Commercial development damages Heritage Building – news article by R.Moodley – Crit News
Heritage for heritage sake often results in static environments that serve the name rather than the people of a city. Heritage for people’s sake has much more dynamic and profound results. Like many old buildings, 849 Chris Hani Road in Red Hill tells layered stories serving as a reminder, a challenge and a memorial. However, unlike many other heritage buildings it has formed and been formed by the communities around it, posing possibilities for re-imagining public buildings. Its destruction raises questions about who is building our city and what space making in
neighbourhoods means in an age of commercial developers.
In January 1905, land on then North Coast Road was bought for R130 to build the Greenwood Park and Redhill Presbytarian Church- a wood and iron building that was the first Presbytarian church in Durban North. The ‘tin temple’ was consecrated on 10 February 1906 to cater for the growing suburb.Since its inception as a church, the building has been used as a warehouse, carpenters workshop, a Swiss Stone Mason’s shop and a community arts centre.
In 1995 Leonie Hall and Rodney Choromanski, a young artist and architect respectively, restored the building and founded the arts centre called Studio 849. It operated for two and a half years asserting art’s ability to empower citizens. Its placement at the beginning of new democratic era linked the studio to projects like the BAT Center in its vision for bridging gaps and celebrating cultural diversity.The project attracted large media coverage, assisting over one thousand students from all ages and cultures within the area and surrounding communities. Its heritage value, position along a main road and quaint aesthetic made it the perfect spot for demonstrating how buildings with public identities can enrich communities.
Once the arts centre closed down, the Swiss Stone Mason once again took over the building, preserving the heritage and using it for the display and sale of tomb stones. He eventually sold and immigrated.
Driving past the site today, you will see the building destroyed and covered by a commercial development in the community.
Instead of destruction, incorporating the tin temple in the form of a public entrance, gallery or workshop could have not only retained social and heritage value, but also presented possibilities of how a business and the community it is in could interact and be mutually enriching.
We cannot afford to lose these places of possibility to insensitive practice at this time in our country’s history. For architecture to reflect people rather than capital we need to explore innovative ways of making public spaces, commercial viability and heritage work together.
Choromanski, R. October 2016. 849 Chris Hani (North Coast) Rd., Redhill, Durban North. [email]
Choromanski, R. 2017. Studio 849. Interview with R. Moodley on 21 April. Durban.
Davis, A. et al. 2003. Not Consumed: Presbyterianism Into the Canefields. Accessed online on 24 April 2017 at http://www.ndpchurch.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Whole-book.pdf
Shevlin, I. April 1997. Sunday Tribune: The OtherMag. Art and Soul.