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Monday Nov 03, 2014

New design for historic Cape Town precinct

Eight years, much revision and millions of rand later, the owners of a central city building incorporating elements of an 18th century warehouse neighbouring Strand Street's Lutheran church are hoping to get approval for a scaled-down development they believe will enhance and revitalise the historic precinct.

This artist's impression shows the key elements of the revised proposal.

At the heart of the owners' contention is that the redevelopment of what was once a warehouse in the late 1780s will ensure the preservation of the building's few remaining authentic features, restore the look of the exterior of the building to match its historic predecessor and make it more accessible and aesthetically coherent.

The block is in a part of the city that is undergoing extensive redevelopment.

The revised development proposal has been approved by the provincial heritage authority, Heritage Western Cape (HWC), and the national South African Heritage Resources Agency (Sahra).

The original proposal.

Last year, at the city's prompting, Sahra conducted a thorough assessment of the Bree Street "warehouse" - that's long been home to a variety of businesses - with a view to establishing its potential to qualify for Grade 1 heritage status. Because of the modest scale of remaining authentic fabric, and the irreversible modernisation that has occurred through subdivisions and multiple ownership of the property over a long period, it was deemed a Grade 3 site that was not of national importance.

The much-altered and dilapidated building does, however, occupy a prominent position on a block that combines modern and historic buildings, including the Lutheran Church. While leading architects hailed the developers' approach in seeking a balance between preserving the limited historic fabric of the building and enhancing the neglected precinct as a whole, critics of the original proposal, ultimately turned down by the city last year, raised concerns about its scale and visual impact.

The developers, the Augoustides family, believe many of these concerns, and the city's reasons for turning down the original design, are addressed in the revised proposal, which is the result of months of close co-operation between their architect, highly respected practitioner Gabriel Fagan, and a technical committee appointed by the city.

Casey Augoustides told Weekend Argus: "The amended design is the result of lengthy interaction with the city and taking into account the comments and concerns from objectors. The development was re-evaluated in terms of its impact and a technical evaluation team appointed to guide the process of redesign by Gabriel Fagan."

The most visible feature of the proposal is a glazed threestorey office block (scaled down from the original fourstorey proposal), and set back from the Strand Street edge, receding at a pitch that echoes the roof of the church, to avoid disturbing the visual impact of the west-facing historic façade. The revised proposal incorporates a range of other refinements.

"The Strand Street edge of the block contains an important ensemble of heritage buildings and the development respects this by setting back the new additions substantially from Strand Street so as not to impact on the historic streetscape. The plan also incorporates a reconstruction of the warehouse façades to complement the other buildings."

Parking had been "significantly reduced" from 60 to just 26 bays, and no cars would be parked inside the envelope of the existing buildings. "The vehicle ramp will go directly from the street up to the roof level parking without winding through the old warehouse."

Augoustides said the roof parking would be set back from all the street edges and hidden below the new threestorey form. "This means cars will not be visible from the surrounding streets below, or from above. Pergolas which were previously designed to hide the cars are no longer necessary and have been removed."

The Bree Street façade had been redesigned "to be as historically accurate as can be determined".

"Dimensions and positions have been taken from the most well-known early photographs of the building. The original façades and openings no longer exist and therefore we are not restoring the original, but rather reconstructing it to best represent the idea of the historic warehouse."

In addition, the service core (lift shafts, stairwells and so on) had been reduced in height and "will not be visible from, or have any impact on, the church courtyard".

"The scale and massing of the new component has been amended to look sleeker and smoother. It is now three floors (instead of four), more evenly balanced over the warehouse below with a glass 'skin' drawn tightly over it, enclosing a closed contemporary volume sharply differentiated from and floating above the long, low plastered masonry warehouse. The concrete bands and horizontal modulation of the original proposal will no longer be a feature, with the new component designed to blend unobtrusively into the surrounding cityscape."

Augoustides said that "rather than being placed at risk, the historic fabric of the building will be protected, restored and showcased for the public to enjoy".

The amended proposal will be subject to a new public participation process.

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition)


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