Historical Pretoria building undergoes revamp

Situated among several historically and architecturally significant buildings such as the the Post Office on Church Square, the Central Government Offices is a perfect example of the style used for government buildings during the 1920s and 30s.

In 2009, more than 80 years since its construction, the department needed to be consolidated under one roof. This, coupled with the fact that the building had reached a point in its lifespan where it no longer complied to modern building regulations, meant extensive upgrades and expansion were necessary. The multi-million rand project was awarded to specialist contractor GVK-Siya Zama.

In September, after two years of refurbishments and extensions, the building was handed back to the department.

The original eight-level building, including the basement, was designed by JS Cleland, who was chief architect of the Public Works Department for the Union of South Africa at the time. His designed numerous hospitals, memorials and government buildings, including Groote Schuur Hospital, the universities of Pretoria and Pietermaritzburg, the Transvaal Museum and the South African National Gallery.

The building was constructed using a steel structure imported from the UK. This was erected complete, prior to any associated structure being commenced, and was a fairly revolutionary method for the period. Photographic records show that the columns were then encased in concrete with light, mild steel stirrups to bind the concrete encasement. The steel tie beams were similarly encased with 100mm-thick lightly reinforced slabs in between.

In keeping with the architectural style of his day, which was focused on developing something uniquely South African, Cleland borrowed elements from various other styles. He used combinations of red brick, plastered and colonnaded facades. All of the windows and doors were handcrafted from indigenous hardwood, as were the architraves, skirtings and sills. The result was more than 1 000 offices in a floor area exceeding 6 000m².

The renovation and expansion of the building has been a landmark project for GVK-Siya Zama due to the size and complexity of the work involved. The scope of work ranged from improvements to existing finishes and construction of new elements, to extensive restoration.
The first phase entailed the complete refurbishment of all internal floor space. This comprised the installation of 14 new lifts in existing shafts, two new shafts and lifts and a new air-conditioning system. Upgrades were made to the water supply and reticulation system as well as to the electrical system. The department went to great lengths to ensure the installation of energy efficient and environmentally friendly systems. Parquet flooring was refurbished, new carpeting was laid throughout existing office areas, a marmolinium floor covering was applied to all corridors and staircases and the ironmongery was upgraded.

A later wing of the building had been constructed using composite steel and asbestos. It was demolished, removed and replaced with a composite steel and concrete structure, clad with a glazed curtain wall.

The basement areas, which were originally storerooms and utility areas, were converted into a parking area with a pedestrian tunnel linking it to the reception lobby.

To amalgamate the different buildings, steel and glass bridges were created to link wings at various levels and improve the flow of traffic in the complex.
An additional floor was created for ministerial staff.

GVK-Siya Zama group managing director Dumisani Madi said: "Our extensive experience with working on heritage buildings as well as the construction of new works served us well."
He said the company refurbished more than 1 000 offices while simultaneously carrying on with regular construction of the additions in other areas.

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