By Candace Sofianos King

Leading construction stakeholders pay homage to a little old church on a hill.

Continuing an age-old promise made decades ago by one man of faith, a team of well-respected construction role players joined forces to restore the weathered structure of a quaint 80-year-old church.

In 2014 Lead Architects undertook a development masterplan of the Albini Mission Station situated in Ntshongweni, KwaZulu-Natal for the Catholic Archdiocese. Renowned construction company F Verbaan Construction, roofing contractor GWR Roofing and brick supplier Use-it teamed up in the rebuilding and restoration of this historical site, which is recognised by the KwaZulu-Natal provincial heritage conservation agency Amafa.

Honouring the site’s rustic appeal, the restoration project preserved its aesthetic properties and breathed new life into the structure through a modern and rapid reconstruction approach following extensive community engagement and heritage approval.


Still standing, the Albini Church was built in 1938. Credit: GWR Roofing

Restoring the faith

Amanda Lead of Lead Architects was responsible for creating and designing the extension of the Albini Church, while Morrissey Engineers and RMI Quantity Surveyors formed part of the professional team for this project.

“A bigger church was required for this growing parish – currently it only seats 90 people and is used mainly by the mission residents,” says Lead. “The aim is to increase the space to hold a capacity of 450 people, which is indicative of the communities’ needs.”

Of the three concepts that were proposed by Lead, the client proceeded with the option that preserves as much of the original church structure as possible in the centre of the site. Part of the original building needed to be demolished to make way for the large extension, however, the footprint of the original building is evident in the internal flooring. This forms a large enough space for priests to meet in an area that is considered to garner historical and religious importance.

According to Lead, the most challenging aspect of the design was scale as adding a vast amount of space without dwarfing the existing church was tricky. The design and construction of the roof was the main contributor in eliminating this challenge – consistent eave heights and manipulating the roof pitch played the volume down. “This is the main reason that the construction of the roof was so important for the success of the project. We are fortunate to have had such experienced contractors working on it – it looks incredible,” enthuses Lead.

New lease on life

Responsible for converting the architectural vision into reality is local builder F Verbaan Construction. Purchasing manager Warren Verbaan explains, “Special consideration had to be given to the building to ensure that the original structure in its existing state was maintained and that existing fittings and finishes are restored.”

Materials that are considered structurally compromised were replaced with the same materials or similar to those historically used. Special Rambricks, which are manufactured using a compressed clay method, were used for the construction of this heritage site.

“Laying these bricks with a bonding slurry is a labour-intensive process executed by specially trained staff,” notes Verbaan. It was also agreed that community members would be involved in the building process of the iconic site. Other special considerations such as custom-made window frames built to maintain the unique original window shapes were also one of the challenges the teams faced. In the absence of lintels, these lightweight steel frames were also designed to support the Rambricks.

Being a sensitive heritage site, the church required the utmost care to ensure that the team complied with the original 1938 architectural appeal of the building. With the onsite work having rapidly progressed, the current phase of the project is set for completion in September 2018.

Historic finish

The roof construction project is divided into two sections, a new section which comprises of a steel structure with loose rafters bolted to the steel IPE, and the roof of the remains of


NHBRC members inspecting the Albini construction site. Credit: GWR Roofing

the original church which comprises of prefabricated trusses. “Due to Amafa specifications, the roof installation has been challenging. The original building is not square nor is it level; even the original wall plate heights vary significantly,” says Andrew Gove, industry roofing specialist and director at GWR Roofing.

“Rafter bearing trusses had to be designed and installed to counter these inconsistencies as well as tie into a perfectly level and square new building, while maintaining a smooth transition between old and new with special consideration to the raked ceilings inside the church. It is very good to know that these old buildings in the rural areas are also being preserved. We are very proud to be part of this project and enjoyed finding solutions to the various challenges we came across as we progressed,” highlights Gove.

Special mention and thanks is given to Global Roofing Solutions that generously supplied the roof sheeting coil at cost price, rolled the Victorian-profiled sheeting and delivered to site free of charge.

Uniting a community

In addition to erecting the Albini Church roof and in line with its vision of creating growth and training opportunities, GWR Roofing assisted the Institute for Timber Construction South Africa (ITC-SA) by opening the site to an ITC-SA training initiative that recently had inspectors from the National Home Builders Registration Council (NHBRC) learn the details of erecting and inspecting the installation of a timber roof structure.

NHBRC members inspected the Albini construction site, led by Nicky Naidoo, ITC-SA KwaZulu-Natal regional coordinator, who explained the finer details of roofing. Being a work in progress site, Naidoo was showcased GWR Roofing’s work to explain the good practice and standards to which GWR Roofing is held accountable.

Bracing, installation of roof trusses and structure stability were topics that formed part of this practical training outing. “We took the NHBRC members to this particular site as it was a structure well outside the norm. It is a difficult roof to erect and GWR Roofing has the experience and expertise to complete a project of this nature. Their team deserves credit for the work done on this site,” says Naidoo.

The development and building teams conclude that this project has been both challenging and stimulating. It has stretched the parameters and offered new learning opportunities within the industry. It has indeed been a catalyst for change.

Albini’s roots

The Ntshongweni Mission Station was born out of a faithful promise made by Friar (Fr) Wagner in 1939 when he was serving for France in the Second World War. His covenant was to achieve something significant as a thanksgiving for sparing his life should he survive the war. Following his release from service he returned to Ntshongweni in 1943 and, true to his word, established a mission station with himself as the permanent priest to the original Albini Church which was built in 1938. He also established the Ntshongweni Boarding School for those who travelled a great distance. In 1970, Fr Wagner passed away but his legacy was continued by Fr J Codognes. The mission was further developed to include a school and boarding establishments.