Wednesday, December 19, 2007

12/12/2007 Email received from Abraham Cunio

Dear Colleagues,
I would appreciate it if you could circulate my response to the debate that took place at the Institute regarding the preservation of the Werdmuller Centre.
I believe that the Werdmuller Centre is a failed building as Roelof has failed to fulfill his brief which was to build a successful shopping centre.
It is difficult not to draw a comparison with Cavendish Square that was built at the same time, and which has proved to be an enormous success, commercially and otherwise. This American model certainly has its critique, but while I do agree with Dave Dewar that "Economics has nothing to do with heritage" economics was in this case the brief. The brief was in Dave's words, to build " a kind of souk to attract lower-income shoppers as they pass through it to the Main Road ". Semantics such as not calling a spade a spade but calling it a souk and not a shopping centre does not cover the fact that those shoppers have taken their feet where it was not necessary to twist and turn to shop, and to duck and dive when it rains. For me this is elementary, and if Roelof in his romantic vision did not want to espouse the American model, the many “covered souks” or bazaars of the world from Algiers to Istanbul which also serve low income shoppers could have provided inspiration.
It could be argued that although the building has failed in its brief, it has so many other qualities that it must be preserved.
It does represent a modernist architectural building of the time. But if a building is all form, and no function – unlike the sports centre at UCT - is it anything else than a pastiche and should it be preserved? The so many post-modern buildings that grace our city come to mind. Is this building any different?
To add it all, its many points of access make this building extremely difficult to police as its contorted walkways are an ideal home for criminal elements. Its lack of flexibility is a major constraint to recycling.
The question of balance also comes to mind. The Werdmuller in spite of its failure has some undeniable qualities, and I do enjoy walking through it, with reverence, and a sense of nostalgia. If we could be in a vacuum it would be appropriate to preserve it. But we are not, and if we are to weigh its merit against the merit of redeveloping this key site, it stands to reason that the balance has to sway towards a new development. A new development would revitalize this neglected part of Claremont and provide jobs to many people.
If a decision is made not to grant a demolition permit, I believe this building will continue to decay, and to drag its surrounding with it. I have still to meet developers brave enough to undertake the recycling of this building with the knowledge that SAHRA is looking over their shoulders.
It is sobering to note that the building was not identified in the Todeschini and Japha survey undertaken of the area. I am certain that this must have been an agonizing decision to make. To suggest as Martin Kruger does that this was a serious omission and that Todeschini and Japha “must have been asleep” is most insulting and condescending.
The site of the Verdmuller Centre presents a tremendous opportunity for a development our city can ill afford to lose, and for a talented professional team to do it justice.
With kind regards,
Abraham Cunio

No comments: