The hidden life of Montrose : strategies for building in an historic environment

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Densifying within an already built-up, existing city inevitably brings up the question of how to build within an existing built environment, such as Cape Town, where many buildings have historic meaning. This dissertation explores this question and ultimately argues that we should use the spaces and buildings that we have more effectively, rather than searching for greenfield sites outside the city where we can build from scratch. I see buildings as existing in time and having a life of their own – this means that they can accommodate different uses and occupations throughout their lifetime. I believe the evidence of other uses and previous occupations should not be hidden and that exposing the secret life of buildings will create a richness and complexity in our urban environment. Structures retain time, they exist of layers of time and this should be acknowledged. The emergent themes of architecture as palimpsest, of time and the thinking about sustainability was developed in response to urban sprawl and the disregard of all that went before it; both remnants of modernist policies still evident in the development and expansion of Cape Town. Reusing, renovating, adapting and extending older buildings retain the social and cultural capital embodied in buildings and it is inherently more sustainable because it involves less material use, less transport energy, less energy consumption, less pollution during construction and the reduction of generated landfill waste. The site occupies a large piece of land right next to the historic Leeuwenhof, Waterhof and Welgemeend farm homesteads in the Upper Table Valley. The programme was developed in response to site; both in terms of its current use and its history. It is a design for a satellite campus for the Cape Peninsula University of Technology’s Hospitality Management School. The historic waterways serve as inspiration for a circulation spine and route connecting and supporting a series of free-standing buildings. The discovery of really thick masonry walls at Montrose serves as inspiration for the principle of using thick masonry walls as another ordering system. Building within an existing environment will become increasingly important as expansion of cities becomes less favourable as less land is available. This dissertation serves as a case study of possible ways to build within an existing environment where some buildings have historic value.

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