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The Campanile Restoration
Drawings, plans, elevations
The Port Elizabeth Campanile, which is currently a Grade II heritage asset. was designed by local architect W. J. McWilliams of Jones and McWilliams and erected in 1923 to commemorate the centenary of the landing of the British Settlers in 1820. The Campanile comprises 53.5m high, 9 floor tower, constructed of load bearing brickwork in a square plan form that flares out at its base. It culminates in a small temple-like structure containing the largest carillon of bells in the country, 25 in all. It can be reached by climbing the renowned 204 step spiral staircase. Being exposed to the severe impact of its proximity to the ocean, which often bring wind-driven rain, as well as emissions from cars on the adjacent freeway, were contributing factors to its decay. Almost a century after its construction, the Campanile showed signs of its age and was in need of thorough restoration. The architectural agenda that drives the restoration process is focused on Conservation and Transformation. This culminates in the introduction of contemporary elements that identify the Campanile as an integrated monument relating to a democratic environment. The conservation philosophy is an approach that recognises, respects and conserves the building’s history, while ensuring its longevity. The approach is to do the minimum required (for example; the treatment of brickwork and masonry joints etc.) and interventions are easily identifiable thus not falsifying records. For example: two non-load bearing columns were removed on the Freeway side to enable the extraction of the carillon for off-site restoration purposes. The columns were unfortunately destroyed in the process. They were thus replaced with “symbolic” square floating stainless steel columns, inscribed with the original date of the construction as well as the date of the restoration. The aim was to transform the Campanile from an object celebrating the 1820 Settlers only, to become an inclusive symbol for the city and all of its citizens. The original 23 bells (with inscriptions: one in Afrikaans, one donated by Jewish, one by Irish, and 20 by English descendants) have been complemented by the addition of two new bells, both with Xhosa inscriptions. A new self-supporting lift has been installed so as not to disturb the balance of the existing slender structure. The lift allows for a person of any age or physical disposition to be able to experience the entire building, hence promoting tourism in the City. In line with the philosophy of the intervention, the damaged concrete ridge tiles were replaced with stainless steel replicas, as were the missing tiles on one of the clock faces overlooking the railway station. A large picture window, clad in stainless steel and projecting approximately 400mm beyond the outside face of the existing envelope, was inserted in the place of an existing half-round timber window at the viewing level (just below the carillon level). At the triple volume level, the 'Ghost Bells', which are a Perspex representation of the actual brass bells, are suspended from the salvaged steel members of the original cradle.