Past meets future
A once-derelict property on Keerom Street in a heritage-rich part of Cape Town’s city centre will be the location for apartment block Tuynhuys, due for completion in October 2018.
Architect Robert Silke says he was walking to his office one day when he noticed a “for sale” board outside what was once the Embassy of Ireland. Months passed and still there was no interest in the property. “Suddenly, there existed a redevelopment opportunity where no one else had seen it,” says Robert. “Whereas conventional wisdom expects deferentially low buildings next to old architecture, we opted to design a thinner, taller tower, which gives enough space to its heritage neighbours at street level. It’s a different kind of deference.”
How did you come across the location for Tuynhuys?
I live in Queen Victoria Street. My office is in Wale Street, within walking distance, so I walk to work via Keerom Street, one of the city centre’s best kept secrets. It was on one of these walks that I noticed a “for sale” board outside the derelict Embassy of Ireland. Months went by and no one had bought the property. Although crude and ill proportioned, the building was probably verboten for redevelopment.
But it was on another of these walks when I first noticed that, behind the facade, the modern concrete industrial structure was posing as something older. Further research revealed that the building was a parking garage for ambulances in the 1970s, which had simply been dressed up in the 1990s. Suddenly there existed a redevelopment opportunity where no one else had seen it. Tuynhuys is due for completion in October 2018.
“It was on one of these walks that I noticed a “for sale” board outside the derelict Embassy of Ireland.”
What went into the building’s design, considering it’s in a heritage-dense part of town?
Keerom is probably the most sophisticated and highly developed street in Cape Town with hardly any traffic and some incredible architecture, such as the granite-clad Cape High Court. A respectable post-modern office building from the 1990s abuts the site for Tuynhuys, with the late-Victorian Keerom Street Chambers on the other. .
We deliberately set about shaping the form and massing of our tower to protect the prominence of our Victorian neighbour, and its corner turret in particular. Whereas conventional wisdom expects deferentially low buildings next to old structures, we rather opted for a thinner, slenderer, taller tower to gives enough space to its heritage neighbours at street level. It’s a different kind of deference. In addition to our sculptural facades, we borrowed architectural and contextual details from surrounding neighbours, such as porthole windows, and the window arches from the 1960s Senator Park apartments.
Was approval an issue?
The City of Cape Town has a forward-thinking Heritage Resources Agency with an interest in good design. We dealt closely with the City’s heritage officials, who welcomed the modern sculptural design and did not prescribe conservatism – often confused with conservation.
“Keerom is probably the most sophisticated and highly developed street in Cape Town with hardly any traffic and some incredible architecture, such as the granite-clad Cape High Court.”
How would you describe the style of the building?
Tuynhuys is modern, playful and optimistic. Futuristic even. Futurism was the modern successor to Art Deco. First pioneered in Italy by Filippo Marinetti, it is synonymous with bespoke, premium properties in sophisticated global cities and is best presented in the work of Zaha Hadid Architects. The Futurist aesthetic was the perfect fit in which to frame this premium apartment building.
Photographs: Supplied, Text: Genevieve Putter