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Old February 7th, 2012, 10:35 AM   #1
Lydon
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#Werdmuller Centre (Redevelopment) - Claremont | Proposed

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Property giant wants to demolish acclaimed Werdmuller Centre
MONDAY FEB 06, 2012

If financial services giant Old Mutual gets the green light, a hotly contested building in Claremont, the Werdmuller Centre, will be razed to the ground and a new development will rise up in its place.


A sculptural pedestrian ramp and staircases rising over a vehicular ramp below.

The building was designed by Roelof Uytenbogaart in the 1960s and was praised as a masterpiece of modernism inspired by the work of Le Corbusier, a Swiss architect who is seen as the father of modernism in architecture.

Heritage Western Cape has confirmed that an impact assessment, in compliance with the National Heritage Resources Act, is under way to address the proposed demolition of the centre which occupies a block between Main Road in Claremont and the facade of the train station.

But, because of the significance of the building's design, some in the architecture and heritage industries have raised concerns.

Ashley Lillie, an independent heritage specialist who was chosen by Old Mutual and endorsed by Heritage Western Cape to facilitate the process of public participation, says a draft report based on public input will be written within two weeks., kickstarting the process for authorities who will decide on the building's fate.

"It is vitally important that people who have a real interest in the Werdmuller Centre - and what significance it may have - come and register and participate in the process," Lillie said.

"And when the draft goes out, there will be a public meeting and the report will be amended accordingly before being submitted to the authorities. Anyone who has not registered their views by then will be left behind in the process and it will be too late to cry foul. We would like the decision to be made on as informed a basis as possible."

He said interest has primarily been expressed by those from architectural backgrounds, but members of the general public with an interest should come forward because it is not just for academics and professionals to decide on the fate of a public space.

"What is driving the application is Old Mutual's interest in demolishing the building, but we need to hear all the opinions - however strong - from both sides," he said.

Architect and UCT lecturer Ilze Wolff said the Werdmuller Centre has been a "contentious building more or less since its completion in the late 1970s".

She said the owners "struggled to attract their desired upmarket tenants, which was exacerbated by the fact that they also developed Cavendish Square at the same time - an antithesis to the Werdmuller Centre".

Five years ago there were plans to tear down the building and redevelop it, but these were abandoned. Lillie said the process has started anew and anyone who registered themselves as an interested party and gave their input in 2007 should re-register and repeat the process.

Today, says Wolff: "The Werdmuller Centre presents to us a conflict - a conflict between the hardlined financial asset managers who want to demolish the building in order to recuperate lost profits, and the idealistic urbanist who wants to retain the building because it represents a notion of an inclusive sustainable city."

Old Mutual declined to comment on its plans.

Cape Times

Source: IOL Property
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Old February 7th, 2012, 11:44 AM   #2
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I think it’s sad that a boring box like Cavendish becomes the coolest mall in Cape Town, yet a true highlight of South African modernist architecture stands rotting due to public indifference. Also, a bit amazed that something this controversial has failed to stir debate. It says a lot about the public and the mediocrity we aspire to in this city.
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Old February 7th, 2012, 12:09 PM   #3
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What a waste. Add a few trees and maybe a fountain or two, a lick of paint and fittings and the place could be a great.

Maybe some floors could be converted to residential.

I would be interested to see if they have an alternative plan though.

Last edited by RYebreAD; February 7th, 2012 at 12:28 PM.
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Old February 7th, 2012, 12:30 PM   #4
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This is a travesty!!! I've never been a huge fan of Le Corbusier and his modernist international-style which may be seen a brutal. However, he was a visionary architect, but questionable in his views on urbanism. This, although brutal in its design, is a huge part of our architectural history. Rather than demolish it, I'd rather see a huge make-over for the property to humanise it.
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Old February 7th, 2012, 12:43 PM   #5
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for us not in the know, what does the building currently house? it seems from the article it is losing money for Old Mutual hence why they wanna smash it down and start again. agree that if it is a landmark for its era then it should be fought for.
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Old February 7th, 2012, 12:47 PM   #6
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If they want to demolish something they should demolish Parklands.
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Old February 7th, 2012, 12:59 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dysan1 View Post
for us not in the know, what does the building currently house? it seems from the article it is losing money for Old Mutual hence why they wanna smash it down and start again. agree that if it is a landmark for its era then it should be fought for.
From street level, it has a Paul Bothner store which sells instruments and a make shift church. Paul Bothner have been there forever while the church is a new addition. I think there is also a laundromat at the back of the centre.
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Old February 7th, 2012, 01:03 PM   #8
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And there’s a Cafda bookstore. Used to go there as a child, but not sure if it was Cafda back then. I also used to frequent Paul Bothner until I received horribly patronising service from a guitar salesman who fancied himself a bit of a rock star. But I digress.

