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Free State Legislature - Fourth Raadsaal
Bloemfontein, Free State


Type:Government Buildings
2011SAIA FS Award for Architecture
2012SAIA Award of Merit


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29°06'56.47" S 26°13'03.63" E Alt: 1388m

This is the Restoration and Rehabilitation of the Fourth Raadsaal.

Architect's Notes


The 4th Raadzaal is situated in President Brand Street, Bloemfontein and could probably be considered the crown jewel of the Colonial architecture of the Free State.


The 4th Raadzaal was the official council chamber of the Volksraad of the Free State Republic. The building was designed by Lennox CANNING, who at the same time won the competition for the design of the new Presidency. The building of the Raadzaal was delayed until 1889. The President at that time was FW Reitz. He was particularly attracted to the democratic ideals of the American Constitution, and the capitol-style building designed by Canning, must therefore have appealed to him.

The building went through a number of crises before it was completed in 1892. The stingy Volksraad trimmed the budget to the extent that certain decorative elements like balusters and corner details were constructed with zinc rather than stone. In the interior, the dados were wood-grained (a type of painting technique) rather than real wood. Ironically, today the graining of the walls as well as the zinc ornamentation are testimony to skills that are no longer available.

Originally the Raadzaal consisted of a meeting chamber with a number of ancillary spaces arranged symmetrically on the north and south side of the building.

The members did not, however, stint on the furniture, which was especially designed by the architect and made in Germany.

In 1907 the Government architect TAYLOR, designed an east addition to the 4th Raadzaal in a similar style and constructed with stone. This was the accommodation for the Legislative Council of the Orange River Colony.

The building has remained remarkably intact, and has been used uninterruptedly for the purpose for which it was designed, except for a short period during the Anglo Boer War when wounded soldiers were accommodated here. At present the building is used by the Free State Legislature and regular sitting are held here. The Free State is, however, at present (2011) preparing to construct a new Legislature Complex at Ramkraal in Batho.

Award for Architecture Citation

In an open competition held in 1883, the architect Lennox Canning won the design for the Gouvernementshuis of the Volksraad of the OFS.

Behind the façade crowned by a domed tower, and the temple front with semi-circular porticos which visually extend the colonnade, lies a Greek revival chamber with furniture including the Davenport benches designed by Canning, as well as a number of rooms allocated to the President of the Volksraad and members.

With the advent of the New South Africa, the 4th Raadsaal has become the base of the Free State provincial Legislature. It was in need of restoration and rehabilitation without interruption to the assembly which was to be ongoing throughout the project.

Significantly, the practice of Anton ROODT, whose M.Arch thesis of 1990 had covered the work of Canning, was appointed for the restoration.

As any restoration project should, work on the Raadsaal commenced with making the building sound from the influence of the weather before embarking on the interior restoration including the integration of new communications technology and the provision of new custom-designed furniture in the meeting rooms.

The jury applauded the careful approach to the restoration while giving renewed relevance to this fine historical building during the nation’s transformation.

Award of Merit Citation

Given the restrictions ensconced in the National Heritage Resources Act of 1999, it is always a challenge to assess the extent of creative freedom availed to the architect and the client. At face value, the overall restoration appears to have confidently and convincingly abided by the Act. Visitors are afforded the opportunity to travel back in time and witness the original quality and sense of place. This is interspersed by contemporary modifications of areas clearly trying to satisfy a brief whose spatial uses relate to latter-day needs.

The aforementioned Act requires all that is new to be distinguishable from all that is original; and this has been creatively accomplished. This accomplishment is further attested by how the new conducively complement the original, thereby fulfilling a key core requirement of the Act. The restoration of the building has ensured that a significantly valuable heritage resource has been exquisitely revitalised for current and future generations to continue to benefit from the presence of this landmark as well as the utility of its purpose.

All truncated references not fully cited below are those of Joanna Walker's original text and cited in full in the 'Bibliography' entry of the Lexicon.