WORK AND PLAY IN PE
THE RECENTLY DEVELOPED BAAKENS VALLEY IS ONE OF THE FIRST COMMUNITY-BASED SPACES CREATED IN THE CITY OF PORT ELIZABETH FOR WORK AND LEISURE. HERE, CREATIVES, ARTISANS AND SMALL BUSINESS OWNERS FIND A SENSE OF COMMUNITY, COLLABORATION CAN TAKE PLACE, AND INSPIRATION CAN BE FOUND.
At the heart of Port Elizabeth, a short walking distance from the city centre, harbour, and very close to the Windy City’s favourite beaches, lies the Baakens Valley. It is situated within a raw piece of nature that cuts Port Elizabeth straight through the middle, a geological phenomenon very unique to the area, sometimes referred to as Port Elizabeth’s “inverted Table Mountain”.
The city of Port Elizabeth, in fact, owes its inception to the Baakens River, a 23 km river meandering through the residential suburbs and culminating at the city centre before flowing into the Algoa Bay Harbour. It provided fresh water for Dutch sailors in the late 18th century. Its name was coined by the Dutch East India Company who placed a beacon at the mouth of the river to claim the right to the water source.They termed this source “Baakjes Fonteyn”, which ultimately became shortened to “Baakens”.
Today this area has partially been turned into a communitybased space for work and leisure – with similar a vibe to Cape Town’s Old Biscuit Mill – by some of PE’s most capable and creative community members lead by Strukt Architects. InFlight caught up with the Founder and Head Architect at Strukt, Niel Basson, as well as candidate architect Inka Niedermeier to pick their brains about the Baakens Valley development, and what it has in store for the city of PE.
The area of the Baakens Valley was always used for industrial purposes, which, according to Basson, never really made sense, as most industrial buildings wouldn’t generally be situated in the heart of a city. Together with the owners of these properties, likeminded individuals, and the community, they saw an opportunity to breathe life back into one of Port Elizabeth’s most beautiful settings, and to convert the industrial nature of the buildings and spaces into something with more of a human touch.“We then found some amazing creatives, artisans and small business owners that had been longing to work in a space where there is a sense of community – a place where collaboration can take place and inspiration can be found. Now, we constantly refer to each other as the ‘Valley Family’,” Basson says.
Strukt Architects started working on the Baakens Valley development in 2014 after the owners of two of the blocks asked to be presented with a master plan.They had the enthusiasm and vision to see the area’s underlying potential and commissioned Basson’s company to continue with the project, playing a critical part together with their project manager. “We did the project in phases over two years with a small building team and met everyThursday – a meeting I now miss, because we became such close friends after meeting every week for two years. The first block was finished at the beginning of 2017 and named Chicky’s
Yard, as it was originally the two owners’ late father’s yard area. We are still busy with the second block, which is very close to completion,” Basson says.
The development is not only a big project for Strukt, but also hugely benefits the surrounding area as well as the community. “For an area that no one used to go to because of the usual stigmas that surrounded it, it has changed into one of Port Elizabeth’s most popular and activated areas, with loads of people flocking to the many markets, like Food Truck Friday, The Valley Market and the Valley Night Market, as well as the restaurants – Remo’s, Foongs and Fredrick and Son – and to the beer garden, RHBC, of course.This really creates a hub of activity and a place for families to enjoy a number of different activities.”
Strukt Architechts also share their physical working space within the joint development with a sculptor, Josua Strumpfer, and the artist Joff.The rest of the building is taken up by Jason Erlank Architects and Greame Eckley Architects. “We have collaborated with almost all of them on some of our projects, which is always an awesome experience as you see the project from a different perspective.We regularly ask their opinion on some of our projects, which is refreshing as they challenge us to sometimes see a project a little differently to what we are used to,” Basson says.
Some of the other businesses in the community include WERK_, a design and manufacturing company which has been there from the beginning and played a massive role in the upliftment of the area.“They have converted three warehouses to design and business hubs, one of which houses my favourite restaurant, Remo’s Italian Restaurant. The building also houses Angel Wings Ceramics,Yo Media,The Valley Crags Climbing Wall, Kanaan Interior Design,and many more local artists and creatives.”
The very popular Shag High Voltage Hair also moved into the precinct at the beginning of the year, and has not only made a name for themselves for the hairstyles that they do, but also for their interesting shop.