Werdmuller should be restored to its original state, not demolished. Yes, it’s always been a failure of function, but maybe this is the time to use our WDC2014 mad skills to rethink its function.
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Old February 7th, 2012, 03:49 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by Urban Rambler View Post
If they want to demolish something they should demolish Parklands.
HERE HERE!!! I second the motion. Parklands should be completely done over. It is a disgusting personification of cookie-cutter, inhuman, urban sprawl.
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Old February 7th, 2012, 05:04 PM   #10
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i used to go to abbotts in claremont and we used to cut through the werdmuller to get to cavendish.. i also used to buy my books in cafda and my musical equipment in bothners. to be honest it was run down then (this is about 8 years ago) so only god knows what condition it is in now. the place was always riddled with tikheads and drunks and was about as dark and dreary as your likely to see in cape town. i read an article about the demolition on mahala the other day and it really brought to light how much potential this building had and still has if someone is willing to invest in it and clean up the surrounding area.
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Old February 7th, 2012, 06:04 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lydon View Post
Thoughts?


One co-wrote an article

http://www.mahala.co.za/culture/demo...g-aspirations/
Demolishing Aspirations

Monday, January 30th, 2012 by Robert Bowen and Rashiq Fataar
Uytenbogaardt’s 1967 aspiration for a democratic architecture was never realized; an architecture that sought to use a building to draw people together, by creating an inclusive space in what was and remains a disconnected Claremont. The concept was to re-connect the marginalized trader with economic opportunity; those classified as white with those classified as non-white, the commuter, the pedestrian, and the private car user. The implementation of the Group Areas act shortly after it’s construction scuppered any chance for the ideals of the building to manifest. But now that it’s demolition is on the cards, and has been for a while, any influence that Werdmuller may have come to bear on the deconstruction of the legacy of the Group Areas Act will be lost.
With informal traders in the builidng having recently being told to move out, fresh rumours are now flying as to when the building will come down. The proposed demolition was first brought to our attention on 28 October 2011, through a notice received through the Cape Institute of Architecture. According to the document, Heritage Western Cape, a provincial heritage resources authority, had, in terms of the provisions of section 38(2) (a) of the National Heritage Resources Act, called for an impact assessment report (HIA) addressing the issue. Three months later, after registering our interest via [email protected] and making several attempts to gain information, we have yet to receive any correspondence.
One is left to speculate whether this stems from either a lack of willingness to engage the broader public on such a challenging design issue or merely another example of a failed public participation process that is fast becoming a signature trait of our city.

While the majority of those reading this may cheer at the news of the demolition, many will sadly hang their heads. Love it or hate it, the Werdmuller Centre certainly makes a statement in a city yearning for inspirational architecture and struggling to find its design feet in a post-apartheid era.
Proponents of its demise generally argue two main points: firstly, that the building is ugly and, secondly, that it is a financial loss. What exactly is ugly about the building can surely not be its bones, which are dramatic, graceful and certainly evocative. What is unattractive, however, is the bad signage, thoughtless additions and utter lack of maintenance. Apply these to any building and it would likely appear to be a dog. But there is weight in the arguments supporting its demolition and it is worth exploring them.
While the architectural and built environment community largely consider the Werdmuller Centre to be a part of our architectural legacy and heritage, we must question what other parts of Cape Town society can be seen as embracing its legacy. The slow deterioration of the Werdmuller Centre is then a reflection of the futile efforts made by the opponents of its demolition in celebrating its existence and architectural signifcance. In a conservation study of Newlands, Claremont, Kenilworth and Wynberg undertaken in 1994 by Todeschini and Japha, they did not list the Werdmuller Centre as a building of cultural significance. So why exactly should we today?
In his book Cities for people, award-winning Danish architect Jan Gehl examines, amongst other things, the pyschological impact buildings or architecture can have on people in a city, from the perspective of a pedestrian’s five senses. On these criteria, the Werdmuller Centre would fall far short and, today, contributes little to the Gehl’s ideals of creating cities for people. In its current condition the Werdmuller Centre is irrelevant in the context of the shopper or commuter, acting as more of a barrier rather than Uytenbogaardt’s vision of a space that brings people together.

