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Babylonstoren
Paarl district, Western Cape

MALHERBE RUST ARCHITECTS: Architect

Date:1777 : c2013
Type:Estate
Status:Extant

 


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Coordinates:
33°49'36.89" S 18°55'36.03" E

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Refurbishment and additional facilities by MALHERBE RUST ARCHITECTS.

Award of Excellence Citation

This farm is the remaining piece of an 1692 VOC grant. It includes the historic werf of the original farm. The farm and a number of its buildings thus form part of the original Dutch colonisation of the Cape. It is located in the Drakenstein valley. The iconic horizon line of the mountain ranges in this part of the world overshadows whatever man places on the landscape. On the lower-lying and flatter terrain, the landscape is dominated by the geometric precision of intensive agriculture, in the form of vineyards and orchards. Architecture often acts as the man-made intermediary between the larger-scale natural elements, such as the mountain ranges and the smaller-scale agricultural activities. Very often these buildings take the form of low-slung, small-scale and relatively simple buildings with whitewashed walls and thatched roofs.

More often than not, these farm buildings are sometimes also consciously used in relation to natural elements, and to enclose space by means of low walls. These environments are born out of necessity, mostly the necessity of agricultural needs and the limitations imposed by building materials and technology. In this way, a cultural landscape has been produced that is of national and international importance. Many of these historic farms have experienced a constant evolutionary and natural change since inception. Within this process, the architectural question has always been one of how to obtain a balance between the historic and the contemporary. This balance, specifically in a globalised world, can only be achieved by a sure and secure vision of the past and the future and, obviously, by architectural restraint.

This is what Malherbe Rust Architects has achieved for the owners. Despite a relatively large capital investment in the farm, the architecture and new spaces created have retained a delicate character, whilst maintaining its rustic working-farm qualities.

The old structures on the farm, namely the manor house, cellar and koornhuis, have been carefully restored, new guest accommodation and facilities have been built on the footprint of previous workers' housing (now rebuilt elsewhere on the farm), dilapidated outbuildings have been recycled as restaurants and a large new wine cellar has been constructed. A beautifully designed and impressively productive fruit and vegetable garden has also been created. Within this garden, traditional irrigation furrows have been reintroduced. In addition, a somewhat playful and idiosyncratic glasshouse and a shade structure for plants have been added to the ensemble.

In the general layout of all these elements, great care has been taken to reinforce and enhance the existing, while adding new elements along similar principles. For example, the new elements added to the overall design create a much more pronounced focus on the Babylonstoren Hill, which is in proximity to the farm. The larger-scale elements, such as the wine cellars, have been sunken into the ground to reduce their bulk and possible spatial impact. In all the architectural work that has been done to the historic core of the farm buildings, care has obviously been taken to restore them as sensitively as possible, to reveal previous layers, to emulate the previous scale and to add the new in a bold and confident manner. Previous changes that were deemed insensitive and incongruent architecturally were removed. Everything was done to restore a line of continuous development that is in sympathy with the original buildings, while still remaining true to the sensibilities of its time.

What is most striking about the work done on the farm is precisely this uncovering and strengthening of a continuous line of development. In some other instances of the restoration of Cape Dutch farms, there has been an effort to fossilise the buildings within a certain period of time. In this case, a different approach has been taken. The owners and their architects understood that the life of any building - or group of buildings - is, in reality, something that evolves over time. It is also the continuous process of cultural evolution that keeps a building 'fresh' and pertinent, while taking the weight of history seriously, but at the same time not too seriously - in this way, it can be renewed and reinterpreted.

The other aspect that is truly impressive is Babylonstoren's quality of authenticity as a no-nonsense working farm.

(Paul Kotze - 2014)

The aerial photographs above were taken by Sean Burt
Contact him at:
Cell: 0741247749
Tel: 0114759660
Email: theburts@telkomsa.net


Writings about this entry

Fransen, Hans. 2004. The old buildings of the Cape. A survey of extant architecture from before c1910 in the area of Cape Town - Calvinia - Colesberg - Uitenhage. Johannesburg & Cape Town: Jonathan Ball Publishers. pg 276
Hoefsloot, Ted (illustrations) & Pama, Cor (text). 1980. Cape Wine Homesteads. Johannesburg: AD Donker. pg 30, 31 ill
South African Institute of Architects. 2014. Awards : South African Institute of Architects. Awards for Excellence, Awards of Merit, Regional Awards for Architecture 2013/2014. Cape Town: Picasso for SAIA. pg 12-13