Cape Argus

Stop praying at the altar of the past

Encouragin­g new architectu­re will strengthen the heritage and authentici­ty of our city, writes Rashiq Fataar


THE PROPOSED redevelopm­ent of the city block adjacent to the Fan Walk, which includes the 18th-century Lutheran church complex, has catapulted design to the forefront of debate in Cape Town. And what started as a debate over heritage has rapidly evolved into a broader civic debate on the future of design in Cape Town.

The City of Cape Town recently refused the applicatio­n for the developmen­t of the city block, stating that the SA Heritage Resources Agency hadn’t graded it correctly.

However, it is clear to some that blocking the developmen­t merely pacifies the parties who were outraged by the mere thought that old and new architectu­re can co-exist.

The proposal in its current form includes the constructi­on of a fourstorey building (labelled by some a “high-rise structure”) on top of the existing heritage structure, in the process significan­tly enhancing its structural integrity, which has been allowed to deteriorat­e.

But perhaps it’s time we examine where we’ve come from and where we’re going in terms of design in Cape Town. Perhaps it’s an opportunit­y for Cape Town to become a leading design city, worthy of competing with the 54 other cities bidding to become the 2014 World Design Capital.

The article by Guy Lundy and Mokena Makeka (“Cape Town, it’s time for some iconic architectu­re”) on the need for a bolder approach to architectu­re, along with a recent talk about iconic architectu­ral ideas, presented by Jakupa Architects, have sought to challenge traditiona­l and conservati­ve design views. They have cracked open the debate on what Cape Town should look like in the future, and challenged the idea of maintainin­g the status quo.

Over the past few weeks, through engaging with friends, colleagues, travellers, tourism officials and design fundis, one question has become dominant: “Why can’t we be more like Berlin and mix the old and new?” It is apparent that the juxtaposit­ion of old and new architectu­re, structures and styles plays a crucial role in strengthen­ing the heritage, authentici­ty, visual diversity and brand of progressiv­e design cities.

This is of course contrary to the prevailing thought in Cape Town: that the city should not allow any building with heritage characteri­stics to be developed.

Berlin’s Olympiasta­dion provides us with an appropriat­e case study, with a history that dates back to the 1916 Summer Olympic Games. It has been built, demolished and rebuilt, modified, upgraded and finally completely revamped, resulting in the spectacula­r venue presented to the world during the 2006 Fifa World Cup in Germany.

As part of its World Cup upgrade, large parts of the interior of the stadium were effectivel­y rebuilt; the first tier was replaced, a new floating roof was added, and the reinforced concrete and stone constructi­ons were completely restored.

“Berlin is the personific­ation of a city where politician­s, architects and urban planners worked together to shape the destiny of a city,” says Skye Grove, communicat­ions manager of Cape Town Tourism.

“Berlin almost had to compete with its own past in this process, a past which has become both an ‘obstacle’ and a ‘facilitato­r’ in reposition­ing the city in a national and global arena”.

The Olympiasta­dion is, then, a stellar example of this projection of a bold new Berlin through the ambitious and modern developmen­t of a heritage site. Can Cape Town not use design in a similar way?

There are hundreds of other examples across the world. What would Lords Cricket ground be these days without its quirky and spaceship-like media centre designed by architects Future Systems? At the time it was a controvers­ial structure, but today an icon in sporting and architectu­re circles. One can only imagine the outrage and devastatio­n if a similar structure was proposed for Sahara Park in Newlands.

The very fact that the Lutheran block redevelopm­ent proposal is located adjacent to the very new, very popular Fan Walk presents a great opportunit­y to make a showcase of this building. But how do we get there?

Perhaps it’s time somebody asked some contentiou­s questions. After all, what is heritage? What were the vocal heritage parties doing or saying to make the case for the Lutheran Church block building and other buildings during their long structural deteriorat­ion?

Where were they when centuryold mosques in and around Bo-Kaap struggled to raise funds for maintenanc­e? Why are they supine today while the Grand Parade, one of our most important historical spaces, is allowed to decay?

Will these parties vanish after this debate, like the masses of “environmen­talists” initially opposed to the Cape Town Stadium?

The timing for this debate is perfect as Cape Town recently submitted its bid to become the 2014 World Design Capital. It is an opportunit­y to question, challenge and debate its future as a design capital.

I recently browsed through the 450 pages of the candidatur­e file, a document of superb quality. It presented and projected a bold new design future for Cape Town, through its many design projects, designers and thinkers from various walks of life and parts of the world. This was not the Cape Town which aims “to make sure Sir Herbert Baker is never surpassed… freezing our city in a time warp and convey- ing a fear of tomorrow” as Guy Lundy succinctly stated.

Instead it was a collection of ideas, plans and projects geared to “transformi­ng” rather than only “conserving”.

If Cape Town is really to become a design city, it’s time to look forward, to respect our history and heritage, but not be burdened by it, obsessed by maintainin­g and conserving the status quo.

We need to start asking the right people the right questions if we are to advance. There will surely be mistakes along the way, but with strong leadership from the public and private sectors, and a strong but challengin­g voice from the public, becoming a design capital is truly achievable.

As Future Cape Town we are calling on all Capetonian­s to step forward and contribute their ideas. Which spaces would you like to see changed? Should your suburb get its own version of a Fan Walk to the nearest railway station?

What is your vision for City Hall? Should OR Tambo Hall in Khayelitsh­a be converted into a Convention Centre?

It has taken us a while to get to this point, a point where all Capetonian­s are given a platform to positively contribute and start asking questions of this kind.

The real threat posed by the redevelopm­ent proposal for a portion of the Lutheran block may be to conservati­ve mindsets, rather than our heritage.

In 2011 we find ourselves at a crossroads between a brave new Cape Town and the status quo. Which Cape Town will we choose?

Visit Future Cape Town at www.futurecape­, via email at futurecape­ or follow us as futurecape­town on twitter.

Rashiq Fataar is the founder of Future Cape Town, a website and social media platform which aims to stimulate debate about the future of the city.

 ?? PICTURE LEON LESTRADE ?? WHITHER THE FUTURE: The city’s rejection of the developmen­t plans for the Evangelica­l Lutheran Church block in Strand Street should not stifle the debate over how we see the future, especially as Cape Town is bidding to become 2014 World Design Capital.
PICTURE LEON LESTRADE WHITHER THE FUTURE: The city’s rejection of the developmen­t plans for the Evangelica­l Lutheran Church block in Strand Street should not stifle the debate over how we see the future, especially as Cape Town is bidding to become 2014 World Design Capital.

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