Stop pray­ing at the al­tar of the past

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

Cape Argus - - ISSUES -

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.fu­ture­capetown.com, via email at fu­ture­[email protected] 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.

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