Architects on mission to stop demolition of ‘iconic’ Durban home

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Architects on mission to stop demolition of ‘iconic’ Durban home

The derelict house, once owned by a pioneering architect, has historical significance, they argue

Senior reporter
Kirk White of the SA Institute of Architects' heritage committee in KwaZulu-Natal at the derelict house they want to save.
In ruins Kirk White of the SA Institute of Architects' heritage committee in KwaZulu-Natal at the derelict house they want to save.
Image: Sandile Ndlovu

A group of Durban architects are fighting to save an iconic home - regarded as a “modernist architectural gem” - from being demolished by the owner who has plans to develop the site into a healthcare facility.

The heritage committee of the SA Institute of Architects in KwaZulu-Natal has rallied support from the architectural and heritage fraternity nationally to object to the owner consolidating the property with his neighbouring site for future development.

Located on Glenwood Drive, in the precinct of some of the city’s private hospitals, the house was the home of architect Barrie Biermann, who taught architecture at the University of KwaZulu-Natal until he died in 1991.

The committee’s Kirk White said letters of objection had been submitted to the city’s town planning department and they had called on the provincial heritage authority, the KZN Amafa and Research Institute, to declare the house a heritage site.

“We are pretty much in a defensive campaign to save the house from demolition because of its iconic status.

“At a time when everybody was building little suburban boxes, colonial houses in white SA during the 1960s, this was a modernist building, which broke all traditions.”

White described Biermann as a “pioneering academic” who introduced Durban to courtyard living.

“Amafa has appointed me to do a survey of the condition of the house. The owner has given me access to the house; there has been no resistance,” he said.

White said that if Amafa declared the home a heritage site it would become a residential monument.

“For the owner it could be a burden without any privileges. In many ways heritage status is a restriction to property ownership.

We are pretty much in a defensive campaign to save the house from demolition because of its iconic status.
Kirk White, architect

“If the house is protected the owner will not have a right to develop,” said White.

Ros Devereux, head of Amafa’s built environment section, said the committee had made a submission for the Biermann House to be protected as a heritage site.

“This nomination is under consideration and will be forwarded through the required processes.

“Amafa has also considered a demolition permit application that has been refused due to the architectural heritage value of the house,” she said.

Devereux said Biermann bought an existing house which is believed to have been built in the 1930s.

“This house formed the basis for his extraordinary construction, but three outer walls of the original building still remain, so the house is effectively over 60 years of age anyway.

“It is for this reason that the current owner had to submit a permit application to the KZN Amafa and Research Institute for the demolition of this house.

“Although the house is unique, it is not the first nomination for protection of buildings under 60 years of age – Amafa has already agreed to the protection of the Nedbank building in Anton Lembede Street, which is not yet over 60 years of age, and there are a number of younger award-winning buildings that are under consideration for protection.” 

Owner Nithia Madurai told Sunday Times Daily he bought the property “without setting foot on it”.

“When I purchased this site, which adjoined my other site, I drove up there ... took one look at it and told my finance manager to buy it.

“It’s been over two years now and I have not set foot in the building. I have no clue what it looks like.

“I have been told by my maintenance group that the building is dilapidated. My intention was to consolidate at some point in time.”

Madurai said he had plans to develop a medical facility that would compliment the hospital precinct.

“I had no clue about the historical value; to be honest the previous owners did not share any of that with us.

If people want to protect the building they must take on the project and pay for it.
Nithia Madurai, owner

“I can’t stop anyone from challenging this.

“To me it is just a vacant site, but I didn’t realise there was historical value. I was totally surprised.

“The consultant who offered to run with the process of consolidating the two sites is in receipt of the list of objections.

“He did indicate to me that it is his responsibility to formally respond.”

Madurai said he would take legal advice on his investment.

“I don’t have the time to fight tooth and nail. Not that I don’t appreciate heritage, but for me there has to be logic.

“The place is unsavoury right now. If people want to protect the building they must take on the project and pay for it,” he said.

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