The next place on the wanderlust list is the oldest city in Table Bay at the Western Cape of South Africa — Cape Town. With a heritage nearly 300 years old, the city is known for its vibrant art, culture, fashion, music and houses significant structures showcasing local and international architects’ design from history to the present.

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Table Mountain overlooking Cape Town and Table Bay.  Photo credits _© Glowimages Getty Images.

As sometimes called The Mother City, it is famous for the Cape Dutch architectural style as the initial settlers of Cape were primarily Dutch. The architecture, just like the history, is intricately layered, unquestionably striking features having grandiose rounded gables, thatched roofs and whitewashed walls, depicting the deep roots of the country’s colonial past. However, South African gable architecture rose in the 18th century, though it ceased in Amsterdam. As they were being used vigorously in different materials, their resemblance made this style develop and termed it as Cape-Dutch style until the capture of Cape.

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Front View of California Cape Dutch in Montecito. Photo credits _©  theenglishroom.biz.

Stunning nature with adventure is part of every DNA

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The magnificent landmark dominating the horizon is 1100m tall, Table Mountain is visible from any location in or around Cape Town. Hop on the cable cars to glide effortlessly through the different trails heading towards the top, letting one see the vista of the entire city through a different lens.

If interested in some adrenaline rush, one can hike up to 5km across the Table Mountain to Lion’s Head at 670m above sea level. Further, can bungee jump off Bloukrans bridge 4th tallest in the world, surf, paraglide off the mountains, gut thrilled cage-dive with the most significant marine predators of the planet- the white sharks. One can even take a drive to Tsitsikamma National Park for an adventure pack wildlife experience. So, GoPro and consider the opportunities to strike off the bucket list.

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Panoramic View of the Table Mountain and Lion’s Head overlooking the town. Photo credits _©  Wikipedia

Inspiring History 

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A must-see in Cape Town is the World Heritage site – the Maximum-Security Prison located at Robben Island in Table Bay, north of Cape Town. The Dutch used it as a criminal prison to lock up political activists who opposed the apartheid era. It later became an important tourist venue comprising a museum, a lighthouse, and other attractions. 

This place was where the most famous civil rights activist and former South-African president Nelson Mandela spent 18 years out of his 27 years of imprisonment. One can visit his confined cell inside and view the iconic skyline by walking outside.

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Maximum Security Prison, Robben Island. Photo credits _©  Wikipedia

Heading back to the city centre can be seen the bulldozed down District Six neighbourhood that used to be home to over 60,000 merchants and immigrants once forcibly removed under the apartheid law declaring it the only white area. In the early 20th century, the people differentiated themselves by race colour as Africans, White, Indians, Asians or others. 

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Series of empty lots, piles of rubble, and the skeleton of city streets are sensed partially visible behind the tall grass. Walking around listening to insights of the life of the people for decades by the people who got evicted and even visiting the District Six Museum explains that beautiful things seen may not be hunky-dory all the time.

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Maximum Security Prison, Robben Island. Photo credits _©  Wikipedia

The Oldest of South Africa located here

The oldest building in South Africa is the Castle of Good Hope, a pentagonal fortress in Cape Town built between 1666 and 1679 by the Dutch East India Company. It replaced an older fort called the Fort de Goede Hoop, constructed from clay and timber and built by Jan van Riebeeck upon arrival at the Cape of Good Hope in 1652. It is a popular tourist destination offering guided tours and exciting insights into the history of the Cape Colony.

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Fortress Plan. Photo credits _©AFAR Magazine
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The Castle of Good Hope.Photo credits_©Jess Stafford ©Culture Trip

The Company’s Garden in Upper Adderley is the oldest garden of South Africa, being a step away from the oldest building established in 1652. It was used as a vegetable garden to supply fresh produce to the ships passing by the bay, and now it is an impeccable place for some R&R with a popular restaurant and healthy squirrels rambling around. Also located within is the Iziko South African Museum having Cape-Dutch Gable architecture.

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Company’s Garden, the Iziko South African Museum and a breathtaking view of Table Mountain. Photo credits _©Ian Dagnall.

The oldest Rugby stadium and now a cricket stadium is the Newlands Stadium at Cape Town, which opened in 1890. The first permanent concrete stands for nearly 100 years and has over 50000 people hosting various local and international games.

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Newlands Cricket Ground. Photo credits _©Pinterest

The Slave Lodge is one of the oldest buildings in Cape Town with a stark and sad history, bringing awareness by addressing the issues From human wrongs to human rights.” Dutch East India Company built it in 1679 to house the thousands of slaves through the 17th to 19th centuries. After abolishing slavery, this lodge served as a government office, a supreme court, and since 1998 it’s a Museum holding exhibition of the cultural history of slavery in South Africa. 

