top of page

Ilha Blue. Restoration of our UNESCO World Heritage listed building

Restoring an important piece of Ilha’s history

Ilha Blue’s shop was once part of a much bigger complex but like so many properties on Ilha it had been subdivided years ago. In its original form it would have had retail space facing the street, living quarters behind and further back warehouses and courtyard in the style of a caravanserai. The original owners were almost certainly Indian traders.

When we first moved into the building we never set foot into the back area which was a damp, dingy, dangerous ruin. The roots of invasive fig trees were growing out of the walls and the roof had broken beams and sagged badly. All through the wet season rain poured in and it was pretty obvious that one day the whole thing would come crashing down. We knew we’d have to do something with it but was in no hurry to take on such a big expensive job. However, a visit from a good friend Jens Hougaard changed our thinking.

Looking down into what is now the bathroom

Understanding the conservation value

Jens is a long term resident of Ilha, an architect who was instrumental in gaining UNESCO world Heritage listing for Ilha. Jens recognised the various features and told us the ruin had once formed a verandah, with columns and swahili style barassa stone benches, that overlooked the ornamental garden behind. Unlike the rest of the shop which had been fixed around the 1950’s, the back was original and of very high conservation value.

Securing the verandah roof so that it could be dismantled carefully. The left side of photo has the bricked up wall that once opened onto the garden

This was an exciting discovery, it prompted us to make plans to rehabilitate before it collapsed and its historic value was lost. What followed was months of consultations, plans, submissions to GACIM, eventual approval and appointment of builders, with the work beginning April 2020. Unfortunately we weren’t able to secure permission from the neighbour to completely open up the verandah but we will try again one day.

An interesting juxtaposition. Once the ancient limestone and coral rock roof was removed we gained an unexpected view of the modern communication towers.

Dismantling and rebuilding while retaining its integrity

Dismantling the roof carefully ensured the safety of the workers and enabled us to keep and reuse as much of the original material as possible, particularly ironwood vicotas and coral rock ’tiles’.

Many vicota beams were too twisted or rotten to be reused but some got repurposed on site.

During the work we discovered old ironwood doors, one hidden behind a layer of cement. Fantastic finds! We reused these doors in the final design.

Heavy ironwood door being moved aside to allow a new replacement beam to carried in.

Almost as much work below ground as above. Sanitation wasn’t part of the original building design. The builders dug and lined pits for septic tanks, grey water and storm water drainage. Big job!

Amazing how deep the pits were sunk. Everyone was on the look out for buried treasure but none was found (or if it was it was kept secret from me)

  1. One of the old doors forming a back to the wash basins

  2. Bathroom nearing completion

  3. Quintal showing original verandah columns and barassas

A job well done

No big job would be complete without a celebratory lunch …

…and a group photo

A big thanks to all the builders, architects, designers, friends, helpers and advisors who contributed their knowhow and enthusiasm to make this project a success.


bottom of page