Property Development - Restoration of Government House in Pietermaritzburg

GOVERNMENT HOUSE

A collaboration of passion and expertise resulted in the successful R20 million restoration of the 167-year-old Government House in Pietermaritzburg

 Government House after restoration.

After acquiring Government House in 2010 to house their regional campus, UNISA contracted a team of experts to restore and renovate this beautiful national monument which had fallen into a state of disrepair.

Leading heritage and conservation architect Robert J W Brusse was appointed to the project in 2004 to oversee the restoration of the building and there then followed eight years of planning, investigation, research and detailing work discussions. Only once all the groundwork and preparation had been done did Brusse, in 2012, approach Corobrik (Pty) Ltd to assist in the replacement of 1775 bricks which had to be especially manufactured for the project. 

The historic building, which began its life in 1848 as a five-roomed thatched cottage owned by William Stanger, the first Surveyor General in the Colony of Natal, was bought by Sir Benjamin Pine on behalf of the colonial government.  All subsequent governors lived there till the formation of the Union of South Africa. During this period, the building was regularly extended and altered, so that it came to reflect a sequence of architectural styles and building technologies. In 1900 a new brick wing was added to accommodate the Duke and Duchess of York who came out for a Royal Visit. And, in 1911 several more wings were constructed in Maritzburg salmon pink brick to accommodate a Teacher’s Training College. 

“As with so many other restorations of heritage buildings, there was a need to replace weathered brickwork,” said Brusse. “While standard bricks were replaced with bricks salvaged from parts of the buildings that had to be demolished, there were a number of decorative, special bricks which could not be sourced from the demolitions or from Amafa's warehouse.” 

Faced with these challenges, Brusse approached Corobrik as the principal manufacturer of clay bricks in the province to help find a solution. 

Managing Director, Dirk Meyer embraced the project enthusiastically and a team was put together to oversee the job with the responsibility of liaising with all parties, including the Corobrik factories, the architect and the site management falling to Corobrik manager, Pat Moon. “This was an incredibly complex job,” he said, “and we were pleased to come up with an authentic manufacturing solution.” 

A large number of handmade salmon pink bricks typical of the 1900 period had been used in the original historical buildings. Working with a set of detailed drawings of the required bricks, supplied by Brusse, clay from the Corobrik Avoca factory in Durban, which would provide the best colour match, was road freighted to the Midrand Factory where the bricks were formed by hand. Once manufactured, they were before brought back to the Avoca Factory kilns to be fired at a particular temperature to achieve a specific vitrification and colour. 

Many of the 29 special shapes that were produced for the restoration project had not been previously made at a Corobrik facility and special-shaped dies were manufactured to help ensure the correct fired sizes to match the existing brick work. “Numerous specials were hand-shaped and tempered by a special product team,” explained Moon.

This was a really interesting project to be a part of with product handling and logistics playing important roles and it was rewarding for the production teams from the two factories involved to be able to meet the challenge. Commenting on the project, Brusse said: “Government House was entrusted to us at the start of the project and we tried to respect the integrity of this historic National Monument by repairing and restoring the buildings in the spirit in which the original structures were built.” 

Drawing on their 112 years of brickmaking experience and expertise, Corobrik rose to the challenge of finding acceptable solutions for the restoration of Government House and has gone on to play an important role in the restoration of other historically significant South African buildings including the manufacture of clay bricks for the Kimberley Magistrate’s Court extension and renovations of the Magistrate’s Court in Port Elizabeth.

This article has been prepared on behalf of Corobrik (Pty) Ltd 

For more details, please contact:

Corobrik (Pty) Ltd – Pat Moon

Email: [email protected] Tel: 031 560 3111

or

Shirley Williams – Tel: 083 303 1663

Email: [email protected]

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