When is the right time to say goodbye to a building when it still has a story to tell?

It was only built to last a year or two, and yet more than eight decades later, it is still there.

The South Africa Pavilion at the 1938 Empire Exhibition in Bellahouston Park. It later became known as Africa House and served as a canteen at the ICI Explosives plant in Ardeer, North Ayrshire, but developers now want to demolish it. PIC: Contributed.
The South Africa Pavilion at the 1938 Empire Exhibition in Bellahouston Park. It later became known as Africa House and served as a canteen at the ICI Explosives plant in Ardeer, North Ayrshire, but developers now want to demolish it. PIC: Contributed.

The South African Pavilion was voted the people’s favourite at the 1938 Empire Exhibition, the traditional lines of the Dutch settlers house winning favour amidst the startling, postmodern landscape that sprung up in Bellahouston Park between May and October that year.

The pavilion was stacked full of exhibits with replica diamonds – including one of the Koh-i-Noor – sitting alongside displays of wool, ostrich feathers, wine and handicrafts of the Bantu people. Scale models of South Africa beauty spots loomed large and an orange bar served freshly squeezed juices. It was quite the draw.

The west elevation of Africa House in 2019. Part of the roof collapsed last summer. PIC:CC/Rosser 1954.

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Such was the love for the building, Aberdeen wanted to ship it north once the exhibition ended and Glasgow too wanted it to be permanent feature. In the end, it went to become a staff canteen on the ICI explosives plant at Ardeer in Stevenson, North Ayrshire. It became known as Africa House and was later extended.

Today, 80 years on, it can be found vandalised, boarded up and partly roofless.

For a building not built to last this long - and one that was built in an imitation style – it holds on against the odds.

That is in part because the people around Ardeer still want it there. It’s place entangled in local memory, which is not surprising given 13,000 people worked at the plant at its height. This, to many, is their heritage.

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,Developers Clowes, which wants to build 70 homes on part of the old ICI site, bought long-deserted Africa House in 2006.

Clowes want to demolish it, but among those who want to save it there is a feeling that letting a listed building deteriorate should not be rewarded with allowing it to be torn down.

Last week, Historic Environment Scotland announced Africa House will remain a listed building given it meets the criteria of special architectural or historic interest. Meanwhile, greater emphasis is being put on on what the public feels are the places, the buildings and the monuments, that matter to them.

For many, Africa House still has a story – their story – to tell.

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