ERF 54472 CLAREMONT
DRAFT HERITAGE STATEMENT: TEXT ONLY
Prepared in compliance with Section 38 of the National Heritage Resources Act (NHRA)
Peter de Tolly & Associates
Aikman Associates: Heritage Management
Urban Design Services cc: Heritage Management
December 11, 2007
1. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
In this Heritage Statement it is argued that the existing retail and office building, the
Werdmuller Centre despite having been designed by the internationally renowned
architect, the late Professor Roelof Uytenbogaardt, and something of a sculptural tour
de force, was fatally flawed in design terms. As a result of its flaws it has never been
commercially viable and is today not capable of being rehabilitated or secured to adapt
to new commercial uses. This evaluation concludes that it is of limited conservation
value, in terms of its cultural or social historical importance or as architectural history. It
has become a haven for criminals and is a blighting influence on the Claremont CBD.
The socio-economic benefits of the redevelopment of the site outweigh its heritage
significance. New development would better relate to the adjoining historic Main Road,
Claremont Railway Station, the new Bus and Taxi Termini, and the new residential and
commercial development in the area.
Old Mutual, the owners of the building have resisted the demolition of the building for
many years but have resolved that they can no longer do so. A Statement by Old Mutual
on their decision to seek demolition of the property is attached as Annexure A.
Old Mutual wishes to redevelop Erf 54472 Claremont by demolishing the building on the
site known as the Werdmuller Centre completed in 1974.
As the site exceeds 5 000m² in extent, the comments of the provincial heritage authority,
Heritage Western Cape (HWC) must be obtained in terms of Section 38 of the National
Heritage Resources Act (Act 25 of 1999) (NHRA).
To this end a Notification of Intent to Develop (NID) form was submitted to HWC
recommending that a limited study be undertaken.
Peter de Tolly & Associates, Aikman Associates: Heritage Management, and Urban
Design Services cc: Heritage Management, were appointed by DHK Architects, Old
Mutual.s agents to submit a Notification of Intent to Develop (NID) and to undertake the
preparation of the Heritage Impact Assessment (HIA). The latter is a requirement of the
HWC.s Record Of Decision (ROD) sent to Aikman Associates in a letter dated 21
3. STATEMENT OF INDEPENDENCE AND ACCREDITATION
The authors of this report have no financial interest in the proposed development or any
other projects being undertaken by the developers.
of Heritage Impact Assessors: Western Cape (AHAP). They have been involved in
urban conservation and heritage assessment since 2000 when the NHRA came into
effect and have together prepared many HIA.s. Henry Aikman is an architect with urban
design experience in local government heading the urban design section at the CCT
from 1987 to 1990. Andrew Berman is also an architect and urban designer and partner
in the firm Urban Design Services.
Peter de Tolly is an architect, urban designer and city planner with private and public
sector experience in Canada, the United States and South Africa. From 1980 until 2004,
he worked for the City of Cape Town, as Director of Planning, Deputy City Planner,
Acting Director of Economic Development and Tourism, and Director of Land Restitution
and Special Projects. During this period he was actively involved in heritage
conservation, and in the planning of the Claremont CBD.
The Werdmuller Centre: Erf 54472, Claremont, is situated on the Main Road, Claremont.
The property also fronts onto Ralph Street to the south, Newry Street to the north, and to
the east onto the Claremont Boulevard now under construction – designed to act as a
relief road to the Main Road.
5. DESCRIPTION AND SETTING
Erf 54472 is 6 228 m² in extent. It does not take up the entire block bounded by the Main
Road, Ralph Street, Newry Street and Claremont Boulevard, excluding the south
western portion, which is under separate ownership and is not part of this application.
The subject property is close to the historic Claremont Railway Station, which is located
one block to the south east. It also borders the new Taxi Interchange across Ralph
Street, and will also border the new Bus Terminus which is under construction across
6. STATUTORY CONTEXT
6.1 Title Deeds
There are no restrictive conditions of title preventing the redevelopment of the block.
6.2 Zoning Scheme
The zoning of the site is General Business, B3. Permissible Coverage is 100%. The
Bulk Factor is 3.7. The habitable Room factor is 34. The Permissible Height is 7 storeys.
There are zero setbacks to the first and second floors, other storeys require a 4.5m
setback. It is not in an Urban Conservation Area (Section 108 of the Zoning Scheme).
6.3 National Heritage Resources Act (Act 25 of 1999)
The proposed redevelopment of the site must be dealt with in terms of Section 38 of the
NHRA ( a development or activity that would change the character of a site exceeding
5 000m² in extent). A Notification of Intention to Develop Form (NID) was lodged with
HWC on 19 September 2007. A reply in the form of a letter was received by Henry
Aikman dated 21 September 2007. This requested "that a limited Heritage Impact
Assessment, as outlined in the Notification to Develop by Mr Aikman, be done and submitted to
HWC for assessment".
The heritage significance of the building is assessed in Section 14 below.
7. HISTORICAL CONTEXT
7.1 Early settled history
The Claremont CBD has its roots in the beginning of colonial settled history. The
following text gives a brief overview of the development of Claremont as an urban centre
and of the significant changes that it has experienced in the past 35 years.
"At the beginning of the 19th Century Thibault.s Map of Cape Town indicated some important
routes (such as Main and Protea Roads) already in place, including the location of large rural
estates which formed the beginnings of an agricultural based settlement. Within time this
settlement became more populous, and with the inception of the Cape Town to Wynberg horse
drawn omnibus services (1850), and the completion of the Salt River to Wynberg railway line
(1865), Claremont became an identifiable and established satellite village of Cape Town. At the
end of the 19th Century Cape Town experienced a development boom. In 1885 the Claremont
Municipality was established. Doyle.s map (1891) of Cape Town indicated Claremont as a
distinct fine-grain village with buildings lining the Main Road and its side streets. Main Road at
that stage was a busy shopping street with shops staying open until 11pm on Saturday nights.
The Cape Electric Tramways was established in 1898 and in 1914 the Main Road was upgraded
to provide a better access to Simons Town Naval Base..
"At the centre of Doyle.s Map the main routes of Protea Road, the Main Road and the railway
line are clearly discernable. The 1932 Survey (1:25,000 Series) of the Cape Peninsula shows
Claremont as part of a continuous linear development 2km wide centred on the Main Road,
stretching south of the city centre to Wynberg, with most villagers living in walking distance of
public transport. This pattern would soon change. The mass production in South Africa of the
Model A Ford from 1928 onwards started the popularisation of the motorcar as a means of
private transport. Increasing pressure on major routes led to the adoption of the Main Road
Widening Scheme in 1954. This, together with the declaration of the Claremont CBD as a White
Group Area and the formulation of the Claremont Bypass Scheme in the 1960s led to the
erosion of the village atmosphere and colonnaded High Street character of Claremont, resulting
in bleak open spaces where small shops and houses once stood. Changing shopping patterns
and development pressures saw to the closure of once popular suburban department stores like
Henshilwoods and Pearces and other landmarks along the Main Road.
"The opening of the Cavendish Square shopping centre in 1972 marked the beginning of a new
era for Claremont, which has been dominated by the building of shopping centres and corporate
office complexes. Associated with this there has been an increasingly deteriorating public
environment. Private sector capital has been concentrated on developing internalised spaces
and malls, while the resources of the public sector have been absorbed by schemes mainly
aimed at alleviating problems relating to traffic congestion and public transportation, and
managing the blighted left over spaces between the railway line and the Main Road."1
7.2 More recently: Cycles of growth, decay and growth
As is the case with any business district, Claremont.s CBD has experienced cycles of
growth and decay since the 1960s. All of the seven processes shaping core areas of
cities can be seen in its structure and fabric: inception, exclusion, separation, extension,
competition, readjustment, and urban redevelopment.2
While the area is currently undergoing major readjustment and redevelopment, we need
to remember how different Claremont was in 1973 from today.
The coloured residential population of Claremont had been incrementally removed
through the application of the Group Areas Act from the mid 1960s and by the early
1970s the job was almost complete. Large areas of late 19th Century row houses were
demolished to make way for new commercial development, of which the Werdmuller Centre was one.
Koblitz wrote in the February 2007 issue of Property Magazine: "Back in the 70s and 80s,
Claremont was a happening place. Before the days of supermalls such as Tyger Valley and
Century City, Cavendish Square… and its neighbour The Link (1977) were „it., and Claremont
Main Road was the domain of funky shops such as Tallulah.s second-hand clothing and W. Clift
and Sons. And of course, with the suburb.s proximity to the University of Cape Town, and world renowned rugby and cricket grounds just around the corner, the suburb looked set for increasing popularity with a CBD that couldn.t fail". 3
Then came the 1980s characterised by political turmoil and the failure of the Apartheid
government.s "influx control" policy. Claremont no longer served the white and coloured
middle classes of the central southern suburbs but rapidly became a centre serving the
rapidly growing informal settlements of the Cape Flats like Crossroads, Brown.s Farm
etc. The station became a key interchange linking the Lansdowne Road Corridor to the Simon's Town railway line and Main Road bus routes. Businesses that previously served middle class customers moved out.
Koblitz continues: "... stores closed their doors. Informal traders set up stands and the traffic
(both pedestrian and motorised) reached nightmarish proportions. (The advent of the Kombi taxi aggravated the situation). Serious shoppers and leisure-seekers turned their attention to new destinations north (Tyger Valley), west (the V&A Waterfront), and even south (Constantia
Village). Cape Town suddenly had more to offer and the question on everyone.s mind was why
battle the Claremont congestion and ever-declining choice when a smorgasbord of alternative
environments was on offer throughout the Peninsula?" Tomalin4 in 1972 analysed the growth of Claremont CBD as a retail centre, and focused particularly on whether increased retail floor area was justified in terms of increased spending power available to the area. He concluded that there was an over-provision of retail floor area that was not supported by an adequate increase in spending power.
And, that was likely to be exacerbated by the opening of the nearby (2km) Kenilworth
Centre, whose first phase was due to open in 1973. Analysis of his figures leads to the
conclusion that the Werdmuller Centre could not have been viable at that time.
Bus and train access meant that the predominant commuter shoppers were coloured
and black. There could not have been either sufficient passing trade, or working
population in that particular area to make the Werdmuller Centre viable commercially.
These issues are further discussed in ensuing sections.
