The 1940’s and fifties, spawned many popular songs with the most obtuse lyrics before they were eventually displaced by Rock n Roll. Bing Crosby’s “You could be Swinging on a Star” was one. Another by the Andrews Sisters called ‘Money is the root of all evil’, had a lyric that could almost be interpreted as allegorical rather than just amusing and the blatant message expressed in the latter was, and today remains, an eternal truth.
Sadly money is the root of the loss of many of our heritage buildings and though we have inspired heritage legislation to protect our old buildings it does not work. Why? (Click on the images for details).
Unlike the Vintage Car in “The reason Why”, which can simply change owners, a “heritage site” cannot be driven away to another location. Unfortunately, this may be the reason why many heritage sites have been lost or irrevocably transformed beyond recognition. Monetary factors rather than a site’s aesthetic or historic value to society is often the main reason for their loss.
Heritage’s Ultimate Weapon (or is it?) The Compulsory Repair Order
Our Heritage Agencies have a secret weapon which is embodied in section Section 45.1 of the National Heritage Resources Act :- the “Compulsory Repair Order”. However, it is so secret they rarely use it and only the most conscientious and dedicated heritage practitioner, who is hired by the client concerned, will recommend such action. It could open the door for extensive litigation and at the same time close the door for the brave practitioner’s further participation. However, at the same time it could conceivably open the door to a “lesser principled” and “more understanding” practitioner who may be prepared to “fudge” the mandatory report at a price !
A Case of who has the biggest teeth.
Trying to out-stare a large oil or insurance company’s investment/ development department, or the like, with unlimited resources, is a daunting prospect and hence the compulsory repair order is rarely if ever used without significant compromise. The party with the biggest teeth will always win.
The “Sixty Year” Bonanza.
We all get older, so does every building and they, like us, eventually reach the age of 60. For for them and us, age has its challenges. One can view retirement as a slow down hill road to the cemetery or as a time to do all the things that a busy career has prevented and if health is on your side with a bit of medical attention, you could still have a long way to go!
For a building it’s a “milestone” and if it is a “listed building’ or considered as having heritage value, any alterations or re-zoning of the property will be subject to a Heritage Report to be commissioned by the owner and completed by a qualified Heritage Practitioner as required by Sect 38 (2) of the NHRA which must then be submitted to the heritage authorities for assessment, who will also charge a fee before it is passed to our planning authorities for approval. (Could this smell of conflicts of interest?)
If indeed the heritage aspects of a building are preserved by disallowing changes to the facade or exterior in general, by negotiation, it may be acceptable to upgrade some of the interior beyond recognition and build multiple stories above the building on the original footprint.
The lowest hanging fruit will be the first choice of the Developers and a host of “professional heritage practitioners” will follow. Hence, a lot of dubious development in the CBD has already happened - some good some bad and possibly worse to come!
This has been done within Cape Town’s CBD. For example the TAJ Hotel, previously the BOE Building which has had several stories added which is obviously very profitable for the owners, Engineers, Architects and Heritage Practitioners who prepared the Heritage Reports and supervised and ensured the heritage integrity of the completed project. This policy has only been applied by our planners gradually since the promulgation of the NHRA in 1999 and many important buildings are likely to have been lost to be replaced by buildings of dubious heritage or aesthetic value to our Mother City. A sword of Damocles hangs over buildings approaching sixty years of age and it is a great inducement for developers to snap up sites for redevelopment before the sword falls, otherwise the chances of greater profit for all concerned will be compromised.
A nation that turns its back on its history, the lessons and experiences of the past, good or bad, undermines the foundations of its future.