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Slaves Lodge 1679. Photo credits _©David Stanley

Simple Expression of Architecture

Across the road from the Castle of Good Hope is the beautiful Edwardian building – Cape Town City Hall, dating back to 1905, designed through winning a public competition by architects Harry Austin Reid and Frederick George Green. The imported honey-coloured limestone façade from Bath, England, has seen many changes in its years of standing vigil and appreciation on the Grand Parade. The tower houses a clock and several bells with faces made from 4 skeleton iron dials filled with opal. Originally built to house the City of Cape Town’s offices, it hosts several cultural and artistic events.

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Cape Town City Hall. Photo credits _©Jess Stafford | Culture Trip.

The Old Town House, situated in the hub of Cape Town on Greenmarket Square, was built in 1755 in the Cape Rococo style having world-renowned Max Michaelis Collection of Netherlandish Art from the 17th-century Golden Age. Previously, it served as a watchhouse, a senate and the main City Hall. A double-storey structure with a three-arched portico, gay green shutters against the white and yellow plasterwork, its exuberant mouldings and fanlights is endearing for all its modesty as any building found in Europe.

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Architecture and design studio Douglas & Company remodelled the interior of the 120-year-old cottage- Arklow Villa and added a new storey on top using South African pine as new structural elements exposed, bringing warmth within. “In South Africa, pine is a sustainable timber that is readily available and widely used in the construction industry,” said Liani. “However, it is normally hidden away behind plasterboard and not celebrated as a beautiful material in its own right.” Some of the original roof trusses were removed and reused to create distinctive details in the living areas.

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Old Town House. Photo credits _©Jess Stafford | Culture Trip.
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Arklow Villa Photo credits _©David Southwood.
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Arklow Villa Photo credits _©David Southwood.

Metamorphosis in Architecture Style

Post World War II marked an increase in urbanisation, and enormous industrial growth and fleet of population after the repealing of apartheid laws limiting the movement of people based on their race contributed to the rapid population growth of Cape town. With the extension of the harbour and industrial sites, the rise of modern buildings and business districts, construction of freeways, spread of residential areas across the foothills of mountains, the architectural style transformed towards the new development culture with changing times. However, the synonymous Cape Dutch architecture of their wealthy farms and wine estates, which the early inhabitants started, remains original. 

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The architectural style transformation can be seen best at the 12,000-square-metre park Battery Park located in the high-end V&A Waterfront district, an old coastal fortification built in the 18th century in Cape Town. It harbours on the Amsterdam Battery keeping the original inner courtyard level and altered into an elevated urban park including landscaped gardens, trees in stone-clad planters, walkways, benches, skate-park designed by South African studio DHK. 

The underused Canal district underwent metamorphism to entice more significant footfalls regardless of economic class and demographic, to facilitate activities creating an urban hub while keeping the heritage in mind. One can paddle standing, indulge in water sports in the canals, practice ollie at the skatepark, a family-friendly area for kids to play around swings, rocking horses or go for a run in the urban outdoors. Eat; drink; shop; have a picnic packed with fun with the table-mountain view. Cantilevered steel pergolas provide much-needed shade against the urban heat.

Hardscape materials such as concrete, stone were found during the site’s excavation for construction and steel was used in contrast with timber and planting designed to highlight the buildings around. 

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As explained by lead dhk Architects Pierre Swanepoel_ “Concrete was chosen as a “material of our time” for new structures as it can be clearly distinguished from historic elements, ensuing slight misinterpretation.”

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Battery Park by dhk Architects, an Urban Park provided for the community. Photo credits _©dezeen.
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The Retail at the embankment creating promenade for the elevated park. Photo credits _©Theo Gutter.
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The Retail at the embankment creating promenade for the elevated park. Photo credits _©Theo Gutter.
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The Embankment at the Battery Park. Photo credits _©dezeen.
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The Urban Skate Park. Photo credits _©dezeen.

A structural design of the angelic structure reminiscent of Worcester’s Bosjes Estate is the Bosjes Chapel. The chapel was inspired by Psalm 36/7, designed by London-based architectural firm; Steyn Studio. It appears to be floating with serene slim concrete lightweight sculptural form emulating the silhouette of surrounding mountain ranges and the reflective pond emphasising the apparent weightlessness of the structure while paying tribute to the historic style dotting the surrounding landscapes. 

A subtle, neutral palette of materials becomes the backdrop to the impressive new plantation of vineyards and pomegranate orchard, which create a lush green oasis in contrast to the exposed parts of the site. The ripple in the roof structure provides support structurally. A simple rectangular ample and open assembly space created with highly polished terrazzo floors reflect light internally. The undulating whitewashed ceiling casts an array of shadows creating symphony through the light of the day. 