In The Property Magazine article cited above, Koblitz continues: "In the minds of many,
Claremont.s CBD had hit the skids: "As to how it got like that, there are a couple of factors and
they have to do with the urban dynamics in a metropole," explains Chris Drummond, Chairman
of the Claremont Improvement District Company (CIDC). "It.s always fascinating how one area
goes up and another goes down".
"In Claremont you had the most extraordinary contradiction: you had world-class buildings such as the Vineyard Hotel and the Norwich Oval – internationally acclaimed as one of the finest
office developments in South Africa. You had the Swiss Re building, Norwich on Main, and
Cavendish Square was undergoing this huge makeover. But then there.s this unbelievable
„thing. called Claremont Main Road – Claremont.s equivalent to the San Andreas Fault – and, as
a result, on the one side of the road you have success and happiness and on the other it.s an
The article continues, noting that the „disaster. zone is "however, home to the heartbeat of
Claremont.s economy – the railway station, taxi ranks and bus depots that bring thousands of
workers, shoppers and informal traders into the area every day. But urban creep has resulted in
crime and grime of note. Chris (Drummond) continues: "The bus station is non-existent, the taxi
rank is terrible, the station is unsafe and then there.s the Werdmuller Centre [a concrete
structure built in 1973 and which never took off as a commercial centre] -.you can.t have that
level of contradiction in an urban area that is meant to be first-class. When you have this wrong-
not to maintain them and the degradation of the whole becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy."
The area between the Main Road and the Railway Line, apart from the construction of Pick n Pay and Draper Square, saw small changes during the late 1980s and through the 1990s. Retailing largely consisted of and still consists of C and D class shops. The Werdmuller Centre became very much part of this lower-income retailing and apart from the musical instrument shop Bothners. Werdmuller Centre has stayed at that level for over a decade; in spite of the fact that retail and office development in the Claremont CBD generally, grew steadily over three decades.
The City's 1976 report „CLAREMONT: A Reassessment of Schemes relating to the
Claremont City Sub-Centre., noted that between 1972 and 1976 the combined retail and
office floor area almost doubled, from 58 443m² to 114 361m². By 2003, those figures
had changed to 123 000m² of occupied retail space and 154 000m² of office space, for a
combined total of 277 000m². Much of that growth took place west of the Main Road.
Now, that growth has accelerated yet again. If one drew a graph, it would show an ongoing upward trajectory of increasing floor area, coupled to an increase in the quality of retailing (more A and B). In all of this development activity over the past two plus decades, the Werdmuller has lain becalmed, decaying; its trajectory moving steadily downwards. While the rest of the area grew, the Werdmuller continued to lose tenants, and with that, return on investment, meanwhile continuing to cost more and more to maintain.
In 1960, Woolworths was located on the east side of the road. Sometime before 1976 it
had moved across the Main Road to between Warwick Street and Grove Avenue, together with John Orr.s. Later, still keeping faith with the Main Road, it moved into what was previously the Henshilwood.s building across Warwick Street. That move was so that it could be linked directly to Cavendish Square via an underground pedestrian walkway which was built to connect with the Cavendish basement walkway. It also was accessed from the new Warwick Square parking. But, eventually it had to succumb to the power of Cavendish Square, and it relocated from its Main Road premises into Cavendish Square, occupying two levels, a basement and ground floor, in space previously occupied by Stuttafords.
Chris Drummond„s comment on the rental differences pertaining on both sides of Main
Road brings into focus the economic difference between the west and east sides of the
Main Road. His group had bought the Atrium complex and transformed it into Stadium
on Main. "When we bought the Atrium, we had a spectacle outlet in our building and on the
opposite (and „right. side) of the road 37 metres away, there was an internet café. The spectacle
shop was paying us R34/m² while the internet café was paying R122/m²! A 400% difference!
"To all interested parties here in Claremont, it became obvious that if we wanted to see an
upgrade we were either going to wait forever for City Council (which, quite rightly, had to play
catch-up post 1994 in other areas), or do it ourselves – the latter being the way we decided to
go and which meant that two things had to happen: we had to put our hands in our pockets and we had to get organised. And being organised meant drawing together all the stakeholders in the
area, from investors to street vendors, because we all had an elected interest in making sure this urban environment would function and improve."
7.3 The latest growth cycle started in 2000
The formation of the Claremont Improvement District Company (CIDC) in 2000 was the
start of a renewal of confidence in the area. With its initial focus on crime and grime., its careful managing of street children and vagrants, and its cooperation with the City in the planning and upgrading of the look and feel of the area, it transformed the feel of the area, with the result that today there is a Claremont Renaissance., with over R2 billion of new development, including the construction of apartments on both sides of Main Road. By the year.s end some 2 000 people will be living in the heart of the Claremont CBD. Looking ahead, there are discussions about extending the underground parking at Warwick Square and transforming its surface so that it can become one of the projected Four (public) Squares in the Claremont CBD.
The City recognised the need for planning, and appointed planning consultants in April
2000 to undertake the first phase of an integrated land use/transportation study with the
aim of formulating a Development Framework and Growth Management Strategy to
guide growth in the Claremont CBD. The Phase One study was completed in September
that year and provided a comprehensive evaluation of the existing land use and
transport system in Claremont CBD.
That was followed by a Phase Two study, which divided the area into a series of
precincts and predicted new land use growth and the transport implications. It also
contained an urban design evaluation of the area. This phase involved key stakeholders,
particularly the CIDC and was completed in August 2003. In the assessment that
followed of the study between the City and CIDC, it was agreed that the future focus
should be on upgrading the public environment of the Claremont CBD. A Third phase
study was started and a draft Implementation Framework completed in mid-2005. The
final report with the City officials. recommendations for its adoption and implementation
was approved by Mayco on 4 September. The priority is the landscaping of the Main
Road to improve it for pedestrians and to reduce its divisive effect. Already, the effects
of the proposals can be seen in the new paving along the Main Road and in Dreyer
Apart from the proposals to upgrade the public environment, there have been three main
outcomes of the studies: first is the construction by the City of the Taxi Interchange and
holding area (completed in July 2007), the second is construction of a new Bus
Terminus (now underway), and the third is construction of the Claremont Boulevard
adjacent to the Railway Line, a relief road to the Main Road (that will siphon traffic off
the Main Road). This is being paid for and undertaken by the CIDC (by way of a
separate non-profit company) to a cost of R22m.
The site occupied by the Werdmuller Centre lies between the new Taxi Interchange and
Bus Terminus. The building currently severs the linkage between these two nodes. If the
site was redeveloped, a new building could provide space and activities that would
contribute positively to both. In so doing, it would recognise the needs of the mostly low
income earners that are the main train, bus and taxi commuters.
By the time the Werdmuller Centre was constructed, Claremont CBD had graduated
from a retail strip along the Main Road to the pre-eminent suburban District Centre in the
City of Cape Town. Pre-eminent centre it might have been, but it had suffered from the
City.s application of the Main Road Widening Scheme. As new development took place,
buildings were setback. This reduced the number of colonnaded historic buildings and
already then the „gap tooth. was in evidence between the old and new buildings.
Buildings were then generally either two or three storeys high. While the Werdmuller
Centre was setback, it maintained the general height5. Today, most of the colonnades
are gone and the buildings on either side of the widened Main Road represent a
hodgepodge of styles.
8. HERITAGE RESOURCES
The heritage or cultural attributes of a site and its setting can be grouped into four
categories: aesthetic, historical, scientific and social. The analysis would indicate that
the setting being closely related to the railway/Main Road/ bus and taxi terminals is of
some social heritage significance and the Main Road Corridor and Claremont Station is
of some historical significance. This significance has not been graded.
9. DOCUMENTATION AND LITERATURE
The most recent description of the building, its origins and present condition, is
contained in the monograph by Giovanni Vio entitled ROELOF UYTENBOGAARDT:
Senza tempo/Timeless (Il Poligrafo casa editrice, 2006). The building is also briefly
discussed by Jean Carey Nuttal in the November 1993 issue of the Transvaal Institute of
Architects Journal in the article on Roelof Uytenbogaardt. Rory Lange.s History Essay
entitled Character and Composition in the Architecture of Roelof Uytenbogaardt,
THE ORDERING OF PLACE (1996), makes reference to it. The Analysis which is the
heart. of this Heritage Statement draws from the monograph, the article and the essay.
As early as three years after completion, the building was modified by two alterations to
remedy deficiencies. The one was the construction of an internal bridge to provide
access to the Claremont Post Office, which had leased space in the office portion (i.e.
the east side of the building). The other was far more drastic as it required the elevation
to the Main Road being enclosed by the addition of glazing (i.e. the enclosure of the
panoramic roof terrace). This completely destroyed the upper level access to Main Road and the view to the mountain (see Lange, section 12. 5). Other alterations followed that
resurfaced the slate and tarred surfaces with stoneware tiles, enclosed access ramps,
set glazing flush with the surface (on the south side) and roofed the atrium; these also
completely altered the original concept. Unfortunately, none of these alterations involved
structural deterioration, IBR cladding was applied to enclose the access bridge between
the two buildings.
5 See the fold-out diagram, Figure 4, Claremont Main Road Elevations, in the City of Cape
Town.s Report: CLAREMONT: A REASSESSMENT OF SCHEMES RELATING TO THE
CLAREMONT SUB-CENTRE. City Engineer.s Department. April 1976
11. CONDITION OF THE BUILDING
11.1 Photographic record
11.2 Engineer’s assessment
11.3 The Old Mutual’s Experience
[This section to be completed]
12.1 Criteria for Assessment. The National Heritage Resources Act as a starting
To address the issue of significance, reference needs to be made to objective criteria by
which the loss or retention of the building is assessed. Those contained in the NHRA are
addressed first as they are law.
Section 3.3 of the NHRA defines Criteria for Significance as follows:
(3) Without limiting the generality of subsections (1) and (2), a place or object is to be considered part of the national estate if it has cultural significance or other special value because of –
a) Its importance in the community, or pattern of South Africa.s history;
b) Its possession of uncommon, rare or endangered aspects of South Africa.s natural or
c) Its potential to yield information that will contribute to an understanding of South Africa.s
natural or cultural heritage;
d) Its importance in demonstrating the principal characteristics of a particular class of South
Africa.s natural or cultural places or objects;
e) Its importance in exhibiting particular aesthetic characteristics valued by a community or
f) Its importance in demonstrating a high creative or technical achievement at a particular
g) Its strong or special association with a particular community or cultural group for social,
cultural or spiritual reasons;
h) Its strong or special association with the life or work of a person, group or organisation of
importance in the history of South Africa;
i) Sites of significance relating to the history of slavery in South Africa.