It is important to decipher what exactly we are hoping to retain and how this would translate in Claremont in 2012 and beyond. We should do more than just hold onto an idea of what this building could become, and critically explore the design challenges and potential solutions to make a transformation of this building viable in the long run. Could it not be that some are holding onto the fantasy of the renaissance of this building, when reality is pointing in the other direction?
To understand the second of the two points, the centre’s financial failure, is more complicated and for that we ought to start at the beginning.
The drawings for the Werdmuller Centre were completed by one of the country’s most highly recognised architects, Roelof Uytenbogaardt. This commission came to him from Old Mutual Properties, who were difficult clients in that, while ever more pieces of land were being added to the project, their financial brief remained blurred. Due to this various functional flaws crept into the design.
The building never really took off as the contemporary shopping centre it was originally conceptualised to be; a place for non-white traders to trade in a central business district, as an economic opportunity for the marginalized in the face of draconian trading restrictions. The realision came too late, the building had became too expensive for the income group at which it was targeted.
In November 1969, six months after Uytenbogaardt’s proposal for the Werdmuller Centre was accepted, the implementation of the Group Areas act came into effect. This saw Claremont classified as a whites-only area, and further impacted the building’s fortunes. However, Uytenbogaardt had already addressed this by creating a building which sought to filter pedestrians, and hence the marginalized, through the building past the shops and back into Claremont proper.

The fact that the centre was designed to today’s aspirations of a modern and democratic South Africa is just one of the many reasons that it should be preserved. It is a rare breed of building, being one of the few in South Africa that offered an interpretation of the international style as set up by the famous Le Corbusier in 5 Points Towards a New Architecture. These points are Pilotis (the concrete columns lifting it off the ground), free plan (the plan is flexible, the walls and windows can go anywhere), ribbon windows (long and horizontal to capture the landscape), roof gardens (to replace land lost below) and, finally, a free façade (the exterior walls aren’t load bearing).
This beautiful but neglected sculpture represents far more than just a building. It is a moment in world history recorded by the hands of an internationally recognised local master craftsman.
However, the role and relevance of modernist architecture in serving the needs of today’s society appears limited. Completed in 1977, the University of Cape Town (UCT) Sports Centre is another example of the modernist work of Uytenbogaardt, which, despite its functionality, has struggled to gain affection from its daily users, the thousands of students on campus. It currently sits bare, stripped of its skin, awaiting repair work while those in power question an approach. The challenges of modernist architecture are therefore not unique to the Claremont site, with little done to adapt any of these buildings to better serve their purposes. This brings into question whether modernist architecture and the work required in ensuring it remains viable is sustainable at all. And whether the local architectural profession has been flexible enough to see past the greatness of the man in order to make the changes that may result in the public warming to these buildings.
We should not shy away from the fact that despite its iconic forms, academic significance and egalitarian plan, the Werdmuller has been a failure.
It should be noted that buildings of this nature in many countries have become national monuments and cultural tourist attractions. And therein lies the key! They have become. The Royal National theatre in London has found new life with the introduction of experimental outdoor performances, statues and various modern building wraps which have sought to re-introduce the building into public life. More recently the remarkable renovation of the headquarters of ASM International, an organization of of scientists and engineers working with metals, designed by the Chesler Group ASM International HQ in Ohio, USA by the Chesler Group halted the imminent sale of the building and utilized federal and state history tax credits to reduce construction costs.

While the building does not produce capital for Old Mutual Properties, one must bear in mind that this is as a shopping centre. The building can be adapted, softened and altered sensitively to satisfy today’s needs and functions. It could be an asset to Claremont and Cape Town as a whole.
This has been recognised to some degree by the architects chosen by Old Mutual for the project, DHK architects. Now while it has been said that they will preserve part of the building, one remains dubious as to how much of the special complexity will be saved. The last time DHK preserved the memory of a building, the result was the hotel 15 on Orange, where, if you can see past the hotel’s black glass, you might find the remains of the previous building’s façade around the corner. It’s hardly an encouraging sight and provides little confidence in the skills and vision required to tastefully renovate this architectural gem.
Countless re-uses have been proposed and precedents have been given by architects desperate to see the building side-step the wrecking ball.
One exciting vision for the building might be as a place where fine dining and local street food meet. This option could provide Claremont with a gastronomical attraction that happily integrates both sides of Main road and draws in tourists looking for a thick steak, a Gatsby, or any other local cusine. It would be supported by a cultural centre that documents the area’s past whilst by its very nature remaining up to date with the flavour of our city.
In London, a building that no longer operated under its intended function stood barren for years until it was reborn. Its rejuvenation sparked a redevelopment of the entire South Bank. We refer, of course, to the Tate Modern, the most visited contemporary art museum in the world.
Not too long ago, architects were opposing the demolition of a very similar structure, also previously a power plant, in South Africa: the Central Foreshore Power Station. As most of us know, their pleas fell on deaf ears. Let us not be short sighted and allow the demolition of another icon.
Translating the strength of the narrative and original vision of the Werdmuller Centre into a modern day triumph is an opportunity that should not be missed, in a city that will soon hold the title of World Design Capital.
Aspiring towards a democractic architecture, using that architecture to contribute towards overcoming the legacy of the Group Areas Act, is ambitious. But it’s a challenge suited to a Cape Town, a city which was recently awarded the title of World Design Capital 2014. Facing this challenge head on could help realize Uytenbogaardt’s original vision more than four decades later and act as a shining example of the power of architecture to drive new inclusive spaces in South Africa. It is surely an opportunity that should not and cannot be missed.

