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Monday Oct 27, 2014

Putting heritage first in Cape Town's CBD

For some developers the word "heritage" may raise a warning flag, but for others keen to be part of the history and vibrancy of Cape Town's central city, it is increasingly becoming an attraction.

Artist's impression of the soon-to-be-revamped Twinell building in the Cape Town CBD.

More than R200 million is about to be invested in two new developments in the central city that will not only respect the heritage of the sites but ensure their commercial viability and value to the CBD.

Being the oldest city in South Africa, a significant portion of Cape Town's "downtown" falls within the recognised conservation area, particularly south-west of Waterkant Street towards Table Mountain.

"Strand Street once marked the original beachfront and Waterkant the water's edge," says Rob Kane, chairman of the Cape Town Central City Improvement District (CCID). "This is why so many of our greenfield developments lie to the northeast of this, on land reclaimed from the sea, and those incorporating heritage sites lie in what is considered to be the 'old city'.

"We realise it can be challenging to take on a heritage site. Indeed, there is an obvious link between historical buildings being undeveloped or becoming dilapidated because developers can be frightened off by the lengthy approval process required. But those who do it, do reap the rewards, as does the city."

In the past few years heritage buildings have been incorporated into new developments, among them Mandela Rhodes Place, Taj Cape Town and Adderley Terraces.

The process of preserving the old while adding the new is for those with perseverance, says the director of the Cape Town Heritage Trust, Laura Robinson.

"However, the dividends benefit all Capetonians when old and sometimes ailing buildings are given a new lease of life. In support of this important transition, the trust firmly believes that while the historical fabric of the city must be protected, it must also change and respond to all the pressures of a vital and expanding economy and population. Conservation and development are mutually dependent."

As property values in the CBD rise, a number of new developments embracing heritage buildings are now on the cards. Among them is the Twinell building which occupies five erven and incorporates a 1920s Edwardian façade on Long Street and a 1940s art deco façade on Loop Street. It is being redeveloped to the tune of R120 million to accommodate the existing Labour Court as well as commercial and retail space.

Developer Dave Linder of Kings Cross Properties says: "We've worked very closely with Heritage Western Cape in the design of the building. Our architect, John Doyle, has looked particularly at how to replace those features that time has destroyed such as a gable on the Long Street side. Old photographs have provided us with evidence of its existence. All the original steel-framed windows will also be repaired or replaced. We've discovered there is only one manufacturer left in the country who can restore these to their original state.

"In turn, the building will be brought into the 21st century through the incorporation of sustainability initiatives, with grey water solutions, solar power, and LED lighting and airconditioning activated by motion detectors.

A new glass addition on Loop Street was designed to frame the neighbouring art deco façade. In accordance with heritage, the glass is curved back so that none of the art deco detail is obscured.

"Too often the 'old' is discarded, when in fact it can be cost-effectively restored, modernised and upgraded. We saw an opportunity to combine the existing structure with a state-of-theart new build that will enable a part of Cape Town's heritage to endure. The challenge of creating a sustainable property was also worth pursuing and will be coupled with good commercial return."

Brothers Mike and Casey Augoustides are determined to save what remains of a historical property that forms part of the land the family has accumulated and reconsolidated since 2001. Bordered by Strand, Bree and Waterkant streets, the project will recreate an environment that will bring the historical part back to a dignified life.

Original plans submitted in 2010, which obtained positive responses from Heritage Western Cape (HWC) and the national South African Heritage Resources Agency ( SAHRA), were rejected by the City's Spatial Planning, Environmental and Land Use Management Committee on application and appeal. Lengthy revisions taking the committee's objections and concerns into account have resulted in amendments that lessen the impact of the building on its surrounds - including the adjacent Lutheran Church.

The brothers are family members of the Gera Trust, which is developing the project valued at close to R100m. They are in the process of resubmitting their application to the city, having been given the green light by SAHRA and HWC.

"We believe misunderstanding of the project and the state of the existing building led to the original application being rejected," says Casey. "But we are determined to save and resurrect what's left of the heritage site. The entire block of land was originally owned by Martin Melck, and on his death in 1781 he left two-thirds to the Lutheran Church and the remainder to his daughter - which is the portion we own today.

"The first structure to occupy our site was a warehouse used to store grain and wine, but over time the property on which it stood was subdivided into smaller land parcels. The fabric of the original warehouse was destroyed and replaced with a combination of concrete and brick structures erected by a long line of owners with different industrial and commercial business needs."

Only scattered remnants of the original warehouse remain on the site and much is dilapidated and potentially dangerous in places.

"Too little is left for a proper restoration - this was verified by SAHRA in its report. Instead, as the next best alternative, we are using archival photographs to reconstruct the exterior façades to their most historically correct form and to halt further degradation. This will recreate the essence of the original warehouse

We realise it can be challenging to take on a heritage site. There is a link between buildings becoming dilapidated and the approval process

and contribute to the other historic elements on the block. On the interior we'll restore, protect and showcase all remaining authentic fabric and remove many of the intrusive modern interventions that currently detract."

The contemporary component of the project is a three-storey glassencased structure that will appear to float over the recreated warehouse area on columns. The new form and function will include a public gallery as well as retail and commercial. There will also be a limited parking component.

Says Casey: "We have made numerous and substantial changes to the project that will enhance the heritage features of the original building and blend the extension into the surrounding cityscape with an almost translucent and transparent design.

"The members of HWC also felt that this revised proposal has less of an impact than the design submitted about four years ago, and we are extremely hopeful that the Cape Town City Council will see the new plans in the same light."

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition)


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