SAOTA and Jaco Booyens Architect won the gold medal at the seventh edition of the International Domus Restoration and Conservation Award in Italy for the restoration of heritage buildings on Buffelsdrift Farm in the Western Cape.

The award, conceived and promoted by Fassa S.r.l. and by the University of Ferrara, was announced via a live streaming event on 2 July. The award recognises “excellence in the field of restoration, redevelopment and architectural and landscape recovery at an international level”. This year, the award extended to almost all continents with more than 73 contributions, including several European and non-European countries, among the most distant were China, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, USA and Russia.

Buffelsdrift Farm is located west of Ladismith in the arid Klein Karoo region. The restoration involved a cluster of Cape buildings in a valley beneath the Swartberg mountain range, consisting of a main house and two barns, plus a store. A short way off is a flat-roofed building, typical of the Ladismith style, which was originally used as a wine store. Other structures on the property include a contemporary shed, a cottage further up a hill and a graveyard. The house, barns and wine store were all restored.

Different cultures, building techniques

The Buffelsdrift Farm is a building characteristic of South African culture, born by the mixture of different cultures and building techniques. It consists of multiple buildings dating back to the mid-nineteenth century inserted within a large agricultural property, again arranged and replanted. The original buildings, made of raw earth, had undergone numerous alterations both in coatings and in covers, and, overall, due to inconsistent additions.

The restoration tended to overcome these inconsistencies, returning, however, to the use of traditional construction techniques. The walls, where incomplete, were reinstated with raw earth and re-plastered according to local methods, and the roof pitch, covered with sheet metal in recent times, has been reconfigured according to the original straw technique, made with local plant materials.

SAOTA director Greg Truen, who acquired the farm in 2016, notes that while minor additions and modern alterations had been made to the buildings, the original house, was “in good condition, considering” and that the barns were “fundamentally untouched”.

“We looked for contemporary materials that spoke to the original materials,” says Truen. “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,” adds Booyens.

For more information on winners, click here.