North Lodge, declared a National Monument in 1982, is located on the Management Campus, Parktown, of the University of the Witwatersrand. Previously used as a Warden and Students residence, the building has been restored and repurposed to house the Southern Centre for Inequality Studies, a new multi-disciplinary research institute focussing on understanding and addressing inequality in the global South.
North Lodge was built in 1905 for Mr Henry S. Wilson, a produce merchant. Unlike his neighbours on the Parktown Ridge, Henry Wilson was not a ‘Randlord’. He was known as the ‘Oats King’ having made his fortune during the Anglo Boer War by importing and supplying horse feed to the British Army. This fodder was imported from Central America and mixed into it were the seeds of blackjack, khakibos and cosmos, the legacy of which lives on in these alien invader species in South Africa.
Henry Wilson did not occupy the house for long before financial losses caused him to sell and move to a farm in the Orange Free State. Thereafter, the house was owned by W.C.Cuthbert, W.P. Taylor and Scott Schreiber Piercy during the years before the First World War.
Piercy who bought the house in 1913 offered a new cricket ball as a prize to any boy who could hit a ball through the window at North Lodge from the nearby Parktown Prep School. The record does not show whether this was ever done, but fortunately, the beautiful stained glass and leaded pane windows within the house survived this challenge.
The house is an exuberant eclectic collection of styles fashionable in the Edwardian era. It has been described as an architectural fantasy reminiscent of a French Chateaux on the Loire or Baronial castle.
The house is entered from a large curved collonaded “loggia” – verandah space into a double volume reception room/hall which is lit from above by stained glass windows. This space forms the ‘hub’ of the house off which the rooms are accessed. The ground floor of the house consisted of a series of formal rooms; the morning room, drawing room, library, dining room and billiard room serviced by the kitchen and scullery to the back of the house. The ground floor rooms are all wood-panelled with pressed board ceilings, decorative mouldings and feature fireplaces.
Repurposing a heritage asset into a building that is fit for purpose as a modern office environment is an interesting challenge on many levels. Services such as networking and wifi had to be retrofitted in a way that did not affect the existing features and finishes.
The re-use of a house with a deep colonial legacy for an institute dealing with inequality studies provides an interesting narrative within the current decolonization debate as to how buildings can be flexible to change and maintain their value within a new context.