Of the above criteria, it can be argued that a), b), c), d), and i) have no application. It is
criteria, f) in particular, and e), that may have application. As to criterion g), it is unclear
as to how the building as such (as opposed to the person) could have strong or special
association with a particular community or cultural group.
It is criterion h) – a person of importance - that primarily triggers the need for this study.
The late Professor Uytenbogaardt was nationally and internationally renowned,
receiving the South African Institute of Architects (SAIA) highest award, the Gold Medal
for Architecture in 1998, the title of South Africa.s Architect of the century by the
Financial Mail, the posthumous award by the Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap
en Kuns of its Medal of Honour for Architecture, and numerous other awards. As an
architect and urban designer, he can fairly be termed a .recognised master..
We now to turn to criterion f): its „importance in demonstrating a high creative or
technical achievement at a particular period.. In its conception, the Werdmuller Centre
had a carefully thought-through aesthetic (derived from Le Corbusier – see section 12.4
below). It sought to use the flows of people from the various transport termini to create a
shopping experience that was urban, the antithesis of the internalised shopping centre.
In its original state, it was something of a sculptural tour de force. It also had a structure
and palette of materials that was carefully and deliberately chosen.
The building, as can be seen from the opinion survey that was conducted (described in
section 13 below), is valued (i.e. considered an „important. building) by members of the
architectural profession (80% of those surveyed) and therefore must be seen to meet
criterion e). The survey however also indicates that a significant number of people do
not value the building. There are also design professionals who participated in the
Institute for Architecture.s open meeting on 5 December who strongly support retention
of the building in terms of both e) and f).
The NHRA contains a number of provisions for the protection of heritage resources
(Sections 29, 30 and 39). These could have been applicable to the Werdmuller Centre,
had the relevant authorities already acted upon them. As they have not, and as the
building is less than sixty years old, the building is not protected in terms of Section 34
of the NHRA.
But, time has taken its toll and that original state has long gone and while it is still
possible to see the creative and technical ingenuities, we believe that the failings of the
building are such that they are insufficient to qualify retention of the building according to
criterion f). More shall be said about this in the text that follows.
12.2 Criteria more applicable at the local scale
In considering the heritage significance of the building, consideration has been given to
other possible criteria. Baumann and Winter have developed a 3-tier grading system for
national, regional and local heritage resources as provided for in Section 7 of the NHRA.
In the absence of official criteria this Interim System is widely used by AHAP members
and is accepted by HWC. At the local or Grade 3 level, criteria are defined for Intrinsic,
Associational and Contextual Significance.
While these could be applied to this instance, the criteria contained in the Cape
Provincial Institute of Architects publication: THE BUILDINGS OF CENTRAL CAPE
TOWN 1978, Volume One: Formative Influences and Classification, are considered to
be more focused to assessing this particular situation. The CPIA criteria were developed
as „a means of isolating and identifying buildings of particular significance in
architectural, historical or cultural terms or insofar as they contribute to townscape..
While eight criteria are defined, it is only the first five that are considered to be
applicable, as 6. has already been addressed under the NHRA criterion h), and the last
two, 7. and 8. refer to buildings over 100 years old.
The CPIA criteria were as follows:
1. Buildings or sites, which are of national or local historic importance or association.
2. Buildings, which are rare or outstanding examples of their period.
3. Buildings, which form a fine grouping of architectural merit.
4. Buildings, which by their presence contribute to a fine urban setting or lend character to a
5. Buildings, which contribute to or enhance the quality of a square or other space of
significance on which they abut.
In terms of these, is the Werdmuller Centre a building that is of „national or local historic
importance or association. (criterion 1.)? Is it a „rare or outstanding example of its period.
(criterion 2.)? Does it warrant being put onto the national Register? Has it by its
presence contributed to a fine urban setting or lent character to its locality? Has it
contributed or enhanced the quality of the spaces which border it? All of these questions
are addressed in the ensuing text.
12.3 Review of Uytenbogaardt’s approach to architecture
In order to address the above issues of significance, a useful starting point is the three
design informants defined by Uytenbogaardt in his text entitled "An approach to
architecture" contained in the monograph by Giovanni Vio published in October 2006.6
Considerable portions of his text are repeated because they provide the necessary
platform for evaluation.
preconceptions leading to predetermined ends, in plan, section or elevation. Further, that, „the
process of discovery can be described in terms of a sequence of need, programme, idea and
context. The process, in the first instance, should be informed by a sensitive understanding of
human needs and requirements, physical, social, psychological and cultural.….„Human needs
give rise to a programme of requirements. The programme has no form but has implications for
form. Programme has two main informants.
"The one is the requirements generated by the activities and functions which will be housed in
the building and by the needs of the people who carry out those activities. The other derives
from the special consciousness of the individual about the art of architecture. This
consciousness substantially impacts on the way in which the problem is finally defined. For my
part, architecture is a continuum of past, present and future and the great search is for the
timeless qualities of architecture. The fact that most people of any one generation live in, and
use, buildings made by past generations and that most buildings today will house future
generations is an important realisation. It underscores the fact that the qualities, which make
buildings truly enduring, are capable of recognition beyond cultural change. This qualitative,
non-programmatic dimension of architecture transcends, but still incorporates, the programme of the immediate client…. No really significant architecture can ever result from an approach, which is informed simply by the immediate programme of functional requirements. Great architecture
results from an approach when the non-programmatic and programmatic dimensions of
buildings are brought into appropriate relationships with each other.
"In summary, every project (should) respond to three major informants: the programmatic (the
translation of human and cultural requirements and activities into the language of a building); the non-programmatic (the art of architecture over time in many contexts); and context (the
dictates of place). Taken together, these provide the constraints which are of enormous
assistances to design" (emphasis added).
The following text from the exhibition on Uytenbogaardt.s work held at the South African
National Gallery explained the building.: „This building (was) designed as an alternative to
the internally oriented shopping mall, an exploration of light and interconnected space in which
one always would be aware of the building as a whole and of the world outside...The building
responds to the pedestrian desire lines from Main Road to Claremont Station, the route from the former picked up at street level and wound up through the building in the form of a ramp, to
terminate in an upper terrace with a view towards Devil.s Peak and overlooking the road. The
offices are given views into the building and open into planned terraces with sunlight and
The next sections will explore the recorded key influences underpinning the design, how
the above informants and objectives were realised and their success or otherwise over
the 30 years since the construction of the development.
12.4 The influence of Le Corbusier in the design of the building
According to Uytenbogaardt the Werdmuller Centre reflects an exploration of Le
Corbusier, .one of the most innovative space makers we have known. Even in making the
drawings I was influenced by him". 7 Lange has suggested that the Werdmuller Centre was
produced during a period of „infatuation. with Le Corbusier's work8.
The Werdmuller Centre is certainly a distinctive and unusual building. The remainder of
this section explains its stylistic origins, placing the building within its architectural
historical context. It traces the aesthetic to Le Corbusier.s purist and brutalist phase, lists
relevant theory and other Corbusian features. It also includes Uytenbogaardt.s own
contribution in extending the Corbusian language. It alludes to the link between modern
art and modern architecture, both the stylistic qualities and motifs as well as the shared
strategies and gambits employed by the modern artist and modern architect.
The design of Werdmuller Centre can be firmly placed as being directly influenced by
the controversial Swiss/ French architect Le Corbusier (Charles – Edward Jeanneret –
Gris, 1887-1968). He was arguably the most influential architect of the twentieth century
and also had a great effect on modernist town planning. It closely resembles Le
Corbusier.s Carpenter Centre, the notable Harvard visual arts building built only ten
years previously. It shares the use of Le Corbusier.s five points of architecture, the use
of ramps, materials, finishes and details.
Le Corbusier and Ozenfant founded the Purism (an avant garde painting) movement in
1918. Leger is perhaps the most famous artist associated with the Purists. Theirs was a
reaction to the fragmentary nature of cubist painting. The machine and industrial motifs
were given a stripped, classical quality. Simple, platonic forms were used, devoid of
detail. Similar such forms and motifs can be found in Le Corbusier.s architecture such as
the simple column, rectangular composition, stripped forms and the use of the
Twenty years after the purist movement ended Corbusier embarked on his brutalist
period, using „beton brut. (raw concrete). Rough concrete was exposed, as well as
services. This movement was popular amongst architects in the 60.s and 70.s. The
brutalist aesthetic is evident in Werdmuller in the sheer, solid towers and unplastered
concrete and exposed plumbing services. Dark slate and tar are used in a brutalist
fashion as they are materials without positive tactile qualities. Uncompromising forms
and harsh materials are used rigorously and consistently throughout the building in a
highly sculptural way.
Le Corbusier.s five points were published in a booklet written for the Stuttgart
Weissenhof housing exhibition in 1927.9
They are as follows:
1. "Le Toit Terasse" or Roof Garden
The space occupied by the building on the ground floor is recaptured by the roof garden.
It allows for additional outside space and the garden maintains constant humidity
ensuring protection of the reinforced concrete roof slab.
2. "La Maison Sur Pilotis"
The house is lifted on supports, away from the damp ground. Piloti are plain, simple,
undecorated columns. Their role is to support the floor without beams, allowing the slabs
to „float. as a horizontal square plane. Their use implies a logical grid. This sets up a
pattern of columns which gives rhythm and sense of scale. The use of a structural grid
frees up the walls to operate independently to structure. No structural compromises are
necessary for the making of space.
In the Werdmuller Centre the columns do not necessarily support the floor immediately
above, but may skip a level or two, supporting a slab or roof at a much higher level.
3. "Le Fenêtre en Longuer" -The horizontal window
Long spans are possible using reinforced concrete. Increased illumination is possible
Ribbon type windows accentuate the horizontal character of modern buildings, in
contrast to the vertical quality of traditional architecture.
4. "Le Plan Libre" – The Free Plan
The piloti support system carries the load of the structure, enabling freedom in the design
of the plan and the movement system.
