Restoring 1880s villa to its former glory

2010-10-27 00:00

ONE of the city’s architectural gems, the Villa Sans Souci in Trelawney Road, Pentrich, is being restored and renovated by the Ingonyama Trust to house the trust’s headquarters.

The trust bought Villa Sans Souci for R3,25 million and the restoration work is expected to cost between R13 and R14 million. It is a two-phase project, the first of which will see the restoration of the building while during the second phase a separate office block will be constructed.

Villa Sans Souci — the name means “the house without a care” — was built for the businessman John Harwin in the 1880s. He commissioned a German architect, Albert Halder, to design the house, which is built in the German neo-Classical style. It was used as a location for the feature film Zulu Dawn in 1978 and declared a National Monument in 1982.

“The trust bought the property firstly because it is a very beautiful building and secondly because we thought it would suit its original purpose to be used as offices,” said Justice Jerome Ngwenya, acting chairperson of the board that administers the Ingonyama Trust.

The trust was established in 1994 to administer about 2,7 million hectares of tribal land formerly part of the KwaZulu homeland. The sole trustee is King Goodwill Zwelithini.

Neighbouring residents were under the impression Villa Sans Souci was being prepared as a residence for the Zulu monarch, but Ngwenya said this is not so.

“Because of the trust’s links with the king people assumed it would be his residence, but this is not the case,” says Ngwenya. “But the king will attend board meetings.”

Architect Ismail Cassimjee of ICA Architects began work on the restoration plans two years ago. This involved researching the history of Villa Sans Souci and how it was constructed.

“There were no plans to work from so we had to start from scratch,” he said.

“We had to go room by room documenting every detail. It’s a form of archaeology, working out how it all came together.”

Many of the original materials, fixtures and fittings were ordered from Britain.

“They would consult a catalogue, make a list and place an order,” said Cassimjee.

“Everything would be shipped out and they would put it together. Today you would call it a ‘systems building’ — the Victorians were very good at it.” Cassimjee said the office block will be a 21st century building that will use local materials in its construction.

“It will reflect the geology of Pietermaritzburg,” he said.

“There will be conversation between the two buildings — they need to talk politely to each other.”

The contractors undertaking the restoration are Siya Zama GVK Building and Renovation who are also busy with the Colonial Building in Church Street.

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