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Temporary Single Quarters
Robben Island, Western Cape



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33°48'38.37" S 18°22'50.81" E Alt: 6m

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Two Single Quarters buildings, were designed and constructed for the Prisons Department in 1980, presumably to accommodate additional warders and administrative staff. The two extended linear plan buildings were mirrored in plan and thereby formed an extended linear open courtyard space - albeit that the courtyard was not directly accessible from either of the two buildings. A hexagonal prison service watch tower exists in the courtyard - but it is likely that this was extant prior to the construction of the Single Quarters buildings.

Each of the timber-framed Single Quarters buildings has a utilitarian linear plan with shared double bedrooms on either side of a broad central corridor. The construction drawing describes a single floor level, but the natural fall across the site required each building to step down at the midpoint.

The drawing indicates a total of twenty-four double bedrooms in each building. A total of fourteen double bedrooms were provided on one side of the corridor and ten double bedrooms on the other side - the latter side interrupted at the centre of the building with two separate, shared ablution (and laundry) facilities. The two shared ablutions in each building were in fact constructed in brickwork - presumably to facilitate the reticulation of the pipework and application of plastered and tiled wall finishes. Each individual ablution occupied an area equivalent to two of the standard double bedrooms.

One of the Single Quarters buildings - as originally planned - could accommodate a total of forty-eight single men. The total number of men accommodated in both buildings was therefore ninety-six. However at some later date, two double bedrooms at the western end of each building were combined into a single space as a large Games Room. Two separate Kitchens were also created in both buildings - each one utilising a double bedroom on each side of the Ablutions. These changes reduced the total accommodation provided to forty men in each Single Quarters building (i.e., eighty men in total).

Architectural Description

Both Single Quarters buildings were provided with a low plastered plinth (unpainted). A wood floated concrete apron was provided around each building. The external walls were formed with flat asbestos cement sheets - described on the drawings as BISON DURA - applied over a timber framed wall structure - with narrow asbestos cement cover strips fixed over the junctions between the adjacent sheets. It is likely that the (then) standard width of these sheets determined the internal module of the floor plan, to minimise cutting and wastage. The resultant thickness of the internal and external walls formed by this method was only 75 mm thick.

The vertical cladding continues up - at both ends of the building to the underside of the roof sheeting, forming simple gabled end elevations. The asbestos cladding was finished with a painted PVA finish.

Both buildings were capped with a simple double-pitched roof with Canadian Pattern asbestos cement roof sheeting and ridge capping. The eaves were all boarded closed with flat asbestos cement boards, asbestos cement fascia boards and half round asbestos cement gutters and round downpipes. The rainwater goods are generally badly deteriorated and in dilapidated condition.

The entrances at each end of the central passages of both buildings were secured with an inward-opening framed, ledged, braced and battened double door. These four entrance doors were all set back from the line of the external end facades to form a small covered entrance porch.

The internal partition walls of the bedrooms and corridors are lined with painted timber particle board with flat cover strips over the joints and with timber skirting. The floors of the bedrooms and corridors had vinyl tiles, The ceilings were painted masonite panels with half round cover strips over the joints and quadrants as cornices.

Each of the double bedrooms had a single varnished framed, ledged, braced and battened inward opening door (with open back) with a painted timber door frame. A standard steel casement window was provided to each double bedroom. The window had a large central pane flanked with pair of outward opening casements and was surmounted with a single top-hung open-out fanlight. The steel window frames were set flush with the external face of the wall cladding and were provided with a drip flashing along the top.

The windows to the ablution blocks were also steel, but much smaller and set in the traditional position - midway in the thickness of the wall. The entrance doors into the ablutions matched that of the bedrooms.

Each of the two ablutions contained the following sanitary fittings: 2 WC’s, 2 Urinals, 2 stainless laundry basins, 5 wash hand basins, 1 bath and 4 showers - the latter in a separate walled rectangular space within the room. The walls and floor of the ablutions were clad in a rectangular split ceramic tile, pointed with broad grey mortar joints. Four separate hot water geysers were provided to each of the two ablutions.

The four later kitchens each had a stainless steel pot sink mounted into a stainless steel table with informal counters.

Statement of Significance

An intact example of the utilitarian single quarters accommodation provided by the Prisons Department in the 1980’s. As is usual with so-called ‘temporary’ buildings, this pair of buildings was never replaced with something permanent and they remain as examples of buildings with limited character and very little spatial quality. Nevertheless the buildings both remain as significant layers in the Island’s history. The buildings would both be well suited for adaptive re-use.

William Martinson, February 2020.

These notes were last edited on 2020 03 27