Monday, August 8, 2016 - 07:15

A coalition of Tshwane organisations* has written to the Provincial Heritage Resources Authority Gauteng (PHRAG) objecting to the current reconstruction of the perimeter wall at the Pretoria Indian High Commission (Arkleton). The coalition argues that all work should be halted immediately until ‘historically accurate design documentation and specifications are provided, scrutinised and approved’.

In May and June 2016 there was a loud public outcry over the demolition of the historically and architecturally significant perimeter wall. A number of newspaper articles appeared and a series of letters was sent to the PHRAG and heritage consultant by concerned parties. Despite the uproar, demolition continued and a new wall with little resemblance to the old emerged. Local heritage groups have been left feeling angry, frustrated and disappointed that the system designed to protect our heritage has allowed this to happen.

The coalition of organisations believes that the wall was eminently suited for restoration 'using conservation principles and structural engineering solutions'. Despite promises of restoration made by the contractor, the reality has proved to be very different. The before and after photographs below reveal a very sad loss of Tshwane's built environment heritage. The photographs and notes are courtesy of the Old Pretoria East Residents' and Ratepayers' Alliance (OPERRA)

 

Before 

 

After

 

Note the following in the new construction pictured above:

  1. The entire wall is built to the same height, whereas the original was stepped in height, sensitively following the slope of the site.
  2. Note too, the general lack of definition of the new wall in comparison with that of the original.  

 

Before (left) and after (right)

 

Note the following in the new construction pictured above:

  1. The brick colour and character is lighter than that of the original
  2. The bonding patterns on the new pier are in standard modern stretcher, while the original has a variant of Flemish bond in the rhythm: stretcher – header – stretcher, also with the use of specially cut ¼ batts (1/4 size bricks). This original rhythm creates a particular significant visual texture, which does not appear in the new construction.
  3. The lightly coloured sandstone beams below the iron trellis work have not been re-used in the new construction. The new construction makes use of plain brick in stretcher bond to make up for the loss of the sandstone. This amounts to a significant loss of visual definition and character.
  4. In the original construction, a special chamfered brick was used near the base of the wall. There is no sign of this detail in the new construction. Every loss of detail, results in the loss of significance

 

Before

 

After

 

Note the following in the new construction picture above:

  1. Between the piers, the new wall is built solely in stretcher bond, with an odd open joint left between the pier and the intermediate in-fill panels.
  2. The original has a clearly defined texture in a variant of Flemish bond: 3 stretchers, 1 header, 3 stretchers, 1 header etc. This significant detail is completely missing in the new construction.
  3. The base of the new wall is constructed in plain stretcher bond, while the original has yet another variant, i.e. English bond, played out in alternate courses of headers and stretchers.
  4. On the original, the dental course of chamfered bricks as headers, creates a particularly strong visual line. This visual line has disappeared in the new construction and its loss is shown by the lack of definition between the lower portion of the wall and the set-back intermediate panel between piers. 

 

Before

 

After

 

Note the following in the new construction pictured above:

  1. These photographs clearly show the absence of the broad sandstone copings on the original, which provided the wall with beautiful definition, contrasting strongly with the rich reds and coal blues of the brick.
  2. These photographs also show the lack of definition at the base of the set-back wall panels, owing to the loss of the dental header course of chamfered bricks, which created a strong visual line.

 

Before

 

After

 

Note the following in the new construction pictured above:

  1. The capping of the new pier is non-existent, ending in plane stretcher course. Contrast this with the visually softened top edge of the original pier using a special bull-nosed brick. Note how there is also a specially shaped double bull-nose brick for each of the four corners of the pier capping. None of the original bricks have been used in the reconstruction and it is questioned whether any of these bricks were salvaged.
  2. The original shows the clearly defined pointing of the joints between the bricks. It is a narrow joint and contrasts strongly with the red face of the brick. The new bonding is not even pointed, is too wide, and is simply flushed up with the face of the brick. This amounts to a loss of visual definition and significance. 

 

* The coalition is made up of the following groups and an individual:

  • Pretoria Institute for Architecture (PIA)
  • Arcadia Residents’ and Ratepayers’ Association (ARRA)
  • Old Pretoria East Residents’ and Ratepayers’ Alliance (OPERRA)
  • Adrian de Villiers (Individual)
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