Local architect wins gold at Conservation Awards

The expert restoration of a cluster of historical farm buildings in the Klein Karoo has bagged a South African architect and a leading architectural firm a coveted gold medal in an international awards programme.

Jaco Booyens, who lives in Robertson, Western Cape, says: “Winning this feels a bit like winning the Olympics or the World Championships. It was totally unexpected and came as a huge surprise.”

Robertson architect Jaco Booyens and Saota won a gold medal for their restoration of the ensemble of heritage buildings and for landscape recovery at Buffelsdrift at the seventh edition of the International Domus Restoration and Conservation Awards. The awards were announced online through a live streaming event. 

The judging panel had to work through entries from 73 contributing countries including China, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Russia and the USA. Only two gold medals were awarded, which makes this an incredible achievement for South African architecture. The second gold medal went to Giorgio Forti and Ilaria Forti for the restoration of the façade of the church of Santa Maria Di Nazareth (Vulgo Degli Scalzi).

“To honour the heritage of the existing buildings, materials were carefully selected to ensure that a little of the construction history is visible, showcasing elements of how these buildings were originally put together.” – Jaco Booyens on the approach that netted them the gold.

It took Booyens and the Saota team four years to complete the winning project. Buffelsdrift Farm, a large agricultural estate, is located west of Ladismith in the Klein Karoo. The farm buildings are structurally typical of South African culture, born of the intermingling of different cultures and building techniques. They are made up of several constructions dating from the mid-nineteenth century. The original buildings, made of poured earth, had undergone several modifications to the plastering and roofing. Incongruous additions had also been made to the whole.

The restoration project attempted to clear such incongruities and restore the buildings with the aid of traditional construction techniques. The broken-down walls were restored and re-plastered by using clay and local techniques. In the same way, a broad roof pitch, that had recently been covered with a corrugated metal sheet, was reconfigured and rethatched in the time-honoured way with local plant materials. The result is particularly convincing in the redefinition of the volumes within a natural landscape that is an integral part of the design. Winning this competition is another example of South Africa being able to compete internationally in any field.

Booyens was impressed with the diversity of the projects entered. “I especially enjoyed the project from Haratori office Switzerland (silver medal) which involved the repurposing of an airy old barn as a technical office and the Zhujiadian brick kiln Museum (honourable mention), an entree from China. To be valued as an equal entree to the other gold medal for the Restoration of the façade of the church Santa Maria di Nazareth in Venice by Giorgio Forti, Ilaria Forti is an enormous honour. The work is so intricate that they spent the last 11 years on their project.”