The Old Government Office is situated at the western termination of Charlotte Maxeke Street (former Maitland Street), the main street of Bloemfontein. The building forms part of the numerous institutional and other buildings dating back to the 19th and 20th centuries.
The history of the Government Building is long and complicated. Originally completed in 1877, it was added to, altered, burnt-down and rebuilt. The last remodeling was done by the Government architect Frank Taylor, in a style described as “Modern Renaissance”. Parts of the original structure remained and were incorporated into Taylor’s project. The open courtyard and a portion of the west wing of the building which was designed by Sir Herbert Baker and Francis Massey, were kept. The courtyard is interesting, as it refers to the government-style architecture that Baker had developed over the years based on Cape Dutch architecture. Hence the fact that this courtyard is executed in plaster painted white, with simplified moldings and columns.
The ROODT* Partnership was approached in the early 1990s to undertake a repair and renovation program, mainly dealing with damage caused by blocked gutters and downpipes and the concomitant weathering and rotting of eave ceilings and damages to finishes, due to leaking. After the architect prepared a comprehensive report on the history of the building and a room by room survey, the Provincial Administration was convinced that a more comprehensive approach to the project should be taken.
Apart from general renovation, certain functional changes and alterations had to be implemented, because the building was, since 1973, used by NALN, a repository created for the housing and collection of Afrikaans literature.
The artifacts associated with famous writers such as, books, magazines, even furniture and an organ, had to be accommodated. As the upper storey of the building has wooden floors, maximizing these areas for storage was difficult because of the weight of the items to be stored.
We proposed to erect three fireproof storage safes in the courtyard area. This space was marred by injudicious alterations which could now be removed.
The space, or what remained of it, known as the 3rd Raadzaal, was reinstated by removing a mezzanine floor inserted somewhere later in the 20th century. This space could now be utilized by the museum for literary functions, and linked with the courtyard area where film screenings could be held on summer evenings. The blank façade of the storage magazines would act as a projection screen.
Today, the museum also houses a collection of Sesotho literature.
The long and complicated architectural and political history associated with the Old Government Offices has resulted in a palimpsest.
It was therefore decided, that arguing for the building to be restored to a particular period was impractical, and furthermore, the building formed a concrete document of the eventful periods of its existence as successive architects changed the building to fit the architectural language of the day and altered the building to accommodate the functional requirements of that period.
The existing fabric was repaired and original material retained as far as possible. Certain functional changes were made, in many cases, reversible. The provision of ablution facilities, much disliked by Herbert Baker, had to be provided according to the regulations governing public buildings. These include access and facilities for people with disabilities. The additions made to the courtyard area were executed in a contemporary fashion to clearly distinguish the newer work from the existing.