5. "La Façade Libre" – The Free Facade
The pilotis are inside the building. The floors may project, thus freeing up the façade from
its supporting role. The façade can thus be designed without compromises to reflect the
internal use or to act as a screen of some kind, and can be separated from the building. It
can be designed with various thicknesses and can mediate the zone between inside and
A Corbusian feature, not listed in his five points, was the use of the ramp as a device to
move through a building. In addition to these principles, other modernist conventions
include simplified and abstracted forms, no decoration or ornament, and the building
structured by movement.
The five points were a radical departure from the architecture of the past. They were
originally intended for domestic architecture, though Le Corbusier used these principles
in later, non-residential projects. The Werdmuller Centre is one of the few buildings in
South Africa which follows Le Corbusier.s Five Points of Architecture.
Uytenbogaardt extended the possibilities using the vocabulary of the five points by
sophisticated use of complex geometries, the use of pilotis „skipping. floors and
supporting levels higher up as well as the tilting of floor planes (Lange). The architect
has pursued his intention to work in this particular mode with almost uncompromising
rigour. The self imposed rules have been relentlessly pursued and sculptural effects
have been taken extremely far.
The qualities of reinforced concrete have been exploited, both structurally with daring
spans and its plastic, sculptural opportunities with curved and serpentine forms. The
qualities of the rough materials are laid bare in an unabashed exposure of raw concrete,
slate and tar, unashamedly expressed.
There are many parts of the building which display a virtuoso.s skill in sculptural
articulation and the manipulation of space, most evident in the north entrance on Newry
It is important to note that the modernist project articulated by Le Corbusier was in
opposition to traditional architecture. It was utopian, anti bourgeois and socialist. The
programme of this new architecture was a negation of the past, which was thought to
have no relevance in the modern world. It ignored history, place and identity, hence the
name „international style., a generic term for modern architecture.
The modernist aesthetic, while championed by the architectural establishment to this
day, has not been a popular style. It could be argued that it was always the intention of
the architect in the role of the modern artist to challenge accepted notions and to move
forward to a new architecture appropriate to the changed circumstances of the modern
world. This is consistent with the „historicist. idea of progress in art as well as the
widespread notion of the „spirit of the times. (zeitgeist) demanding new forms.
It was the intention of the early modern artist (Le Corbusier was also a painter) to react
against the excesses of the Victorian and Edwardian times. There was a belief, still held
by some today that traditional forms had been exhausted, and had degenerated into
commercialized and sentimental banality. The modern artist, in reacting against this kitsch., made art that was purposely difficult to fathom, and once appreciated through
education and awareness, became an acquired elevated taste.
This may go towards explaining why many architects have pursued and appreciated the
modernist style in spite of its unpopularity with the general public. Werdmuller Centre is
a good example of this.
Nuttal quotes Uytenbogaardt as saying that: "You slightly lose your head in the way you
want to form that space. It was idealism, a love affair." For Lange: "If the Werdmuller Centre is
Corbusien, it is the Corbu of L „Œuvre Complet: black and white, heroic, polemical" (p23).
12.5 Comments on Uytenbogaardt’s ‘informants’
When it came to the design of the Werdmuller Centre, the programmatic content was
given specificity by the following objectives contained in a feasibility study:
1. The economic viability of developing the site, not necessarily as a separate entity but as
a total development in conjunction with the present proposed scheme.
2. A development which will complement and enhance the potential of the proposed
scheme in Economic terms and in Architectural and Planning terms.
3. The inclusion of housing within the total development to expedite the granting of
permission by the Department of Community Development10.
The Study.s Introduction claimed that "No other site in this commercial area enjoys this rich
distribution of accessibility to the same extent as does the LHC (i.e. Werdmuller) site,
immediately surrounded as it is by origins of dense pedestrian movements, representing a
considerable purchasing power".
The feasibility analysis also stated: "The proposed development consists of two portions. The
first, LHC1, is informed by the concept of drawing the public well into the heart of a multi-level
court surrounded by shops of great variety both in size and spatial characteristics. A generous
public circulation system encourages the public to move from street to street by means of a
series of short cuts through the scheme, each partaking of the central space that reveals what is
available to the shopper".
The Werdmuller Centre was in fact two buildings. This derived from the Mutual initially
owning only the portion fronting onto Main Road and then later acquiring the portion
fronting onto what is today Claremont Boulevard, on the east, Railway Station side. The
Feasibility Study shows a design that took account of the two sites, with a department
store with apartments above fronting onto the Station and small-scale retail on the
remainder, leading to the Main Road. As built, the two buildings were decisively
separated by the geometry of the design and were linked by bridges and a service core.
The uniqueness of the building was given credit in an article in the Cape Times of 21
November, 1975. This was headed: Fine architecture graces Claremont. John Benzon
wrote: "VALID ARCHITECTURE grows naturally out of recognising the nature of a site and the
human dynamics involved. In these days, when commercial men and public authorities foist
upon us one misbegotten apology for architecture after another, it is a pleasure to visit a site
where sound architectural and commercial principles seem to have been combined.... Not only is
it interesting architecture, but it is beginning to create a hub of convenient and useful shops and
places of refreshment that continues the pattern and tradition of Claremont".
Lange characterises the Werdmuller as an „early. work where the preoccupation is with
the themes of transport and movement, rather than an involvement in the making of
place. The movement theme found its expression in the Werdmuller, where the building
could also be seen as an urban micro replica of an Italian hill town, (perhaps Calcata
and Viterbo, which Uytenbogaardt studied while he was a Rome Scholar?). Its ramps
were designed to lead you up to the open terrace and restaurant overlooking the Main
Road and mountain.
According to Lange, the mountain was a crucial focus. Lange expresses this mountain
relation as follows: "An analogy for the Werdmuller building is the mountain to which it gesticulates. The building may be seen as a metaphor for the mountain, a solid piece of materialriven by cracks and fissures, mountain paths and streams. The tar paving on the floor surfacesinside the building seems to leak onto the roads and pavement outside it; the tall slendercolumns become trees in a mountain crevasse: the sombre tones of concrete, the exposure towind and rain all ask for comparison to the mountain".Whatever its origins, there is no doubt that with its retail and office spaces and theirrelation to the internal system of ramps and walkways, and their relationship to theadjacent streets, the Werdmuller Centre was a microcosm of European urbanity - theantithesis of the formulaic inwardly focused shopping centre. Indeed, when it wascompleted in 1974, the building was unique in Cape Town. It was complex and daring inspatial organisation and form.It can fairly be said that the first two informants for the site - „programmatic. and „nonprogrammatic.- were for the time, ambitious, even visionary. As a building, for its nonprogrammatic,architecture as art dimension, Werdmuller would, one imagines, havebeen considered by many fellow professionals at that time, as an outstandingarchitectural example of its period.But, there were dissenters. Laurie Wale in the May 1976 Architect and Builder advancedcriticisms about the complexity of the building, of its hard surfaces, and expressedscepticism of its ability to capture enough retail trade. Wale recognised that the buildingwas not designed with commercial return as the priority: "Only 60% of the overall bulk hasbeen used. Ramps, arcades, gardens, voluntary set-backs and services consume about 50 percent of the building leaving the remaining half of the area as lettable. It is obvious therefore thatthis is not a project seeking to squeeze out the maximum revenue-earning footage."According to Old Mutual Property Analyst, Derek Stuart-Findlay11, the design andviability assumptions and findings were not critically analysed by then Old Mutual staff.The design in fact demonstrated a lack of understanding of the fundamentals of retailing.This lack of understanding was echoed in the feasibility analysis which did not factor inthe commercial return penalties imposed by the design, such as the poor retail exposureto the Main Road, the additional operating costs that had to result from the largeamounts of public walkways, malls and light well areas, to name only some of theimpositions. The purchasing power assumptions were not born out.It proved not possible to secure a department store tenant, and the department storemade way for shops on the Ground Floor and offices above. The apartments were neverbuilt. The west facing portion was developed with retail as originally planned. TheClaremont Post Office was located in the office section and eventually joined by aspecially constructed bridge, as people could not find their way to it. Over time, the PostOffice moved out.
10 Uytenbogaardt RS, Laurie, Nicholson and Nel. February 1969. FEASIBILITY STUDY FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF ERVEN 55840 and 54433 CLAREMONT FOR LHC PROPERTIES LTD.
AS A PROPERTY INVESTMENT. Also, personal interview. See section 12.8 and Annexure B.
of time. Today, the conclusion has to be that there were design faults that have proved
to be beyond remedy and time has not been kind to the original work; political, social
and economic changes have taken place that could not be anticipated.
Indeed, this is recognised in Vio.s text when he writes of his intention in 1995 to compile
a dossier of works to be chosen for publication in the magazine „Spazio & Società.. "Only
the Werdmuller shopping mall was not considered out of the works that Roelof intended to
publish. Perhaps because it was later greatly modified by others, adapted for a use that no
longer corresponded to the initial project." For his monograph, Vio writes that "I found it
necessary to include it because it is an extremely sophisticated work, spatially complex and full
of radical ideas, one of the few cases of an architectural utopia commissioned by a private client,
and with commercial aims at that: these qualities can be still seen even in its advanced state of
degeneration" (op. cit p20).
A reality of the Werdmuller Centre was that programme was substantially subsumed to
composition and character, function to form:
. The amount of lettable to service space was very poor (at only 52%12 this
seriously affected commercial viability). The standard in the industry for a retail
development would be an efficiency of 80%13 (see Section 12.9);
. There was an underutilisation of 9 250m² of the potential usable revenue
generating floor area; significantly reducing the possibility of achieving a decent
return on investment (Ballard);
. The system of passages, ramps and level spaces proved to be overly complex
and confusing, with „destinations. (such as the Wimpy on the mountainside upper
floor) proving to be non-destinations as they were difficult to see from the ground.
Indeed the ramps were so off-putting that they dissuaded people from using them
and that in turn led to traders moving out (see section 12.9);
. The design made insufficient provision for a significant anchor tenant, resulting in
an over-supply of small line shops that lacked the drawing power need to provide
. there was minimal weather protection for people accessing the shops or moving
through the building (in the wet its ramps were dangerous);
. the sizes and shapes of the retail areas were too small and awkward in shape
(restricted by the rigid layout and construction) to be adjustable to changing retail
needs and trends;
. Main Road retail frontage which was the prime exposure, demonstrated a poor
understanding of the dynamics of retailing (the critically important corner at Newry
Street and Main Road was taken by the blank facade behind which was a
circulation core, much of the frontage was a continuation of the street into the
building, with the shops behind hard to see from the road. This element is now
plastered with signs of the internal shops desperate to attract customers);.
