. Once, they appeared on the TV Show The Amazing Race, more precisely in its seventh season for the task known as “Fast Forward”. They also served as the headquarters for the leading characters in the movie Chappie (2015).