FEW architects have worked on as many landmark projects in Port Elizabeth as Dominic Bonnesse. The new Boardwalk Convention Centre, Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Coega Development Corporation building, PE Magistrate’s Court, Nelson Mandela Bay Logistics Park and more recently the renovation of the Tramways Building are just some of the major landmarks he has helped design.
A project close to his heart is the renovation of the South End Museum.
Bonnesse was only six years old when his family had to leave their Mitchell Street home in 1966 due to the forced removal of black and coloured people living in South End at the time of the Group Areas Act.
It is clear that all these years later he does not like talking about this traumatic event in the history of so many Port Elizabethans’ lives.
“I still remember growing up in South End, going to the Boys Club and riding my tricycle down Walmer Boulevard … South End was a very diverse area to live in, not only in terms of race but also in terms of religion,” Bonnesse says.
Because he believes that the history of South End should not be forgotten, he jumped at the opportunity to be involved with the renovation and extension of the museum.
Having already completed phase one, which involved paving the parking lot, installing a lift and revamping the entrance to the museum, the second phase involves the extension of the museum towards the back to include a first floor coffee shop. It is expected to be completed at the end of February next year.
Despite working on a tight budget and having to take his design plans to the South End Museum committee and trustees for approval, he is pleased with the new look.
“The coffee shop will help the museum to become more sustainable.
“When working on such historical buildings I make sure to always retain the heritage link,” Bonnesse said.
From South End, he moved with his parents to Gelvandale, where he discovered a love for architecture when doing technical drawings in woodwork in Grade 8 at Gelvandale High School.
“My teacher, Mr Da Silva, looked at my drawings and said they were good. He gave me extra drawings in the holidays, which I finished in a few days and started helping the other kids in class with their drawings. Eventually they did my accounting, while I did their drawings,” Bonnesse chuckles.
After matriculating from Gelvandale High School, he studied building arts at the University of Port Elizabeth (now the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University), and graduated in 1987.
He achieved his Bachelor of Architecture in 1990, and registered with the Institute of Architects in 1993.
This year his practice is 20 years old and he describes one of the highlights of his career as the design of the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium. He worked extensively with consultants in Berlin, China and Italy to develop the concept of the Bay’s soccer stadium.
“Wind was a big factor, and we tested the design in wind tunnels in Germany on a scale model and changed our original design after these tests,” he said.
Having done so many incredible designs for the public and private sector, when asked what else he would like to be involved with, Bonnesse said he would like to get involved with more retail designs since these offered different challenges.
Working as an independent small architecture firm has its challenges, he said, particularly with the new tender procedures.
He says a low point of his career was when he resigned from the Eastern Cape Institute of Architects after 20 years, because he “felt that the institution did not give enough support for smaller practices”.