Cape Town International Convention Centre
VAN DER MERWE MISZEWSKI ARCHITECTS: Design Architect
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The project is substantial in its design. It required, amongst other skills, an artful bridging, in a figurative sense, between the spatial requirements of functions attended by thousands, and those of smaller events attended by only a few. It is thus a matter of size and human scale: the need for large functional spaces, yet also for warmth and intimacy; for a cohesive, overall image yet for variety and legibility. From the users’ point of view, the complex meets these demands remarkably well.
The quality of design of a building complex which presented numerous challenges from overall concept through to detail, is well considered, cohesive and logical. The stone-faced surfaces, wood panelling and glass, offset by exposed structural steel elements, all strike a good balance. The building is flexible and modular, yet it does not give the impression of being repetitive. The scale of the indoor spaces is comfortable, even when empty. This is especially true of the triple level spine which forms a backbone, and the large indoor plant courts which assist with orientation. Modern, international and cool, it makes for its varied purposes.
The complex is right alongside the city centre, appointing the rather dull Foreshore precinct with new purpose and in scale lending a sense of urbanity, using protected internal courtyards as extensions to the city scape and thereby creating protected city squares. This is a first class 'new boy on the block'.
To fulfil its primary purpose, an international convention centre needs to be large enough to accommodate plenary sessions of thousands of delegates, as well as trade exhibitions such as motor shows, while providing all the attendant breakaway and meeting rooms, auditoria, banqueting halls, kitchens, bathrooms and so on. Yet to succeed on an operational level it must also have facilities that can comfortably cater for smaller functions such as weddings, product launches and cultural events.
To tick all the blocks on this checklist of requirements, the architectural association elected to segment the building into manageable parts, each with its own functions, design features and character, and linked by spaces that both enhanced the aesthetics and aided articulation.
At first glance, the site itself was not a prepossessing one: a landfill site that had been used for parking in comparative isolation on the outer edges of the Cape Town central business district (CBD). Exposure to brutal winds was a reality, as was the fact that it is overlooked by a freeway, which cuts the city from the sea, reducing accessibility.
As the design concept started taking shape, a different, more positive view of things started surfacing. It became apparent that the site's position would make this the first convention centre to be built within a city centre in South Africa. The changes within the port area and in the city would mean that a large building in this area could act as both a catalyst and a link between the city and its surrounding seafront environment.
Efforts were made to open up the design on this large, inhospitable and, in many ways, tricky site. As one example wide entrances were incorporated which have the effect of opening up to invite the city and its people into the space. Another inclusive aspect of the design was the creation of an encompassing new public space. Called Convention Square, this space brings focus on the comings and goings of the Roggebaai Canal, where both the main entrance of the CTICC and that of the Arabella Sheraton Grand Hotel are situated. The Roggebaai Canal extends from Convention Square, the important public space where various modes of transport intersect, to the Victoria & Alfred (V&A Waterfront. As such, it serves as a visible umbilical link between the city and the sea.
The architectural concept was a direct response to the operators' requirements and the characteristics of the site. Conceived early in the design process, the overall design concept remained little changed throughout.
Proximity of the adjacent Eastern Boulevard flyover presented an interesting challenge in terms of traffic noise. Yet it resulted in a positive attribute with regard to ease of access. The noise issue was overcome by relying on closed conservatories to exclude traffic sounds and the Cape's notoriously strong winds. These also provide the greening that gives visitors a sense of being in a living, breathing, natural environment. This greening of the interiors embraces the Cape's status as one of the seven botanical kingdoms of the world, with indigenous South African species strongly featured.
The space under-the flyover provides a natural access point for delivery vehicles, catering crew and exhibition infrastructure. Noise sensitive parts of the centre are blocked off from the highway while large sections of the buildings that face onto the city comprise glass curtaining, making the building transparent to the extent that commuters in the city are able to see through the centre to the harbour beyond.
This is a particularly spectacular sight when large cruise liners visit the port and are berthed in Duncan Dock beyond. The organisation of the building is logical and relatively simple. Large exhibition rooms are serviced from the hostile area under the freeways, transforming barren space into a marshalling yard.
The quieter, city flanking side of the site is more animated; this being the line along which the convention facilities are located and the area where bus and taxi drop-offs take place. The design concept separates internal traffic flow by utilising the ground floor for exhibitions, with conference and meeting rooms concentrated on the two floors above.
A triple level gallery or spine is the cohesive element that extends the full length of the centre and links all elements of the building in a logical, unified system.
The windowless character of the exhibition halls contrasts strongly with the transparency of other aspects of the centre, which opens it up to the public and the city. Given the size and the scale of the building, plus the fact that the facade extends over an expanse of three hundred metres, the individual components were designed to express themselves as separate identities on a human scale, as opposed to being experienced as a single homogenous form.
Logistics called for every aspect of the centre's accommodation offering to be carefully considered. Parking for 375 cars was provided in a single level basement under the exhibition halls, with a further 750 bays beneath the unfinished flyover, in what used to be the Coen Steytler parking garage. Together with the underground parking facilities at the Arabella Sheraton Grand Hotel, the centre provides parking for 1400 cars. The kitchens, situated on the basement level, have corridors linking to every possible catering area.
This naturally allows for rapid and direct service without interfering with the pedestrian traffic flow on the levels above.
Practicalities also governed the design style and tone of the interiors. The design brief demanded that they should not only offer a clean, contemporary look as a foil to any style of event, but that they should also be extremely durable and easily maintained.
Materials chosen were light in tone, neutral in colour and capable of being a canvas to an unlimited variety of decorations and branding during events, without appearing vacant or bland between engagements. Extensive light wood panelling complemented by sandstone and travertine surfaces, establishes the basis for a warm, light and neutral environment.
These are complemented by tones of grey in the fenestration and the extensive use of exposed steel. Strong accents in the form of Tabasco coloured curtains, carpets, upholstery and signage provide contrast.
The same principles of design were extended to the fittings, furniture and equipment. These interior appointments formed part of the architectural team's portfolio. The furniture is robust, featuring heavy-duty chairs and tables in lightwoods that blend with the interiors. Couches and chairs are judiciously placed in demarcated areas for relaxation.
A water channel or "leiwater voor" runs the full length of the gallery, culminating in a water feature at the Heerengracht end of the centre. This channel establishes a visual connection with the City of Cape Town's plan to extend a water channel down the axis of Adderley Street to the Heerengracht on the alignment of the original canal. The water feature brings the concept of canal and sea into the interior, serving as a reminder that this site was once ocean.
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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