12 DHK Architects. E-mail communication. 2007-11-06.
13 Ballard, Bruce. 2007. Werdmuller Centre, Claremont: Commercial and Operational
Perspective. Old Mutual Investment Group – Property Investments (OMIGPI)
have been provided for in such a sized centre14). No shopper parking was
provided. Parking was awkward to access via the narrow and congested Newry
Street. Whatever the designer.s founding assumptions, the reality was that the
Werdmuller could not attract the upper-income shoppers that it was designed for;
its captive market had to be primarily lower-income shoppers (for whom nearby
OK Bazaars would have been the prime destination);
The construction of the building mitigated against services upgrading (such as
providing for „smart. buildings technology services).
Other commercial failings are covered in subsequent sections, and a full summary is
provided in the Conclusions on Significance section.
Wale.s criticism showed perspicacity. Unfortunately, whatever its aspirations, the
assumptions of how people should shop and work have not been vindicated over the
subsequent thirty plus years. In that dimension of the building, it has not stood the
timeless quality test as articulated by Uytenbogaardt that has been quoted above. A
subsequent generation has not been able to use the building in new, but commercially
Subsequently, the Werdmuller Centre has been modified extensively so as to remedy its
functional defects (of layout, form and construction), in ways that have eroded its original
concept and that have disfigured it. That process started only three years after
completion. Unfortunately, those changes were not made by Uytenbogaardt and have
disfigured the original concept. A visit to the Church on Main which occupies the first
floor offices fronting on to Main Road, plus adjacent back space, will reveal the extent of
the changes. The Open Terrace has been (crudely) roofed, ramps have been glazed,
original exterior glazed walling to the ramps has been removed and new partitioning
added. The cumulative impact is harrowing. It has also deteriorated structurally (external
panels have been removed) to the point that it is looking seriously rundown. The flat
roofs leak, the parapets leak and water penetrates the fenestration.
What needs to be understood is that the alterations that have been made were in
response to the building.s defects. They further reduced the economic viability of the
Uytenbogaardt recognised that there were problems and that the building had its
detractors. He remarked to Nuttal that "making this building was one of the most exciting
experiences we have ever had, yet it is believed by many to be our most inhuman work. The
realisation that people have found it difficult to accept has been very sobering. It is too severe - I was trying to be very purist. I think it has to do with materials, the unrelieved concrete. The
finishes should be more friendly and less light-absorbing - one begins to lose light on the first
ramp. I did not want to distinguish strongly between the public space outside and the inside of
the building, and so the paving slate was increased as the building was penetrated. Had there been concrete paving slabs outside, the spaces could have been lightened as one got into them.
I should have known about opening the building to the wind".
When the Werdmuller was designed, who could have envisaged that security would
become a major design and management preoccupation; indeed a necessity? The
Werdmuller Centre is a security nightmare. It has become unsafe, its ramps and blind
spaces offer havens for muggers and other ne´er-do-wells. On a recent visit to the
office section overlooking Newry Street and the Station, one of the authors of this text met a group of people sitting on an upstairs open walkway. They were working in the
small Habits factory (serving the Habits Clothing Shop on Cavendish Street). One
asked: "Are you from Cape Town?" When asked the reason for the question the answer
was that they never go through the building or sit anywhere in it other than in groups as
it is too unsafe. Walking alone was a cause for astonishment. On another recent visit, a
security guard commented that he wished the building was demolished because it isimpossible to keep secure. See also Section 12.9 for the views of the StationCommissioner SAPS, Claremont on the building as a facilitator of crime.The design of the building renders securing it impossible; certainly not without totallydisfiguring the building.In his monograph, Giovanni Vio makes two other references to the present poorcondition of the Werdmuller Centre. In the one, he comments on the Werdmullertogether with the UCT Sports Centre, and the Simons Town Memorial Garden: "The(y) …are places I have visited often over the last ten years and have viewed their recent life. They arerelics15 more than buildings and are badly conserved," (p.23) and to the Werdmuller (p.71), as"… an urban wreck, a hulking part of the city that looks more like an assemblage of variousparts, fragments of façade between vulgar shop hoardings, created at different times, ratherthan all at once" (emphases added).Sadly, these descriptions are all too true, and the building in its present condition is ashadow of the original.What one has to deduce is that the programmatic informant as outlined byUytenbogaardt has not proven in the case of the Werdmuller Centre to be sufficientlyadaptable to be commercially sustainable.As to Uytenbogaardt.s third informant, context, that has changed dramatically over thepast thirty years, very directly impacting on the building. The area adjacent to thebuilding has been for the past ten plus years a rather sorry set of spaces - open tarmacsurfaced parking lots, streets with buses and kombi taxis fighting for space andpassengers, congestion between them and cars, and a „flowering. of informal trading.Vio catalogues this vividly both photographically and in his text. Now, the context to theWerdmuller is changing again, with construction complete of the Taxi Interchange to thesouth of the building, and the construction of the Claremont Boulevard (referred to in15 "Something left behind after decay, disintegration, or disappearance." The Penguin EnglishDictionary, 2004.
Vio.s text as the Lower Main Road), and the new Bus Interchange to the north. The
immediate contexts to the building will be during next year fundamentally different to
what was the case in the 1970s. Adjacent to the Werdmuller, there has been recent
development and redevelopment, commercial and residential, on both sides of Main
Road. The area between the Main Road and Railway Line is moving steadily upmarket.
The Contexts provided by Cavendish Square and Cape Town’s CBD
12.6 The Werdmuller Centre in the context of Cavendish Square
Vio writes on the Old Mutual.s creation that: "…(it) was meant to bring quality to an
undeveloped piece of land" and "the Old Mutual had aimed extremely high believing in Roelof
Uytenbogaardt.s visions, perhaps unaware that this was a radical alternative to the model of
shopping centres being built at the time in Cape Town, imported from the USA where, almost
twenty years after Victor Gruen.s first attempts for Minneapolis…in its place planners were
already experimenting with festival malls, commercial spaces integrated with urban centres,
such as Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco or Quincy Market in Boston, aimed at alleviating the
individual.s profound sense of alienation and obviating the problem of emptying the cities." (op.
Vio continues "Roelof Uytenbogaardt had probably illustrated the problem to his clients and
convinced them to create a new piece of Claremont with this work, crowned by a panoramic roof
terrace from which to observe Devil.s Peak on Table Mountain" (op. cit p71).
While anybody who has visited those two overseas examples will know that their
locational and situational (socio-economic) conditions were and still are, worlds removed
from that of the Werdmuller Centre, it would appear that neither the Old Mutual Board.s
Building Committee nor the officials that advised them16 had that knowledge. The Mutual
was then in the throes of moving into property as an investment; property development
having previously been limited to providing housing for Old Mutual workers. The
Werdmuller was the Mutual.s first foray into investing directly in commercial property in
Claremont and was seen to be a high profile, image-making venture in which return on
investment was secondary.
The Building Committee was persuaded by Uytenbogaardt in a direct presentation to it
using the model that had been built17, that the design would attract high income
shoppers, and that it was viable18. Unfortunately, neither of these happened. (See
16 The Building Committee members were Brigadier Werdmuller, Paul Sauer and Nic Krone. The key officials involved such as Jimmy Moyle and Charl Pienaar, both Assistant General
Managers, came out of Sales and Administration.
17 See the Cape Times of Friday 21 November 1975 for a photograph of the model and the
18 Interview with Mr Peter Bieber, Former General Manager, Old Mutual.
The Werdmuller Centre was constructed soon after the first phase of the construction of
Cavendish Square (today the epitome of the commercially successful internalised
shopping mall). Cavendish was the creation of Stuttafords (which opened in September
1971) and Greatermans (opening one year later), with the Old Mutual initially being an
equity partner. During the 1970s the Old Mutual became the outright owner and the
Centre as it is today is the result of its improvements and additions. Whatever the initial
shortcomings were of Cavendish, it even then had to have exerted a profound impact on
the viability of Werdmuller Centre.
It appears that the then Old Mutual Building Committee in approving the development of
Werdmuller Centre, did not factor in the creation of Cavendish Square and also was not
aware that Kenilworth Centre was being developed by Anglo-American Properties to
attract middle-class, predominantly coloured, shoppers (Bieber). Both of these were
creating a situation in which the Werdmuller could not succeed. It also appears that
neither Uytenbogaardt nor the Quantity Surveyors factored in these other developments,
or the realities of who the main shoppers were between the Main Road and the railway
line. Certainly, it was a decision that ignored the advice of one of its Property staff not to
proceed with the development of the Werdmuller Centre (Stuart-Findlay).
Even then, it had to be clear to an objective observer that the Werdmuller was in a
disadvantaged situation in terms of its location east of the Main Road, an area which
served predominantly lower middle income people. And in its inability compared to
Cavendish Square to house the combination of what was already a commercially proven
mix of major and minor retail tenants, with plentiful on-site parking (more readily
accessible by car to its trading area and free for two years after opening), with full air
conditioning and with flexibility to respond to changing retail patterns. As has been
written previously, the Werdmuller Centre made no provision for shopper parking.
A visit today will reveal the juxtaposition of the two – the „urban wreck. of the
Werdmuller (to quote Vio), and the ever-expanding universe of Cavendish Square, and
other nearby buildings. Cavendish Square has recently been linked by above ground
bridges and by a completely refurbished Dreyer Street, to the redeveloped Link, which
has become „Cavendish Connect., to the cost of some R104m.
One needs to remember that the Werdmuller was not alone in its assumption that a
transport hub/interchange and passing pedestrian traffic were guarantors of retail
It is useful to reflect on other similar experiments developed in Cape Town.s CBD during
the 1970s and early 1980s that placed retail along walkways to capture passing trade:
the Golden Acre, Strand Street Concourse, Sun Gallery and the other parts of the
underground walkway system. Each of these was derived from overseas precedents
(without the same preconditions that made those work) and each opened to great
fanfare, with „A. and „B. retail shopping in them. Over time, the Golden Acre has seen a
number of internal changes, none of which have brought back premier retailing. The
underground walkways have all degenerated physically and have all failed
commercially. At one stage, the Old Mutual approached the City to have the Mutual
Arcade closed, it was trading so badly.