*Rashiq Fataar and Robert Bowen are from Future Cape Town a social media movement aimed at inspiring citizens and stimulating debate about the city today and in the future.
**Footnote: Parts of this article were informed by the thesis of Hanno Van Zyl (2010), The Invisible Monument: A critical analysis of the Werdmuller Centre as an example of modern architecture in postcolonial South Africa.
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Old February 7th, 2012, 07:13 PM   #12
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i was across the street looking at a site and this place is a eyesaw and needs to be demolished. its poor design , upkeep and is falling apart. new developmnet will offer 30 000m2 bulk in tyhe centre of Claremont
good bye bad building
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Old February 7th, 2012, 08:11 PM   #13
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The building is only an eyesore because of the lack of upkeep and because of the inappropriate additions over the years, compromising the original design.

Last edited by Urban Rambler; February 7th, 2012 at 09:09 PM. Reason: Whoops, shoulda said “compromising”, not “comprising”
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Old February 7th, 2012, 08:19 PM   #14
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I can't help but notice how much potential the building has. Some of those shots above could be absolutely beautiful were the building in any respectable state.

I truly find it sad that in light of winning the World Design Capital, we have large companies like Old Mutual looking to demolish what little experimentation has been attempted by local architects over the past few decades. We should embrace the weird, because it's the unusual that gives us character.

And to be quite frank, Old Mutual are hardly in a position to complain with the complete neglect they've displayed towards the building. They clearly can't be bothered to even attempt to turn it around.

Furthermore...who is going to occupy 30 000 sqm of bulk in Claremont? That's a sizeable amount of space for an area with a vacancy of 13.7% the last time I checked.
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Old February 8th, 2012, 06:40 AM   #15
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30000 squares mixed use, some height and a change to the lower end of main is good for claremont. an unoccupoed shit box of a building is not.

no tennts will go in there due to its convaluted flow and its not a matter of making it look nice, its a dated and uninviting location for buisness.

some buildings are not worth saving and this is one. you cant knock a developer for looking to imporove his portfolio and deal with problem buildings.

strange no one complained when buildings were knocked down for portside?
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Old February 8th, 2012, 06:47 AM   #16
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i also dont agree with the term democratic architecture. this is privatly owned building with LITTLE architectual merit and in fact wouldent make any heritige listing hense its not listed.OMP could start demo right now with no public input which is their right as the building is not listed but they chose to engage the public. lets hope the NIMBYS dont all start their nonsance on this. go and walk the centre and see how horrible it is.

you cant keep every building just because its for a certain era otherwise you would have no new buildings in the city, no portside, no 22 bree,, no allan grey etc

put the emothion and retoric aside and see that this ailing monstrosaty needs to go to be able to be reborn as something new for the city
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Old February 8th, 2012, 08:11 AM   #17
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It remains to be seen what DHK have in mind for Werdmuller Centre 2.0, and how much of the existing building they plan on incorporating into the redevelopment. But it doesn't put the mind to rest that the building is likely to be "reborn" as yet another boring box amidst a sea of boring boxes littered about the city.

Personally, I still feel that with a little imagination, Old Mutual could turn the so-called problem property around. It could become a destination...it's certainly notorious enough. Successful examples can be seen throughout Woodstock alone. Old Mutual just don't appear to have the will to do so, which is sad for reasons previously mentioned.

Hopefully - should they go ahead with demolition - the site doesn't sit empty for some time, because 30 000 sqm is a massive addition to the Claremont CBD, and they could struggle to fill it.
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Old February 8th, 2012, 09:10 AM   #18
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DHK and 15 on Orange. I am afraid when they say they will retain elements.
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Old February 8th, 2012, 10:14 AM   #19
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DHK has a terrible reputation. Old Mutual is even worse regarding maintaining important buildings. We are erasing important heritage buildings that can never be replaced. In parkwood, joburg, a wonderful 1939 mansion was demolished last week. And with it we lost another piece of fabric. This building must be preserved. So tired of all the neo-classical shite out there
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Old February 8th, 2012, 12:59 PM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mo Rush View Post
DHK and 15 on Orange. I am afraid when they say they will retain elements.
You have to be wary of throwing the stick at the Architects, they would have not had free reign on this, they would have had a brief (and ongoing intervention) from their client, restrictions in terms of the zoning scheme and interference from Council (heritage in particular), had another firm been appointed on the 15 on Orange project I doubt it would look much different to what it does as the developer had a particular vision for this site and heritage insisted on the retention of existing elements....
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