In future, Cape Town must go up, but do so wisely

Statement issued by Future Cape Town

Prepared by Rashiq Fataar (Managing Director of Future Cape Town)

Future Cape Town welcomes the draft Tall Buildings Policy as put forward by the City of Cape Town, which aims to “provide guidance during the early phases of the design and planning process for tall buildings in Cape Town”. We consider this to be a pro-active step, constructively engaging with the process of tall building design in Cape Town. We are already faced with low levels of densification and an urban form, which potentially threatens the aspirations of a sustainable city.

According to the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, there were 602 buildings higher than 200 metres around the world in 2011 and more than double the amount in 2000. The timing of this policy is therefore appropriate as Cape Town is dealing with several proposals to construct tall buildings, not limited to our Central City area.

Tall buildings do more than just shape our skylines and city identities. They are a generally a positive outcome of the benefits of a thriving economy and should be encouraged where suitable. It is also useful to encourage this dialogue as we decide on future economic zones and nodes. We believe this to be necessary in growing the economy of our region. This is an area in which Cape Town has for a long period lacked the conviction or clarity.

There are no apparent red lights, at this stage, within the contents of the Policy, but we cannot foresee all the possible future implications e.g. guidelines, which propose that all buildings have a base, middle and top. While some level of cohesion makes a city better, this typology would not be always be appropriate or would block the introduction of a potentially amazing design to our city and skyline.

Each building must be considered based on the information provided, and the motivation for deviation, from generally accepted principles for the design of tall buildings.

The start of construction at the site for Cape Town’s newest and tallest tower Portside, required a joint effort from 2 major companies. This points to the need to create a more welcoming attitude to investments of this scale, which require great effort on the part of all parties involved. Portside alone is expected to bring over 3,000 workers to the lower Bree Street end of the Central City, and will soon be joined by several other tall buildings.

What therefore needs to be investigated and clarified, is the role the Western Cape Economic Development Partnership can play, not only in creating this enabling environment but ensuring that this policy fits into the broader economic goals of the region.

The policy environment in which this policy exists however calls for a more dynamic and integrated relationship with existing and proposed policies, namely; the Densification Strategy, the proposed Urban Design policy, future transport policies and existing agreements around the promotion of more dense developments around transport nodes.

We consider it to be imperative that these policies act in a coordinated manner, supporting the aims of a vibrant, diverse and safe public realm within the context of a growing city and regional economy. The mixed-use nature of Tall Buildings, in particular the provision of a residential component, needs to be supported and encouraged, and if need be should become a minimum requirement. We should guard against the creation of an “8 hour City”, which experiences a mass exodus of individuals from the Central Business District outside of office hours.

We would recommend that where possible, policies, which consider particular aspects of the urban realm, like the Tall Buildings policy, fall within the Urban Design Policy, which can be expanded over time to accommodate various necessary sub-policies.

We would however caution against situations where such a policy would over extend itself, or would be impotent in situations where leadership is required, of which examples are presented below:

i.                The construction of 22 Bree, unregistered Erf 173682, was subject to the following comment in the Application for consent use and departures, under the section Architecture and Aesthetics: “and the width of the vertical bands has been amended to make the bands of equal width creating a more visually pleasing building that compliments the surroundings”. Comments of this nature cannot be supported; in particular as they impact on the design integrity and authenticity of architects, suggesting that a more symmetrical and uniform design would serve Cape Town better.

ii.               As detailed in a recent statement, the lack of final renders of Portside, and the continued lack of engagement around the final design, sets a very poor precedent for Cape Town going forward. It is essential that this Policy supports regulation, which requires that final renders are made available to the public for scrutiny before construction commences. We cannot approve tall buildings blindly, nor allow developers as many revisions as they wish, until the actual project no longer resembles the approved renders.

iii.              The natural beauty of our City is a unique asset, which should be seen as a foundation from which iconic design can stem, rather than as a barrier which will cripple the opportunities of tall buildings, which act as a signature of our city’s development in a post-apartheid era.

We would further recommend that the City of Cape Town establishes, as soon as is possible, a trans-disciplinary design panel, which can consider the merits of Tall Buildings within the Urban Design Policy framework. This panel would need to include experts offering input on aspects beyond aesthetics e.g. the resource intensity of Tall Buildings, bulk infrastructure and a general awareness of the latest research in this area.

Being the 2014 World Design Capital requires a collective shift in mindset, that as a City, design can play a role in connecting the physical aspects, with the economic and social. We welcome the introduction of a Tall Buildings Policy, which speaks to a bolder, taller Cape Town, encouraging the role of design to transform our socio-economic future.

Media Enquiries:

Adriaan Bester, Head of Communications

Media Office, Future Cape Town

Tall Buildings Week consists a series of articles, and media, focused on the draft Tall Buildings Policy put forward by the City of Cape Town, which will “provide guidance during the early phases of the design and planning process for tall buildings in Cape Town”. The draft policy is available for perusal from 1 March 2012 at the City’s 24 Sub-Council offices, municipal libraries and Planning District Offices; as well as here.