12.8 The Werdmuller Centre has never been commercially viable
Two viability assessments are attached as Annexures B and C. The first is by Derek
Stuart-Findlay who prior to his retirement in 2002, held a number of senior management
positions in Old Mutual Properties, and the second by Bruce Ballard who is currently a
Development Manager with Old Mutual Properties.
Stuart-Findlay had joined Old Mutual Property Division (later renamed Old Mutual
Properties) as a Property Investment Analyst in 1970. One of his first assignments was
to review the feasibility of the Werdmuller Centre, which at that time had an approval in
principle from the Board.s Building Committee. Stuart-Findlay.s Report gives a brief
history of the project, and his reasons for recommending that the project not proceed
due to "... viability (being) extremely risky". He quoted the net returns as being marginal
(5%), as opposed to the industry norm of a growth of at least 25%, as the Werdmuller
"relied on relatively high rentals from the numerous small shops in the design". As has been
explained before in this Assessment, the location and design of the building precluded
high rentals being attained.
Stuart-Findlay prefaces his analysis as follows:
"The site had been assembled east of the Main road between Newry and Ralph streets
excluding a building on the corner of Main and Ralph, and had initially excluded the rear third of
the property opposite Claremont station.
"Professor Roelof Uytenbogaardt had been appointed to design a retail structure for the site and
had evolved a unique concept, a model of which he had presented to Old Mutual's Property
Committee. Virtually the whole of the valuable Main road street frontage was used to create an
entrance which was intended to draw customers into the centre via a series of ramps to upper
and lower floors. No large draw-card tenant was planned for. By early 1969 the rear third of the
site had been acquired and the initial plans for the additional area were to rectify this and
incorporate a department store. A year later no tenant had been found for this space and the
plans were amended to construct more small shops with offices above, but with minimal linkages to the main structure.
"The Chairman of the Building Committee was Old Mutual's Board Chairman, Brigadier
Werdmuller, who had been responsible for the recruiting of South Africa's forces during World
War II and was nearing the end of his term of office on the Board. A proposal to name the
building after him was adopted".
The following are the reasons given in Stuart-Findlay.s report for his dubiousness about
the viability of the project:
.The relatively low levels of rentals in the area, close to the rail and bus stations.
. The forfeiture of income from the important Main road frontage.
. The lack of a draw-card tenant.
. The lack of safe parking for customers - only 15 bays were provided and these were to
be allocated to the office tenants.
. The excessive amount of public mall and light well area in the design - the ratio of
lettable area to gross building area was extremely low at some 50%.
. Although this ratio should have indicated above average common area costs for security,
cleaning, maintenance etc., the viability study had made no attempt to quantify these and
had merely assumed they would be 25% of the gross income.
On final viability, he writes:
"The tenders came in well above estimate and if I recall correctly, net returns indicated a return
of not much more than 5%. Inflation and required yields were relatively low at the end of the
1960s but were increasing in the early 1970s as the first oil crisis loomed. I remember clearly
recommending to Charl Pienaar, Old Mutual's Manager responsible for the Property Division at
the time, that the viability was extremely risky and that the project should not go ahead. I was
surprised to be given the response 'You're probably right but it's too late to change the
recommendation to go ahead now.' I am certain the reason for this response was
embarrassment at the thought of going back to the Board with a recommendation not to go
ahead with a project which had already been named after Old Mutual's Chairman.
"The lowest tender was accepted, construction commenced and Werdmuller Centre opened in
In 1990, Stuart-Findlay was appointed Provincial Property Manager for the Cape, Natal
and Namibia. As part of his portfolio, he took over the management of the Werdmuller
Centre. By then, he had already managed Cavendish Square for a number of years. He
writes: "...the contrast between the performances of the two buildings was startling. Tenants
and shoppers could not relate to Werdmuller and it had acquired the nickname „Weirdmuller
Centre.. Upper-income shoppers used Cavendish Square and middle-income customers used
Kenilworth Centre. Many attempts had been made to rectify the inherent design faults at
Werdmuller but none of them worked:
. A completely fitted out restaurant had been installed opening onto the first floor patio
above the Main Road, but this had failed to attract successful tenants.
. The central mall had been roofed in to prevent the rain penetration in the winter which
made the sloping malls extremely slippery. I was told that the theory of the original mall
design was that rising heat would prevent rain penetration, but of course this had not
. The restaurant and a number of individual shops in the upper mall had been incorporated
into a large furniture store in an attempt to fill vacant space and to create a draw card
tenant. The design of a larger retail space of this nature proved difficult as each of the
small shops had been built on a separate level. The furniture store moved out and the
space is currently occupied as a church on Sundays only.
. An additional link had been built to join the first floors of the separate front and rear
sections of the building. The link was built through an existing shop which reduced
lettable area, and was constructed as members of the public entering Werdmuller from
the Main Road could never find Claremont Post Office which was on the first floor of the
back section of the building. The Post Office eventually moved out.
. To fill vacant space, a number of shops on the basement level had been joined together
to create Cafda Bookshop which could only be let at a rent which barely covered the
operating costs of the shop.
. The lack of parking was a disincentive to shoppers and tenants.
. The numerous entrances to the building created a major security problem and deterred
customers from visiting.
. Net income generated by the centre was so low or even negative that it was impossible
to value the building on the normal capitalised net income basis and it had to be
assessed on the theoretical value of the land only.
Stuart-Findlay concludes his report as follows:
"As a retail design concept and as an investment, Werdmuller Centre has been an utter failure. It has inherent design faults which cannot be rectified. In my opinion there was always an
arrogance in the concept that the building would always attract customers to the shops because
it was so different. It defied all the normal criteria for successful retail design and unfortunately it has never succeeded. It stands today virtually empty in the centre of a potentially highly
successful urban renewal scheme. It is clearly inhibiting the redevelopment of the vital
Claremont transport hub and should be demolished as soon as possible".
Ballard19 in his report of 12 November 2007 updates Stuart-Findlay.s report. To him,
what is of key relevance was that the returns that were considered marginal in the
1970.s have remained so and have in fact, worsened.
The following is a summary of the eight reasons he advances as to why the Centre has
not been able to perform as would be expected of any commercial investment:
. The building has a very low efficiency – 52% compared to the industry standard
of 80%. This has required achieving high rentals to offset operating costs and
amortisation of investment.
19 Bruce Ballard is a qualified Quantity Surveyor, now employed by the OMIGPI, as a Deal
Originator on the Business Development Team
. The Centre was planned to use only 10 750m² of the potential usable area of
18 500m², significantly precluding achieving an acceptable return.
. "One of the fundamentals of retail design is to ensure that tenants have clear sight lines
for shoppers to be able to see the stores which are not located directly on the busy
circulation routes". The Werdmuller Centre.s system of entrances and ramps has
resulted in a lack of „visual permeability.. Shoppers have stayed away and
tenants have been unable to trade effectively. There was a lack of connectivity
between the two buildings, and even the construction of a bridge (to provide
access to the Post Office), failed to improve circulation.
. The design precluded providing for a significant anchor tenant which would have
provided the purpose for shoppers to visit the centre, who in turn would have
sustained the small line shops. Centre managers have been forced to lease out
larger spaces at low rentals and this has precluded implementation of a
considered tenant strategy.
. Although easily accessed by train, bus and taxi, the centre could not offer
convenience (i.e. car access and parking) to the higher income shoppers that
were required to sustain the tenants that would keep the centre profitable. Only
15 on-site bays were provided, as opposed to the 584 that would normally be
provided in a centre of that size. The adjacent area has lacked a stable supply of
secure parking, and in any event, higher-income shoppers require on-, not off-site
. As has been previously stated, the design of the centre resulted in shoppers not
supporting the original tenant mix and over time whatever strategic tenant mix
there was has had to give way to a series of ad-hoc retailers, either very shortterm
or monthly. This has precluded the provision of a pleasant experience for
. A successful retail centre must provide shoppers with a quality shopper
experience: convenience, security, style, the right tenant mix, and first class
management. The Werdmuller Centre is lacking all of these and so provides a
poor shopper experience; this translates into poor financial performance.
. Today 4 114m² of retail space is occupied and 2 083m² is vacant; 72m²of office
space is occupied and 1 902m² is vacant; 1 278m² of storage space is occupied
and 837m² vacant, which translates to an overall occupancy of only 53 %.
Ballard analyses Annual Revenue, Total Expenses, Retained Earnings/Loss for the
Year, and Average Rental/m² for the Centre for the period 200 to 2007. The resultant
picture is not good for the shareholder, with the total asset average rental yield growth at
4%, as opposed to the above 25% that is being experienced elsewhere in this asset
Today and this has been the case from before 2000, the value of the property lies in the
market value of the land less cost of demolition. The building has no commercial value.
It is estimated that the land is worth R50 million.
12.9 The socio-economic impact of the building on the Claremont CBD
Annexure D is a letter from Mr Chris Drummond, Chairman of the Claremont
Improvement District Company. In this he writes:
"The impact of the CIDC's operations in conjunction with the City Council and the South
African Police Force, Metropolitan Police and private security companies, has been well
documented and the successes have resulted in a significantly cleaner and safer
Claremont CBD than was the case prior to the commencement of operations in 2000.
The CIDC, however, identified together with their various partner organisations, a
particularly acute problem area for safety and security which was in the immediate
environment surrounding the railway station precinct which included the informal taxi
rank area and bus staging area. The issues identified and documented at the various
inter-organisational forums which CIDC hosted, can be summarised as follows:
a) Criminal activity involving inter alia, drug trafficking, dealing in counterfeit and
stolen goods, common assault robbery and rape.
c) Public drunkenness
d) Various forms of public nuisance and disorderly behaviour
"The City Council together with CIDC formed a partnership which has resulted in the
development of a combination of public/private capital projects which will total some
R50million when completed. This expenditure has seen:
. the relocation and redevelopment of the Claremont Clinic,
. the expropriation and demolition of various buildings to permit the construction of
a new taxi rank together with a nearby taxi holding area,
. a new bus station designed to deal with the forthcoming articulated bus
transport system, and
. the construction and design of the Claremont Boulevard Road which will
alleviate traffic congestion on the Claremont Main Road and divert a large
element of public transport away from the congested main spine infrastructure
towards the railway line.
