The Old Presidency is situated in President Brand Street, and with the original Government Building, forms one of the cornerstones of the impressive group of sandstone and brick buildings in President Brand Street.
The site, on which the Presidency was erected, was also the site on which the original owners of the farm Bloem Fontein, has their home. The site is also known as Lot Number 1.
The Presidency was the official residence of the successive Presidents of the Free State Republic and also of the Governor of the Orange River Colony after the Anglo Boer War. The Free State Republic was a sovereign country with its own administration, Volksraad, laws and currency.
The present building was the result of an international architectural competition that was won by an English architect, Lennox Canning practicing in Queenstown. The house was built during the tenure of President J.H. Brand, later Sir J.H. Brand. He had a large family and this necessitated an expanded program of bedrooms and associated accommodation. Being a gregarious man, frequent dinners and musical events were held at the Presidency.
Soon after its completion, the building had to undergo frequent maintenance, mostly relating to the leaking roof. This was clearly a design problem. In order to diminish the height of the roof, the architect decided to create a large internal flat roof section that suffered problems from blocked internal drainage pipes, and during heavy downpours internal finishes were frequently damaged.
SCOPE OF PROJECT
The repair and renovation work based on the architect’s report of 2002 came approximately 30 years after The Roodt Partnership initially became involved with the restoration of the building.
At the time of the initial restoration, interest in heritage was in its infancy, as was the theory and practice of conservation locally. It was then decided to restore the building, to approximately the date of its original completion in 1885. This meant that the Herbert Baker addition to the north of the original building (1905) was demolished and the large, “piggy-back” roof over the flat sections of the original building’s roof, was also removed.
The same problems of persistent water leaks returned. A lack of maintenance finally led to near disastrous damage to the interior and exterior of the house.
It was therefore agreed that the raised roof section of the building should be returned, as this would, from a practical and historical point of view, make the most sense.
The rest of the work entailed minor work to the garden, repair to damaged finishes in the interior, and the removal of certain elements that were incorrectly added during the initial restoration (e.g. beading “frames” to the dining room walls).
The building is at present a museum, with regular classical music concerts held in the Ballroom. A group, known as The Friends of the Old Presidency, act as unofficial “caretakers” of the building.
The conservation of buildings in South African has probably now reached the stage where buildings that were originally restored are now again in need of serious maintenance and repair. Sadly, many of these buildings do not have any maintenance program, and they are often now in a worse state of disrepair than ever before. The Presidency was comprehensively restored between 1973 and 1983. Some criticism was leveled at the efforts as having being “over restored”. At that stage it was decided to completely reconstruct the sandstone outer walls of the building. The original stone was obtained locally and was of a very poor quality with a high clay content. One could well argue that the structure, in order to retain its authenticity, should have been left intact, but it would probably not have survived another 40 years in its original state.
Therefore, working in a new context on a building that has already been restored, offer different challenges.
In order to present a less confusing historical picture of the Old Presidency, and taking into account the previous work done, it was proposed that the building be restored to circa 1895. Furthermore, in order to deal with additions that were added but later removed, that these are indicated in outline form, using painted steel.