By Hans Van Schalkwyk, managing director at Tempkor
One of the oldest original buildings in Pretoria, Gauteng, Tudor Chambers – located adjacent to Church Square – holds a history dating back to 1893.
Tudor Chambers was originally a speculative development intended for street-level retail and luxury offices in the typical high-street or city-centre square fashion.
Coach magnate and businessman George Heys purchased the site in 1893 and set in motion the construction of the building, designed by British architect John Ellis, in 1903. The building was completed with material imported from Scotland by Heys’s own maritime transport company and the building also included Heys’s own offices. It is a three-storey building with a number of single offices and larger ground floor spaces.
Tudor Chamber’s architecture is typical of the late Victorian style but untypical in its place, being an Arts and Crafts Tudor Revival with distinctive Art Nouveau features in the decorative framing of the shopwindows at ground floor retail, and in the brassware furnishings of the three upper storeys.
With its parapets and corner tower it was the tallest building in Pretoria at the time of its construction. Over time, however, the building fell into disrepair, the roof deteriorating to such an extent that the building repeatedly flooded, causing damage to its walls, floors, and ceilings, in addition to the exterior damage sustained by the elements.
The original tower was lost in a windstorm, and it is now commemorated in a newly configured steel structure of lighter construction so as to be less prone to wind load.
The building was purchased in 2007 by Alec Wapnick of City Property, a visionary and exceptional man who has been reported to have made a valuable and significant contribution to property development in Pretoria, Johannesburg, and surrounding areas over the years. This vision regarding constructive development has been taken to the next level by Alec’s son, Jeffrey the current CEO of City Property and he is actively concerned about the wellbeing of his staff and suppliers/contractors alike.
Wapnick Snr, an ardent art lover too, also purchased all the furniture and photographs of the office of JG Heys (No 3 Tudor Chambers) as well as the counter of the maritime transport and insurance company which Heys undertook in the next-door office (No 2 Tudor Chambers). A museologist has restored the furniture and reconstructed the office in Alec Wapnick’s private gallery.
These rooms in the Tudor Chambers building were locked up for a number of years so that nobody actually knew about and were only again discovered during restoration. It was by coincidence that on getting a locksmith out to open the rooms up that they found these rooms to be the personal operational office of George Heys. They were still exactly as left many years before. All of the paperwork still lay in its place as well as all of the furniture, which had been untouched. The transfer of this piece of history is still on display today for guests to experience.
The building restoration started in 2008 for the City Property Group by Gapp Architects & Urban Designers. Nicholas Clarke of Archifacts acted as the heritage consultant to Cultmatrix on the project at the time.
Walking through a building like this is not something easy to translate. Photographs also don’t really do the correct justice. From entering the building, you are embraced by a feeling of being shot back in time with the original building lift, staircases that still have the shiny bronze trim, various stained-glass windows, many beautiful wooden features, and doors, and of course the sound your footsteps make as you pass over floors. You could almost image the bustle that would have been from years ago and the scurry to and fro in the passageways.
HVAC system replacement
The project, that was completed in August 2021 having been initiated in March of that year, comprised the total replacement of the HVAC system.
When the building was restored and upgraded in 2008 from its very dilapidated state, at that point in time it was determined that a variable refrigerant flow (VRF) system would be most suitable and was thus installed.
The control and distribution boxes that form part of that system-type were installed under the wooden floors and in selected closed off bulk heads where it was possible to hide these components away and keep the aesthetics of the old building in focus. Due to the nature of the building – having unique pressed ceilings for one, installation within these spaces could not be achieved.
Over time this proved to become more and more of a challenge because each time maintenance was required it was a big task to access these units because the floors needed to be lifted. Adding to that, from around 2019 sourcing spare parts for this particular VRF system started to become difficult and got to the point where the hassles of this overshadowed the work that needed to be done, and a decision had to ultimately be taken on a replacement system.
There were two options, namely a replacement VRF system or a chilled water system. The space constraints and challenges of the previous VRF system would result in similar future challenges, and the fact that there were not really many other options to hide or disguise the control boxes – even placement in the passageways was considered, but this would take away from the building features, so was declined.
Based on these multiple factors it was decided to rather select the chilled water system as the preferred replacement. Two chillers were installed in an allocated space at the back of the building (the building courtyard) where space allowed. The chiller platform was built at a higher level in the courtyard zone. The two chillers have a capacity of 200kW each. Fancoil units, with capacities ranging from 2.5 to 5.2kW were installed at various locations in the building.
The product selection was based on meeting critical energy efficiency aspects, and the consideration of deploying an environmentally friendly refrigerant – in this case R410a. The chillers, having scroll compressors, have an EER of 2.13, essentially meaning that they produce more than double an output capacity over the input energy. This type of efficiency was also not available in earlier years when the original restoration was done.
Some of the notable project challenges included the erection of scaffolding in the narrow courtyard area to complete the required work at the plant platform. This area is particularly unbalanced and special manoeuvring was necessary as no access other than manpower could reach this space.
Running of the pipework was also a challenge because these had to be hidden as far as possible but with limited ceiling space or the inability to use the pressed ceiling voids as the building owners didn’t want to run the risk of damaging or spoiling these forms of art.
Running the piping in between the floors was also particularly difficult due to the construction of the shell that contained a number of concrete and wooden beams. The pipework installation to the various offices at the floor levels was also particularly challenging, having to complete this inside the building structure in the bulkheads from office to office, and pressure testing as complete.
Unique project elements
As a heritage site, there are several specific protocols around working on (and in) a building such as this. You are not allowed to touch anything on the façades of these buildings as an example, and all work must be under the eye of a heritage consultant that guides the teams through the process in not damaging any elements and not altering the structure in any way other than allowed. The protocols are thus very strict overall.
It is an honour to be able to work on such projects and observe the history that is involved. More care should be taken with other heritage buildings located in the Pretoria and Johannesburg metros, while some of these buildings are in very poor condition and something should be done to get them back to a condition we can all be proud of, not to be seen as an eyesore in the communities – because then the heritage value is removed.
For companies or clients embarking on this type of work, I must urge the use of professional and trustworthy companies because a lot is at stake and can in fact be lost engaging with the wrong teams.
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