Sin Bin spirited away

Published 2/3, 2017 at 14:22

Second to football, the sport of rugby is spectacularly popular in South Africa. One of its most internationally cherished venues is Loftus Versfeld Stadium in South Africa’s capital, Pretoria, also known as Tshwane. With the surroundings of this venerated combat venue about to be rejuvenated, some tender loving care was required for one particular building, and demolition came to the rescue. PDi Africa editor Kevin Mayhew blows the whistle.

The Blue Bulls Rugby Union, overseers of Loftus Versfeld Stadium and the local provincial rugby team known as the Blue Bulls, sold the land adjoining the stadium to equal partners, property developer Abland and development company Pivotal Property Fund.  Abland and the BBRU agreed on a mixed-use office and retail development, Loftus Park that would benefit sport in the long term.

However, a little nostalgia got into the mix.  Behind the north stand of the stadium was the Sin Bin, a pub opened on game days as a gathering area before and after great contests for a pint or two.  It had originally been constructed as the clubhouse for the local tennis club over 60 years ago before eventually becoming the watering hole for rugby on game days.

The sin bin reference is not only to it being a place of imbibing sinful alcohol, but also refers to the area during any 80min rugby game reserved for yellow or red carded players to sit out their penalty time for an extreme infraction.

Change to the area surrounding the stadium was okay, but the Sin Bin had to remain.  In South Africa any building over 60 years old is protected under national, provincial or municipal law, but it was also part of the history and folklore of this proud rugby franchise.

So what to do?

Three possibilities were presented to the Provincial Heritage Resources Authority Gauteng to preserve the building.

One was to suspend it over its traditional location, move it a few hundred metres away and then replace it back where it belonged in the new environment and spruce it up.

The second was to retain the building on an earth pedestal in the middle of the excavation site as the office parks, gymnasium and restaurant area took shape around it.

The third was to dismantle it tile by tile, brick by brick, truss by truss and store it in a safe place to be reassembled in pride of place for the rugby faithful and future users of the new park.

For structural, safety and financial reasons the third option got the nod and so the dismantling began. It took only a week, most of it at night to minimise annoyance for the surrounding residents or disrupting normal daytime commercial and school activities.

Presently what was a vibrant assembly area for rugby enthusiasts lies in a secret location awaiting resurrection as a feature piece of the stadium’s adjoining Loftus Park.

Once in place in the embrace of modernity it will be renamed The Clubhouse, which will be a full restaurant and pub.  To maintain the link with the days of old for the Loftus Versfeld faithful the relocated haven will contain an historical record of its past by way of a pictorial representation of its heritage, dismantling and then comeback.

Preservation of buildings in situ, or even moving them to other locations, is becoming common in South Africa as the country’s heritage, manifested in buildings, potentially stands in the way of development to meet current and future needs.  As with this decision compromises are reached and, ironically, modern demolition methods come to the rescue of preservation.

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