"The construction of the capital projects in the immediate environs of the Claremont
railway station which straddle the Werdmuller Centre to the south, north and east, will
be operational by December 2007 and fully completed by the end of the first quarter of
"The massive positive benefit from a safety and public hygiene perspective is, however,
directly and unquestionably diminished by virtue of the continued existence of the
Werdmuller Centre. The Werdmuller Centre unfortunately remains a haven for criminal
activity, anti-social behaviour and public nuisance during large parts because of the
lay-out and configuration of the public walkway areas. These traverse the building and
are incapable of being secured without consequently hampering the safety of persons
within the building.
"A recent report tabled earlier this year from the Claremont Police Station Commissioner
is enclosed supporting unequivocally our view that this building should be demolished in
the interests of public safety and security.
"In conclusion, not only is the Werdmuller Centre a haven for criminal and anti-social
behaviour, but also in its current dilapidated state it is unquestionably retarding the
prospects for large scale urban renewal and regeneration within the immediate vicinity
and is unquestionably creating a property 'blight'. The CIDC, therefore, unreservedly
supports the application by the building's owners, in respect of its application for a
Annexure E is the report from JA Vearey, Office of the Station Commissioner SA Police
Service, Claremont, referred to by Drummond. Vearey.s office assessed criminality
directly connected with the Werdmuller Centre for the period 1 January 2002 to 26
The Commissioner writes: "It is noteworthy that compared to other buildings in CBD, the
Werdmuller Centre is proportionally associated with the largest increases in Theft (179), Theft
out of motor vehicle (60), Theft of motor vehicle (23), Drug related crime (112), Armed Robbery
(25), Common Robbery (38), Assault GBH (25) and Common Assault (48) for the period under
review. In addition to the above-mentioned, SAPS reports on the Werdmuller Centre, indicate
that its infrastructure is used by street drug dealers who supply clients at night clubs in the CBD
as a base and storage facility. Several drug pedlars arrested on the premises with large
quantities of cannabis, „tik. and mandrax attest to this reality.
"Furthermore, the centre itself is often used as a hiding place for street robbers and shoplifters
when pursued by the SAPS. Arresting such suspects in the Centre often becomes a personnel
intensive task because the design of this building with its maze-like passage ways and
numerous exits afford such suspects a tactical advantage while we have to withdraw SAPS
personnel deployed in other sectors to perform a single arrest." The Station Commissioner
concludes his letter with: "It would therefore be in our interest if the demolition of Werdmuller
Centre is expedited."
The NHRA specifically refers to social and economic development.20 In addition Section
38 (3)(d) of the NHRA requires that the impact of the development on heritage
resources relative to the sustainable social and economic benefits to be derived from the
development should be evaluated. It is put forward that the demolition of the building
would facilitate the redevelopment of a critically important part of Claremont, unlocking
the potential of a large but currently under-utilised commercial site. This would create
jobs during construction of a new complex and future job opportunities for people
working there. The City.s rates income would be significantly increased.
20 National Heritage Resources Act, 1999, Section 5(7)(d).
13. PUBLIC CONSULTATION AND PARTICIPATION
Public consultation has taken two forms: An independent opinion survey of professionals
and non-professionals, and an open meeting with the Institute for Architecture, and other
13.1 The Opinion Surveys
This submission has embarked on an unprecedented effort to canvass opinions of
professionals and non-professional on the building. The professionals were broken
down into four categories: Architects (20), Urban Designers (10) and Heritage
Professionals (10). The Çommunity. consisted of Werdmuller users (25), shop owners
(25), informal traders(15), and passers- by (35). The professionals responded to a
telephonic survey set of questions, the community were interviewed in the vicinity of the
The survey was conducted by Nick Green and Annexure F contains his summary of the
results of the various professional and public opinion surveys. The following are the
. Three-quarters of the professionals and half of the community said that they knew a
great deal or quite a lot about the Werdmuller Centre. A majority of both samples felt
that the Centre is neither an attractive nor a useful building
. Three-quarters of the professionals but only 4 out of 10 of the community consider that
the Centre is an important building.
. Opinions as to whether the Werdmuller Centre will play a useful part in
the future of Claremont are divided:
* About a quarter think that it will play a useful part - because
it is central and near transport
* A third think that it will play a useful part only if it is
redeveloped/has a facelift/has a better tenant mix
* A third think that it will not play a useful part – because it is
impractical, needs to be demolished, or is dull/old/ugly, while
* One in 10 had no opinion on its future part in Claremont.
What has to be of significance is that the majority of both samples felt that the building
is neither an attractive nor a useful building.
13.2 Engaging directly with the Institute for Architecture
As is required by the NHRA, a meeting was requested with the Heritage Committee of
the Institute for Architecture. Due to the controversy that was inevitable with the
proposed demolition of a building by such an architect, the Institute circulated widely an
invitation to the meeting, and the meeting that took place was an open meeting, and was
held at 17h30 on 5 December.
A full record of the meeting is being prepared and will be included with the final report.
What can be recorded at this stage is that there were numerous speakers who argued
for the retention and rehabilitation of the building. The arguments centered on the
perceived qualities of the building, and its importance as architectural history, and its
cultural, social and urbanistic heritage significance. That the building had been and still
was a commercial failure was considered by the speakers as irrelevant. It was claimed
that it was possible to recycle the building to accommodate new, mixed-uses, even if
these would require considerable internal remodeling and even partial demolition. No
suggestions were made by the speakers regarding what were the elements that should
be kept if the design integrity was to be retained. Old Mutual Properties was accused of
not maintaining the building adequately and of not securing a tenant mix sufficient to act
as a draw for shoppers.
14. CONCLUSIONS ON SIGNIFICANCE
The central issue is whether the Werdmuller Centre is a place of such cultural
significance/heritage resource that it must be conserved and declared a national
heritage site. Would its demolition leave the Claremont CBD, Cape Town, and South
Africa the poorer? The NHRA also requires that significance must be weighed up
against sustainable socio-economic benefits of the proposed re-development.
The definition of "cultural significance" in the NHRA states that it „means aesthetic,
architectural, historical, scientific, social, spiritual, linguistic or technological value or
significance.. In terms of the NHRA, it is the responsibility of the local authority to
integrate heritage resource management into their spatial planning frameworks. At the
time of preparation of a spatial development plan, the planning authority must compile
an inventory of heritage resources, and submit the inventory to HWC. The previous City
of Cape Town during the 1980s and 90s compiled inventories throughout the city, and
these assessed heritage significance. The City has yet to submit an inventory to HWC
as required in terms of Section 30 of the Act. The Werdmuller Centre is, therefore,
unlisted and unprotected. The Act makes provision for communities to compile and
submit inventories of significance, and one would have expected the Institute for
Architecture to have initiated such an inventory to record their own roster of 20th century
buildings that they deem significant.
Looking at Section 3 of the NHRA and its various criteria, it is of the utmost significance
that the only formal conservation study that has evaluated the Werdmuller Centre as
part of a comprehensive evaluation of the Claremont area and others contiguous to it
concluded that the building was not of conservation significance.
The conservation study that includes the Werdmuller Centre and the area surrounding it
is that prepared by Todeschini & Japha for the City of Cape Town covering Newlands,
Claremont, Kenilworth and Wynberg (1994). They not only listed historically significant
buildings but contemporary buildings as well. Listed were the three Santos buildings –
the Stekhoven House at Ohlsson.s Way, the Townhouses at Rowan Avenue and the
Block of Flats at the corner of Main and Scott Roads, and one by Julian Elliott, Elliot
House at Pembroke Lane.
That the Japha/Todeschini study did not deem the Werdmuller Centre worthy of being
listed as a Significant Building or worthy of proclamation must be accepted for the
informed indictment that it is. Professors Todeschini and Japha worked closely with
Uytenbogaardt as fellow academics so its omission cannot be seen simply as an
oversight. Todeschini at one stage worked in Uytenbogaardt.s office. The omission
certainly also illustrates the hugely divergent attitudes towards the building as it is clear
that a section of the architectural community does regard the building as significant.
This study has tried to establish the intrinsic, comparative and contextual significance of
the building. To do this, it has examined the origins of the building both in terms of the
landowner.s intentions for the use of the land, and those of the architect they selected to
undertake the design. The building was one of the first projects undertaken by Old
Mutual as a commercial property investment, together with the Montebello Apartments
in Newlands (development having previously been confined to providing housing for OM
A description has been provided outlining how the Werdmuller Centre was conceived of
as an alternative to the inwardly-focused, formulaic shopping centre. It sought to
harness the passing pedestrians using the railway station, and bus and taxi termini,
focusing the buildings various frontages to the streets and creating a network of internal
ramped walkways. At the same time, it was artistic architecture inspired, according to
Uytenbogaardt, by Le Corbusier, during what Uytenbogaardt acknowledged was a
period of „infatuation. (Lange, opus cit). The building certainly is a significant art object,
a sculptural tour de force, and has architectural and cultural history significance.
However, as „art as architecture., it proved from inception to be non-functional,
impractical and a commercial failure; composition and character took precedence over
programme, form over function.
The following is a summary of its failures as a commercial building:
* Underuse of available bulk limited commercial return: The Werdmuller Centre
uses only 58% of available bulk. The Centre was planned to use only 10 750m² of
the potential usable floor area of 18 500m². (The site is 6 225m², coverage is
100%, permissible bulk is 3.7 and there is a 7-storey height restriction). This
under use has significantly precluded achieving an acceptable return.
* Very poor retail GLA efficiency: The Centre was designed with an excessive
amount of public walkway, mall and light well areas. The retail Gross Lettable
Area (GLA) to Gross Building Area (GBA) of only 52% of the total building; 28%
less than today.s standard efficiency of 80%. This required the complex to
generate high rentals to offset operating costs and to pay for the amortisation of
the cost of the land and building.
* Incorrect programmatic assumptions: The programmatic assumptions about
the nature of retailing in that part of Claremont were wrong – upper income
retailing was not going to work in an area patronised predominantly by low
income earners using the bus and taxi termini and the railway station.
* Commuters do not make for shoppers that will sustain retailing such as was
provided in the Werdmuller Centre, and which also failed in Cape Town.s CBD
(the Golden Acre, Sun Galleria, Mutual Arcade, etc.). *The assumption that shoppers would be prepared to negotiate the system of
ramps to undisclosed destinations was wrong. Shoppers have resisted its complex layout (its internal circulation of ramps and spaces) and the lack of weather protection to the ramps. The design contradicted one of the fundamentals of retail design, which is to ensure that tenants have clear sight lines for shoppers to be able to see the stores that are not located directly on the
busy circulation routes.
