Restoration architect dies

Cape Times Centenary Medal awarded to Jan Corewijn.

Well-known restoration architect, Jan Corewijn from Hout Bay, passed away on Sunday August 2 after losing his battle with cancer.

Jan, who was born in Belgium but launched his career as a restoration architect at Munnik, Visser, Black & Fish in Cape Town, lived on a picturesque smallholding in Hout Bay that was littered with examples of his extraordinary productivity as an artist, sculptor and restoration architect. It should be turned into a museum.

His initial work was on the Sending Gestig in Loop Street, Nova Constantia and the Iziko South African Museum and continued, with Fagan Architects, with mural, furniture and building restoration at Boschendal, restoration of the extravagant Victorian interior of the Coetzenberg Rugby Club, reconstruction work at Koopmans De Wet Museum, and the restoration of antique furniture at Newlands House.

Over the years his work continued at the Lutheran Church in Sybrand Street, where he restored the vestry and organ and replaced the historic weather vane, to the South African Library, restoring the complex vented copper dome, to the Dutch Reformed Church in Stellenbosch, where he restored the clock face and gilding.

Other restoration work was carried out on the Slave Church in Paarl, Freemason Lodge at Stalplein, the Drostdy in Graaff-Reinet, and at Tuynhuis, where he reconstructed the decorative plaster work.

One of his main contracts, through Fagan Architects, was at Cape Town Castle where he replaced the lion sculptures at the entrance and the gargoyles inside with replicas (and placed the originals in the museum) and also restored the Kat Balcony and the Lady Anne Barnard Fountain.

His work continued at the Slave Lodge in Adderley Street, Groot Constantia, the Old Town House, Groote Schuur Manor House, the Mount Nelson Hotel, the Palace Barracks in Simon’s Town, Groote Schuur Hospital, where he restored the Lady of the Lamp sculpture, Robben Island, restoring the prison wall paintings, Queen’s Hall in Parliament, and at many other historic locations.

He embarked on a new adventure when he made a range of interactive displays for the MTN ScienCentre at Canal Walk, now known as the Cape Town Science Centre in Observatory, and played a major role in designing and making a six-metre tall, fully functional replica of the famous Elephant Water Clock, originally made by the 11th century Islamic engineer, Al-Jazari, which is now on prominent display in the Ibn Battuta Mall in Dubai.

Among Jan’s many other projects, was the design and manufacture, with a team from Cape Town and Luanda, of a giant commemorative statue which is on display in the Angolan capital. Jan was also an accomplished painter and sculptor in his own right and trained a legion of artisans in restoration work.

I last saw Jan about three weeks before he died.

Although he was suffering terribly from cancer, his eyes lit up when he described to me the many exciting projects in which he was still engaged and we paged through the scrapbooks that document his amazing contributions to the restoration of historic buildings and monuments in South Africa.

He deserves to have a monument erected in his honour.