Notre Dame fire shows value of upkeep

Notre Dame puts the spotlight on importance of maintaining heritage buildings

With the disaster at Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral still fresh in our memories and plans to refurbish one of France’s most popular tourist attractions begin, heritage building refurbishment contractor, Indawo, confirms that older structures demand meticulous attention to detail as part of an ongoing maintenance plan to keep heritage buildings in a state of good repair.

Indawo managing director, Geoffrey Jäck, confirms that building methodologies of centuries ago were vastly different from today. Modern demands on these buildings place enormous pressure on their structural integrity. The relentless flow of tourists takes its toll on structures, once strong, but when aged, grow weaker.

“We often find modern building materials do not match, in aesthetics or functionality, those used hundreds of years ago,” he says. “Adapting newer materials is required to ensure old and new combine seamlessly without losing the architect’s aesthetic intentions. This requires tailored solutions to ensure consistency in design.”

Contractors of yesteryear, while taking safety into consideration, could not have foreseen the demands of the 21st century with its associated risks including health and safety and the intense pressure placed on cities from burgeoning populations. Modern construction considers fire risks on top of health and safety dangers.

Indawo’s refurbishment of heritage buildings, especially in the Western Cape, all required tailored solutions. In the case of Cape Town’s City Hall, a new roofing solution included imported Spanish slate tiles, which closely matched the original to maintain its original design.

The Clock Tower at the V&A Waterfront was repainted using the same original colours of its intended aesthetic finish.

Die Groote Kerk in Cape Town was redecorated, which involved intricate work around old installations such as the world-renowned organ.

The South African Jewish Museum required extreme care. Old artifacts, often one-of-a-kind, priceless pieces were handled carefully. Painting around fragile exhibits and fittings demanded a team that understood the value of the work they were doing.

Nazareth House, still occupied by the original tenants of the late 1800’s, the Sisters of Nazareth, also received a total building refurbishment. Great care was taken to ensure the original structure was adapted for the restoration.

Many of the Western Cape’s universities date back many years. Restoring them demands not only care in restoration, but also minimal disruption to the student learning process. These include Huis Jannie Marais, Die Kweekskool and Die Ou Hoofgebou at the University of Stellenbosch, all restored to retain their original aesthetics and architects’ design intentions.

“Heritage projects demand unique attention to detail,” continues Jäck. “When restoring the Notre Dame Cathedral after the fire, the contractor should have knowledge of the history of the building and an ability to restore the structure to its original. Part of heritage buildings’ tourism appeal is their ability to take visitors back in time to experience the culture and lifestyles of yesteryear, which makes these buildings vital to any country’s tourist attraction.”

What can cause of structural deterioration, is a lack of maintenance at heritage sites. Continuous inspection of heritage structures is a critical to any maintenance plan, as is keeping the buildings neat and free of environmental attacks on the structural integrity.

“Important to note,” says Jäck, “is that even when projects are completed with the utmost of care, accidents can, and still, happen. It is always recommended to use contractors who understand the critical part that health and safety plays in terms compliance to all regulations and legislation.

Indawo recommends regular inspections, more so than recently constructed structures as deterioration of old buildings tends to speed up as they age.

For more information on heritage building refurbishment, contact Indawo on 021 941 5000 or email