WOLFF ARCHITECTS: Architect
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Award of Merit Citation
The Watershed development has encompassed the repurposing of an old industrial shed, called Workshop 17 in Cape Town's V&A Waterfront.
The redevelopment, in the recent past, of a part of the harbour has been a success story of sorts for some. It has created rather valuable real estate and has enabled the city, in part, to reconnect with its own shoreline and the harbour, the latter being an important part of its reason for existence.
Much of the redevelopment that took place was within a modernist and functionalist architectural and urban design paradigm. In this way of thinking, the emphasis is on discrete functional elements that should be 'objects in space'. Relatively little attention was given to spatial connectivity and urban place-making, in comparison to the attention lavished on the individual buildings.
It can be argued that the V&A Waterfront, despite its success, has done little to alleviate other more pressing spatial and socioeconomic problems in the city. It is, somehow, also really good at masking or taking attention away from this fact - like many other such developments all over South Africa. The V&A Waterfront is heavily dependent on private transport and, on the basis of this, it excludes many from the perceived benefits of social and economic opportunity.
The mix of a business incubator (supported by a tertiary institution) set in close contact with the 'ordinary' person in the street, who might be the eventual beneficiary of the products and services generated in it, is then a welcome small step away from the previous mind-set. In this building, everything has been done to promote interaction between people, on both the horizontal and vertical plane. The facades of the two short ends of the original building were removed, while the principle of visual connection was placed high on the agenda.
The route created through the building enhances pedestrian activity, not only in the vicinity of the building itself but also further into the Waterfront. The ground-level commercial zone, selling mostly crafted products, is now completely linked to the business incubator, as well as to the larger context.
When the design of the building is looked at it is obvious that every possible care has been taken to make old and new work together seamlessly. However, old and new have also been subtly distinguished from each other. Attention to detail and to the larger scale design principles is exemplary.
This building serves as a timely reminder of the benefits that can result from the rediscovery of the principles underpinning more humane and questionably successful cities. There are similar wonderful principles in the spatial and functional connectivity of many old and new markets the world over.
The Watershed by Wolff Architects asks us to relook this concept for our own eventual benefit. We should not ignore their call.
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