Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Werdmuller Centre - Notes by Laura Robinson




Attendance register attached as separate document

The presentation was made by the heritage consultants Peter de Tolly (PdT), Henry Aikman (HA), Andrew Berman (AB) at the Cape Institute for Architecture on Wednesday 5 December 2007. No documentation had been circulated prior to the meeting.

Convener Laura Robinson (LR) introduced the consultant team and welcomed everyone present. LR explained that the purpose of the meeting was to obtain comment and input on the Phase One Heritage Impact Assessment for the Werdmuller Centre. It was noted that the owner of the property Old Mutual wished to apply for the demolition of the building and that Heritage Western Cape had requested that a presentation be made to the Heritage Committee of the Cape Institute for Architecture. It was also noted that, as the site exceeded 5000m² in extent in terms of Section 38 of the National Heritage Resources Act, an HIA was required; this will be submitted to Heritage Western Cape. Consultation with I&AP’s forms an important part of such an assessment.

Due to the widespread interest that had been expressed in the potential loss of the building the invitation had been extended to include the entire membership of the CIA as well as architects and colleagues who are not members who had approached the Institute with concerns.

The presentation was then made by HA and PdT. The details of the verbal presentation are not recorded here, the draft document will be made available as soon as it has been received from the consultants. As a brief summary the following points (amongst others) were made:

HA presented the background to the demolition application, referring to the process required for such an application to Heritage Western Cape. He stressed that this presentation was important in order to obtain comment and input on the value of the building from a specialized groups of professionals (architects). He noted that the building had been ungraded in the Todeschini and Japha survey of Claremont carried out for the City of Cape Town although four other late 20th Century buildings had been listed. The Werdmuller Centre could be classified as significant in terms of the criteria in Section 3 of the NHRA because of the following criteria“Its importance in exhibiting particular aesthetic characteristics valued by a community or cultural group; Its importance in demonstrating a high creative or technical achievement at a particular period, Its strong or special association with the life or work of a person, group or organisation of importance in the history of South Africa”; Reference was also made to the criteria developed by John Rennie in the 1983 Catalogue of Buildings of Central Cape Town, in which buildings are identified according to a range of criteria. These include:

Buildings or sites which are of national or local historic importance or association, Buildings which are rare or outstanding architectural examples of their period,
Buildings which contribute to or enhance the quality of a square or other space of significance on which they abut.

In the opinion of the consultants the Werdmuller Centre clearly fell into several of these categories of criteria.

Considerable time was spent on the economic viability and sustainability of the building, and the problems experienced by the owners in maintaining a successful tenant mix. It was noted that the condition of the building had become seriously degraded, due to a lack of maintenance and inappropriate tenanting.

PdT made reference to the changing urban framework of Claremont and the new demands in terms of commercial and retail opportunities. Comparisons were drawn between Cavendish Square and the Werdmuller Centre – both developed by Old Mutual. He also explained that a public opinion survey had been undertaken by an independent consultant. Opinions ranging from the general public to architects and other built environment professionals had been sourced. 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
In conclusion the consultants were of the opinion that although the building was of some heritage significance its inherent design faults and consequent lack of economic viability outweighed arguments for the buildings retention.


After the presentation the floor was opened for questions and comments.
(These are reported here in summary form)

LR: The HIA does not appear to contain a Statement of significance or a comparative analysis of the building with the major works of the architect.

Martin Kruger (MK): Is of the opinion that this is an economic impact assessment and not a heritage impact assessment. The building is a modernist architectural masterpiece of an acknowledged master.

Kevin Fellingham (KF): Articulated the value of the building as contemporary architectural heritage. Creative re-use is possible, sensitive alterations and additions are possible to make the building viable again. Quotes international examples of successful adaptive reuse.

Ilze Wolff (IW): Asks what the building gives back to the urban environment of Claremont Main Road. There is a lack of imagination of how the building can be creatively reused.

Piet de Beer (PdB): Building talks to the position of the site between transport hubs of station, bus and taxis with the Main Road.

PdT responds: Considering the urban design issues of the site and the concept of adaptive reuse. What income level will the building/site serve?

Dave Dewar (DD): Economics has nothing to do with heritage. Concept of the building was to act as a kind of souk to attract lower-income shoppers as they pass through it to the Main Road.

Piet Louw (PL): It is an urban building which can have more than one kind of life. There is a generosity of public space which makes it attractive to the ‘smaller’ person. An urbanist argument should be used to retain the building.

Steve Townsend (ST): Notes that the consultants are required in terms of the provisions of Section 38 to assess socio-economic factors.. He suggested that those wishing to save the building should first attempt to persuade the owners to reconsider their position and failing that persuade the provincial authority, Heritage Western Cape, that the cultural significance of the building is so great that they would over-ride the property rights of the owner.

Ashley Lillie (AL): Concerned that development indicators are being formulated in the Phase One HIA. Need to decided on the significance of the building first.

MK: Quoted examples of reuse. Also enquired as to what schemes have been developed for the site. HA replies that they (the consultants for the HIA) have not seen any schemes proposed.

Cesar Basada (CB): Critical of how the building has been managed. Owner has been careless about the building as can be seen by the poor state, graffiti etc.

Ricardo Sa (RS): Asked when the decision will be made on the demolition application. HA says that no date has been set but that it was intended to submit the HIA early in 2008.

Hugo Helene (HH): need to consider the building within the urban dynamic of the city and the heritage of the building within the architecture of South Africa.

Jean Nuttal (JN): Asked if anyone has approached the owner of the building (Old Mutual) about an alternative use for it. Vusi ? from Old Mutual was present at the meeting as an observer and to report back to the owner on the opinions and comments made during the meeting.

Hans Niehaus (HN): Mentioned the background to Claremont as a place of forced removals. Argues that something can be given back to the area by providing a meeting place.

Donald Parenzee (DP): Roelof was DP’s studio master in his third year at UCT. The building is provocative and always has been. It embodies ideas of the role of Claremont and copies the movement of people from the Cape Flats to Claremont. It is a statement of the ‘newer’ Cape Town. The HIA needs to be broader in terms of the development of Claremont, movement routes etc.

Dawood Petersen (DP): Not an architect but says that architects need to be more proactive with the process.

Imraan Ho-Yee (IH): Works with a retail development company. Elaborates on the requirements of retail, tenant mix. Owner of the building needs to be more innovative and look at the way Claremont is developing.

PdT: Gives feedback on the public opinion survey that was undertaken, which indicates that the public value of the building is low.

MK: States that it is a serious omission that the building was not identified in the Todeschini and Japha survey undertaken of the area.


There appeared to be general consensus in the meeting that the Werdmuller Centre is an important piece of architecture by a recognized master – Roelof Uytenbogaardt, and that it should not be demolished but that a new use should be found for it.
It was agreed that a statement of significance for the building should be developed, this will help inform attitudes to the retention of the building.

It was agreed that the Institute needs to formalize its response to the proposal for demolition and to the significance of the building. This should be independent of comments made on the phase One HIA. It was agreed that a smaller group would be specially convened to formalize the response. Persons should indicate their interest in being part of this group to the convener LR.

The Phase One HIA will be circulated together with the notes made on the meeting as soon as possible.

LR also invited interested persons from the floor to indicate their interest in becoming part of the workgroup busy with the identification of 20th century architectural heritage.

Laura Robinson
President: Cape Institute for Architecture

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