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Castle of Good Hope - Restoration
Cape Town, Western Cape

Gabriël Theron (Gawie) FAGAN: Design Architect

2001SAIA Award of Merit
2002SAIA Award for Excellence
2001SAIA Conservation Award


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33°55'31.48" S 18°25'37.39" E

This is a restoration of the Castle built in 1666 designed by Pierius COOL.

Award of excellence citation

The Casteel de Goede Hoop is the embodiment of South African history that, while not always noble, one that is certainly colourful. On the one hand it is a stark remain of the dominance of European Colonial powers in South Africa and its presence also a reminder of their partisan struggles, it also relates to the struggles of these same powers and their distant subjugates. In that it is a palimpsest of these many pasts. Hence, when coming to restore such an edifice there is the debate as to what past and whose past should be represented. Perhaps here it should be clearly stated that the Castle is not a French fort in the VAUBAN tradition although touted as such in most authoritative South African literature. This is an anachronism, he not yet having produced any fortifications when the building of the Cape fort commenced. It is of Dutch conception and directly related to all of their other fortifications, some of some decades earlier, such as that of Willemstad, Curaçao.

In 1969 the Gabriel Fagan Architects were appointed by the DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WORKS to the restoration project. It was probably not known at the time that this would be a thirty-three year project, almost the work of half a lifetime. After a thorough survey it was decided to phase the project into seven contracts.

In the ensuing period a continuity of occupation, then by the military, was ensured, no mean logistic feat, and to compound the complications, there was always public access to the historical monument. This in its way helped to keep the project in the public eye, and engender an ongoing interest, both of the layman and the expert. It was the interest of visiting heritage specialists from overseas that benefited from the information and knowledge garnered by the restoration team, and this was readily shared and disseminated. Others then could partake in the debate as to the restoration approaches and methodologies. This information was further presented whenever the opportunity of a local congress of conservators or gathering of heritage specialists took place. As is inevitable, certain decisions and methods were not without controversy. Most hotly debated was the decision to reinstate the Bakery and Dolphin Pool. The architects however committed themselves with integrity, and while debatable in principle, cannot be faulted in the finesse of execution. But that is why restoration lies within the realm of architectural design. It is a creative act.

Some challenges lie even within the realm of engineering and test the technical prowess of the restorer. In this project, the alarming state of the timber beams throughout, once the bearing end had been exposed, showed them almost completely rotted. It was surprising that there had not been any collapse of large sections of the edifice. These beams, of course, could have been replaced. But their rescue by means of innovative galvanized steel extensions also preserves a remnant of our ecological heritage since these were once the trees that afforested Houtbaai. Over and above the demands of construction of the Castle made on natural resources it also led to the founding of the building manufacturing industry in South Africa. There was the need for a constant supply of lime as well as fired clay bricks and tiles.

Also in the history of the Castle is a lineage of feisty women. The governer's wife who carried soil in her apron to set an example to a tardy workforce is a case in point. Lady Anne Barnard, whose spirited personality and astute observations recorded in letters and journals is another. Mrs Koopmans de Wet who protested at an imminent demolition of a bastion to make way for a proposed tramway is now part of legend. In reply to RHODES' remark that only a "tiny little point" was to be removed she said

"Tell Mr Rhodes his nose is only a little point on his face. Let him cut it off then look in the mirror".

To this list we can now add Dr Gwen Fagan whose meticulous research and documentation has ensured a record that will serve researchers and historiographers for generations to come. What is also ensured is that we have a clear reflection of the past. The gates to the main entrance serve as example.

While the extant gates at the start of restoration were steel, the team had been alerted to the possibility of timber doors by a reference in a newspaper article from the early C20. The stripping of masonry around the reveal of the main entrance disclosed the presence of the original pintles. Warn indentation of the bared masonry had tell-tale wear in the place where locks and bars would have been located.

On the study tour of the architects to Japhna Castle in Sri Lanka (once Ceylon) they recorded and measured the original wooden doors still in place. In consultation with the Monumentenzorg in the Netherlands and the discovery of further documentary evidence the authenticity of the design was confirmed and the doors replaced with matching copies.

The study of previous colour schemes as representing the diversity of tastes of the cultures that have occupied the Castle has also produced reams of files and challenged the ingenuity of the local paint manufacturing industry - yet more data for the record.

The name of the Fagans can now be recorded against those of the original design engineer DOMBAER and the likes of THIBAULT as having significantly contributed to the architectural legacy of our country.

This building, through the creative endeavours of the architects, is now one that has never before existed. Its restoration is however based on an impressive body of meticulous research, the documentation of which alone makes a vast contribution to heritage, not only nationally but, more importantly, internationally. In recognition of a restoration of international importance done to exacting standards and which demonstrates scholarly effort and architectural creativity and technical invention the panel has no hesitation in making for the first time for conservation project an Award of Excellence.

The Dolphin Fountain was built using old drawings, amongst them the one displayed here on the right.

The Castle was again restored in 2016 also by GABRIËL FAGAN ARCHITECTS.

Writings about this entry

Cohen, Ronald. 2015. Cape Town : a study in watercolours. Cape Town: Fernwood Press. pg [3]