* On-site parking is totally inadequate: The number of parking bays in the
basement of the building was totally inadequate for the amount of shop and office
space, reducing obtainable rentals; 15 bays were provided for tenants and none
for shoppers. A centre of that size required at least 584 bays. Upper income
shoppers were, therefore, precluded from shopping there. As there is no other
parking available in close proximity as was the case of Mutual Heights this
precludes re-cycling options.
* There was a serious lack of consulting retail discernment: Insufficient space
was provided in the site fronting onto Main Road for an anchor tenant. It proved
not possible to secure the department store tenant for which the design made
provision fronting onto the Railway Station. The lack of a draw-card tenant
severely impacted on the small shops who were the tenants of the centre.
* The design of the building made it difficult to adjust the retail areas to new
patterns of retailing. Critically for the success of the centre, it was not possible to
provide sufficient space for an anchor tenant to act as a draw. Over time the A
and B grade shops have given way to C and D, and increasingly, to vacancies.
There are today only 20 tenants, occupying about 50% of the available space.
* The design of the building to the Main Road placed a blank circulation core on the
most important corner, blanking out the spaces behind. Much of the rest of the
Main Road frontage was left open with the street „bleeding. into the building as an
extension of the urban space. The retail areas were set back and difficult to see.
Actual retail space on Main Road was less than 40% of the available frontage.
* The building could not provide the shopper experience – convenience, security,
style and tenant mix, that together with being well run - makes for a successful
* Technologically inflexible, difficult if not impossible to adapt: The building.s
construction of poured in place concrete and brick infill is inflexible and unable to
be adjusted to changing technological demands; providing for today.s „smart..
building need is impossible. Its built-form specificity has resisted refinement,
adaptation and correction of its faults.
* Essential alterations have defaced the building: The building has been altered
over time to counter design and construction deficiencies. These were not
designed by Uytenbogaardt and have defaced the original design. Given that
most of these alterations were made to correct design and construction faults the
changes are to some extent irreversible.
* Poor commercial return affected maintenance affordability: The building is
expensive to maintain and its current state of decay is considered by its owners
to be beyond affordable redemption. The progressive lack of a return on the
building has led to a minimum maintenance approach. The building.s condition
today is testimony to this.
* The building has no commercial value: The „book value. of Erf 25574 is today
(and has been for over a decade) limited to the site less the cost of demolition -
the building has no ascribable commercial value. The site value is an estimated
* A building perceived to be of dubious attractiveness and use: It has to be
significant that the majority of the opinion samples of professionals and the public
felt that the building was neither an attractive nor a useful building. Non-architects
react negatively to the aesthetic of the building. Uytenbogaardt recognised its
* A building impossible to secure: Perhaps the most serious deterrent to
retaining the building is that it is impossible physically to secure, irrespective of
the uses to which it might be put. Today, its convoluted nooks and crannies have
made the building unsafe for people who work in it and who walk through it;
according to the Police it is a haven for criminals – a hiding place for robbers and
shoplifters, and for street drug dealers. The Werdmuller Centre was designed in a
different age – one in which personal security issues did not feature. That age
regrettably, is no longer with us.
The sad reality is that the building has never been commercially viable. It has always
produced a negative financial return. Occupancy of the retail and office space available
is at only 51%.
"It is not possible to visit the building over the years and not come away with a deep sense of
sadness. A dream that an enormously skilful architect wanted to bring to bear, was not matched
by consulting retailing acumen during the design phase, and bought into and supported for the
long haul by an enlightened client. Uytenbogaardt defended the building by saying that in other
parts of the world it would be successful, or that given time, people would learn how to use the
building. This approach does not play well in the 21st century."21
Opinion on the conservation-worthiness of the building, i.e. its importance as part of the
cultural landscape of Claremont and Cape Town, is clearly divided. The Opinion Survey
of professionals and non-professionals concluded that three-quarters of the professionals
and half of the community said that they knew a great deal or quite a lot about the
Werdmuller Centre. Three-quarters of the professionals but only 4 out of 10 of the
community consider that the Centre is an important building. A majority of both samples
felt that the Centre is neither an attractive nor a useful building. Some architects and
urban designers are arguing strongly for its preservation irrespective of its lack of
commercial viability. Indeed, they argue that the operative criteria should be the
significance of the building in South African architectural and social histories and its
importance in the city.s cultural landscape.
This criterion is unacceptable to Old Mutual, who argue that their shareholders are
entitled to a positive financial return from the site, given more than 30 years of negative
commercial return on investment.
The question is being asked: Why can the building not be restored and reused, as there
are numerous overseas precedents of 20th century buildings being successfully
An article in the August 11/12, 2007 Financial Times22, discussed the world-wide threats
to buildings of the 1960.s, 70s and even the 1980s.It observed that one problem was
that modernist architecture could be hard to love, and hard to defend. Among the
examples given of buildings under threat were hitherto iconic buildings such as the
Boston City Hall (1968), the Nakagin Capsule Tower in Tokyo (1972), and many others.
Examples were cited of buildings by Paul Rudolph and Edward Durrell Stone, and many
others that have already gone. The concern for the potential or actual loss of 20th
Century buildings was echoed in the March/April Heritage-focused issue of Architecture
"To understand where we are, we need to be able to encounter the architecture of the 20th
century in an everyday setting, not preserved in aspic, but thoughtfully adapted. If we lose the
bulk of our modernist architecture, as seems likely, we lose a layer of our cities and a part of
The ability to adapt is the key. In his book HOW BUILDINGS LEARN: What happens
after they.re built, Stewart Brand put forward the proposition that buildings adapt best
when constantly refined and reshaped by their occupants, and that architects can mature from being artists of space to become artists of time25. What Brand argued for
was an „adaptive architecture.. He argued that in a healthy building, maintenance,
correction of faults, and improvements all blend together. The Werdmuller Centre over
the short period of just over thirty years has resisted refinement, adaptation and
correction of its faults and been difficult and expensive to maintain. Certainly, to now
build in security to the access points and internal ramp, and walkway system, would
negate one of the key formative and distinguishing concepts of the building.
By contrast, Uytenbogaardt.s Bonwit Clothing Factory building is at the time of writing
being altered into a residential/commercial complex; part of a larger development called
Upper Eastside (where, according to the brochure, you will „Live, Work and Play.). The
original building has been altered to provide 139 apartments, the 3.4m high industrial
ceilings retained, exposed face-brick used as a feature. The lower three floors are
commercial and the upper, residential. Clearly, the Bonwit was inherently adaptable, the
Werdmuller, regrettably, is considered by its owners not.
Lange wrote that the Werdmuller Centre was an „early. building of Uytenbogaardt.s and
one from which he moved on (Opus cit). That Uytenbogaardt did so can be seen in his
decision not to include the building in the article to be published in "Spazio & Societa"
referred to by Vio in his monograph (see section 12.5 of this report). Uytenbogaardt,
according to Nuttal, was aware of the building.s deficiencies and of peoples. antipathy to
it (opus cit).
21 Louw, Etienne C. 2007. Essay entitled: The Werdmuller Centre. RIP. Whither the UCT Indoor Sports Centre? This appended as Annexure G.
22 Heathcote, Edwin. 2007. Modernism meets brutalism. Financial Times. Page 6, August 11/12
In sum, one can only conclude that the NHRA criteria e) and f) cannot be applicable to
the Werdmuller Centre in its present altered and nearly derelict condition. Nor can the
CPIA criteria I. (a building that is of national or local historical importance or association)
and 2. (A building that is a rare or outstanding example of its period), be applicable.
Similarly, this applies to the CPIA Criteria 4 and 5: Buildings which contribute to a fine
urban setting or lend character to a locality, and which contribute or enhance the quality
of a square or other space of urban significance on which they abut. The Werdmuller
Centre does not contribute to a fine urban setting, nor lend (positive) character to its
locality. Nor does it enhance the quality of the spaces that border it.
Can a building be termed „great architecture. when it does not work for the purposes for
which it was intended and when it has not worked since its inception? While Vio.s
description of Uytenbogaardt.s work as „Timeless., can be said to apply to some of his work, particularly the later examples, it cannot be said to apply to the Werdmuller
Centre. It, by virtue of the faults described above, has to be categorised as „Timebound..
In its present degraded state, the building is exerting a severe blighting influence on the
Claremont CBD that abuts it, both by its physical presence and by the criminal activities
.In a sense, it is with some relief that one consigns this magnificent failure to demolition, and
that it be a building that is housed in memory and photographs for the spirited debate it
engendered. It made South African architects look at their milieu, and how one could throw light
upon an oppressed people, how one could uplift people through architecture and how to make
proud spaces that celebrate the human spirit." (Louw, Opus cit)
Our conclusion is that notwithstanding its origins and the stature of its designer, there
are no grounds for denying the issuing of a demolition permit. Demolition of the
Werdmuller Centre would pave the way for Claremont CBD to continue with the process
of urban regeneration that is currently underway in its immediate vicinity – to the benefit
of the area as a whole and the people who use it. Its demolition would not leave South
Africa and Cape Town the poorer.
24 Heathcote; opus cit
25 Stewart Brand, 1994. HOW BUILDINGS LEARN: What happens after they.re built. Phoenix
15. PROPOSED GRADING
It is put forward that at best the building can be considered to be of Grade 3B
significance in terms of the criteria for intrinsic and associational significance as set out
in the Interim Grading System:
. Fabric is partially intact (past damage is to some extent reversible)
. Some elements of construction are authentic
. Rare example of its type and form
. Fabric clearly illustrates the key uses and roles of a place over time.
. Highly significant association with an historic person
. Visual-spatial landmark within a place
. Some association with public memory
1) It is recommended that the application for demolition be granted.
2) In the case of the demolition of the Werdmuller Centre, the need for rigorous
recordal is self-evident.
. Accordingly, it is also recommended that, given the quality of the formmaking
of the original building and the stature of its designer, that the
building be fully recorded according to the criteria of DOCOMOMO (The
International Working Party for the Documenting and Conserving of Buildings, Sites and
Neighbourhoods of the Modern Movement).