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Bosjes Chapel designed by Steyn Studio. Photo credits _©Adam Letch.

The award-winning monumental structure of the historic Grain Silo Complex is the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, designed by London-based Heatherwick Studio, which is another example of repurposing the heritage. It stands in the industrial area of Cape Town spread over nine floors carved out of the Silo disused since 1990 given new life through the transformation. 

The centre of the museum houses galleries and the atrium space carved by the dense cellular structure of forty-two tubes. It also comprises a 6000 sq.mts. of exhibition space sprawling through 80 galleries, rooftop sculpture garden, state of the art storage and conservation areas, ancillary facilities like bookshop, restaurant, bar and reading rooms.

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Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa by Heatherwick Studio. Photo credits _©Iwan Baan.
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The Tube packed Atrium. Photo credits _©Iwan Baan.
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The Tube packed Atrium. Photo credits _©Iwan Baan.

Unlike the gable structure, this linear circulation spine art centre positioned along the edge is the adk architects designed Norval Art Foundation comprising galleries and public spaces facing the framed views of the wetland, vineyards and mountains beyond. It houses column-free areas that allow maximum flexibility for displaying all art forms to create a sequential journey manoeuvring around. The importance of this building is the compassionate existing wetland ecosystem neglected historically. 

Designers rehabilitated the wetlands, reviving and replanting the indigenous plants and species and attracting the multitude of insects and birds onto the site, balancing the surrounding ecosystem. The earlier known Western Leopard Toad, an endangered species, is given importance by creating a safe passage with concrete culverts underneath the roads and the barriers and earth ramps carefully designed to allow easy movement of the toads across the site.

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The Norval Foundation. Photo credits _©David Southwood.
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The Norval Foundation. Photo credits _©WielandGleich.

One of the lesser documented architectural characteristics is the post-apartheid period transit accommodation. The fourth declaration- ‘There shall be housing security and comfort’ of the Freedom Charter of South Africa, 1955, formed the basis for this programme to provide housing for the suburban nuclear family post-apartheid independence. 

A Shack/Slum Dwellers International initiative aims to upgrade the inhumane substandard living conditions by reconfiguring the earlier settlements and providing unit expansion, services, and open spaces for economic activities. Swedish based designer Urban-Think Tank’s Empower Shack, a two-storey structure located 35kms from Cape Town, is a strategic design that abides by providing suitable living conditions with vibrant open spaces for the community. 

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Empower Shack by Urban Think Tank. Photo credits _©architecturalreview.

A revamp-take of a childhood dream of having a conventional treehouse is the eloquent house designed by local architecture firm Malan Vorster Architects as a tranquil escape. This western red cedar Treehouse at Constantia is a fairy-tale structure with timber panelling and a glass finish that may appear small when viewed outside. Still, it comprises a deck patio, bedroom, living room and communal space. The pin-wheel plan layout forms a central square aligning to the north-south site geometry relating to the organic surroundings. 

Each circle’s centre is the location for a column and circular rings supporting the floor beams above constructed from laser-cut and folded Corten steel plates and are connected to the other columns by branch-like arms in the interest of transparency, slenderness. Each ring circumscribes a half-round ancillary space accommodating a patio, dining nook with main square living space at one level and vertically arranged bedrooms on two levels with bathrooms and built-in roof deck level. 

The building slightly elevates above ground, and entry through a suspended timber and Corten steel ramp modernises the treehouse experience. All materials are left untreated to express as weather naturally with the surrounding trees by simply defining the architecture through passing.

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The Unconventional Childhood Dream Treehouse. Photo credits _© dezeen.
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The Branched column. Photo credits _© Adam Letch.

Very few places in the world offer some perfect, easily accessible package of stunning beauty with adventure, exciting history, exciting wildlife, great food and wine, elegant architecture. What else would one want when one place gives it all? Cape town manages to do just that.

References

https://www.iziko.org.za/museums/old-town-house

https://www.theenglishroom.biz/2013/06/13/cape-dutch-architecture/

https://www.dezeen.com/2019/01/05/battery-park-cape-town-dhk-va-waterfront/

https://www.dezeen.com/2019/11/02/douglas-company-cottage-renovation-cape-town-arklow-villa/

https://theculturetrip.com/africa/south-africa/articles/10-iconic-buildings-cape-town/

https://www.archdaily.com/867369/bosjes-chapel-steyn-studio

https://www.archdaily.com/879763/zeitz-museum-of-contemporary-art-africa-heatherwick-studio

https://www.archdaily.com/873882/tree-house-malan-vorster-architecture-interior-design

Author

With a practice background of over a decade & founder of NJ Archstud/o, her quest is to explore & believe in being a lifelong student as education in architecture never ends, rather always begins. She is constantly working to inculcate the extensive journey behind any design to reach people through words.

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