OH Tours: Hans Niehaus Gallery
On Thursday last week, thanks to OH Thursdays, I was lucky enough to snoop inside a building that has always intrigued me – the decades-long work in progress that is Hans Niehaus Gallery on Vineyard Road in Claremont.
Apologies for some of the poor photos (I only had my phone camera with me).
The Cape Town firm of Uytenbogaardt and Rozendal are well known for their architecture, but the Hans Niehaus Gallery building is believed to be Norbert Rozendal’s only solo architectural work.
There’s no electricity in the building at the moment, so while there was still evening light, the group who had signed up for this OH Thursdays tour poked around the gallery, workshop space and storage upstairs.
It is very unfinished – the rough walls stacked with exquisite antique doors and cabinets, and every corridor and niche is shored up with tools and objects. Yet the beams and the glass clerestories make it clear that this place is so close to being somewhere sublimely beautiful, but is still interrupted and unfulfilled, just waiting to be fully realised.
Eventually, we gathered at the yard at the back, where architects Ilze Wolff and Robert Silke addressed the group, and then we listened as Hans Niehaus relate a meandering tale of perseverance and commitment (and possibly obsession) that is this building. I took notes as he spoke, but it is possible that I do not have all my facts perfectly straight. Please feel free to leave corrections in the comments section:
Hans Niehaus Gallery has been a work in progress since 1980, when Niehaus and Norbert Rozendal bought the land, although actual construction only started in the mid-nineties after years of battling with council about setbacks and other niggles.
Over the next two decades, construction has been constantly hampered by a lack of funds, and then also by Rozendal’s untimely death, but Hans Niehaus was determined to finish the building. As the light faded, he told tales of a decade spent doggedly sitting out battles with council, until recalcitrant councillors died or retired, and about how the bricks for one wall were funded by the sale of gold coins, and the sale of some rare cartoons funded another section.
Last year, the building had to be auctioned off, as business was bad, money was short, and rates payments were badly behind. Things were looking dark for this unfulfilled dream. However, we were glad to hear tentative hopefulness expressed that this work-in-progress will be completed by the purchaser, who appears sensitive to its provenance, and the vision so long held alive by Norbert Rozendal and Hans Niehaus may yet be seen through to completion.
Thanks so much to Ilze Wolff of OH Architecture and her team, who organised this tour in collaboration with the local chapter of do.co,mo.mo_, as they work to preserve contemporary architectural heritage.