by Ilze Woff
Cape Town’s Werdmuller Centre, an iconic modernist building designed by renowned architect, urbanist and teacher, Roelof Uytenbogaardt, is under threat of demolition. A questionable Heritage Impact Assessment conducted in December 2007, states that the main reason for the demolition of the defunct shopping mall is that it is financially impotent and therefore a liability for the owner.
This paper traces the urban, economic and political contexts within which Uytenbogaardt and his colleagues conceived the design of the building, a design that quietly sought to reconnect displaced communities to the city within the oppressive political arena of the 1970’s; a design that sought to prioritise the needs of the pedestrian thereby serving the needs of the lowest income groups; and a design that investigated a more social approach to shopping in the conception of an open market or souk.
The Werdmuller Centre was also conceived within the context of urban proposals that have not materialised as originally planned, for example the Claremont Boulevard, a highway that is present in Uytenbogaardt’s earliest conceptual sketches. The design also hinged on the premise that that part of Claremont would become progressively geared towards a broad-based use of public transport – whereas today, the opposite is in fact the reality.
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