SA Breweries Visitors' Centre (Mariendahl Brewery)
GABRIËL FAGAN ARCHITECTS: Architect
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This project is based upon a number of obsolete mid-to-late-19th century breweries buildings at Ohlsson's Cape Breweries which have been recycled for interpretative museum purposes.
It incorporates archaeological and restored fabric which is combined with new elements for the conveyance of visitors through the museum. It has been done in a manner that is both bold and yet sympathetic. There is an extraordinary sense of 'rightness' of the interpretation and the solution, which extends through to the historical research, beer-making displays and landscaping. The new two-level parking deck deserves particular mention for the remarkable, understated way it is designed. There is a clarity in the design and insertion of new fabric.
It is considered to be a serious contribution to both contemporary South African architecture and to responsible, intelligible conservation practice.
As part of their centenary celebrations in 1995, South African Breweries wished to adapt the oldest brewery and malthouse in the country as a visitors' centre where the historical background of beer and beer-making could be displayed. The brief also called for a redesign of the landscape and to provide unobtrusive parking for 200 cars.
Faced with four discrete historic buildings and a random array of car shelters, the approach was firstly to design new vehicle, visitor, and staff flow patterns, with a clearly defined visitor route connecting the various elements. Original structures like the furnace chimney and the buttresses of the old water-tank were re-instated, and linking structures added to provide a spine to take visitors chronologically through the physical spaces and historical processes of beer-making. By colour-coding the walkway blue and constructing it of contrasting modern materials, a clear distinction was made between original fabric and the movement ribbon. In this way unsound floor-boards, for instance, could be retained making the solution more economical while enhancing the credibility of the old.
A water sculpture by Ettienne de Kock along the walkway connecting the malthouse to the brewery, symbolises the Newlands spring water used for beer-making for more than 200 years. From this sculpture the stream runs in a cascade on either side of a large display copper to where the walkway enters a tunnel leading the visitor to the lift. This lift rises from the dark basement tunnel through the brewery and out above the roof where the visitor reaches a platform in the tower with a panoramic view of Newlands. From here he can follow the gravitational brewing process downwards by means of a series of new stairs.
Archaeological excavations were done by the UCT Contracts Office where the walkway enters the tunnel and interesting early flues of a demolished older malthouse, discovered below present ground-level, were incorporated into the design of this tunnel. The archaeologists also supervised excavations inside the building where infill was removed to allow for the re-use of earlier spaces. Thus it was possible to create a large bar and video room in the excavated basement. Also in the basement, the original koffieklip walls of the 17th century first wine cellar on the farm, which still formed part of the brewery, were discovered and exposed behind glass in a senior staff dining room.
The historical research, text and design for visitors' information display formed part of the architects' brief. Display boards are mostly suspended on wire to minimise obstruction of the original structures. New furniture, designed for the bar and VIP dining area, was of solid indigenous wood but contemporary design.
The landscape was simplified by removal of unnecessary walls, lean-to's , display objects (the engine in front of the malthouse) as well as badly positioned plants. A new road system was designed, fragmented parking facilities were consolidated into clearly defined visitors' parking and a deck for staff parking on two levels was provided.
The post-tensioned slab of this parking deck following the curved line and gradient of the street, and was left open on the sides thus avoiding mechanical ventilation. Central holes allow trees to grow from the ground through them, providing light below and greenery above.
Over a hundred new ornamental trees were planted in spaces between the buildings and parking areas. Low-maintenance colourful groundcover was used on the banks and beds. Many of these were especially grown heritage roses as a tourist attraction.
(Architecture SA. Nov/Dec 1997. pp 18-19)
Submitted by William MARTINSON
All truncated references not fully cited below are those of Joanna Walker's original text and cited in full in the 'Bibliography' entry of the Lexicon.
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