Lutheran Warehouse Debate: Today’s Architecture, Tomorrow’s Heritage

The restoration and redevelopment of the warehouse next to the Lutheran Church complex has stimulated much discussion and debate. The scheme has the approval of Heritage Western Cape and is planning compliant – currently it is being evaluated in terms of its appropriateness. Many have supported the project as they feel the development is sensible and that the property once transformed will result in a far more interesting building than the current drab setup. The developers have undertaken to restore all the original remains of the old warehouse, and construction will be monitored to ensure this. It is not a pristine 18th century warehouse which has survived the centuries perfectly intact, and the reintegration of these remnants into an attractive unified building will expose their value.- Casey Augostides

View of the area in late 1800’s


This property is privately owned and therefore concerned conservationists need to be pragmatic with their expectations. For the owners to want to make a profit from developing their asset should not be viewed as an unthinkable evil – rather it is good business practise and a basic right for any property owner. Successful cities depend very much on sustainable private sector property investment and development. That these owners, through the guidance of Gabriel Fagan architects and Dr Townsend, have undertaken to restore the building at their own cost for public enjoyment is commendable. The Lutheran Church property is a hybrid mix of old and modern structures which work perfectly well together –the transformation of the church property along Waterkant Street was a major improvement and asset to the area as will be this project. On this very block and throughout the city is a historical layering of architecture from different periods, with a variety of different forms side by side. Development and conservation are not mutually exclusive and this project is destined to create a new benchmark for conservation friendly development. The existing buildings will be completely retained to ensure that nothing of their heritage is lost. Like most things in life, matters are seldom purely black and white and many times the most elegant solutions are a delicate balance between all the necessary factors that need to be taken into account. This is an important site in the central city because of its location, and heritage whilst very high on the list, is certainly not the only informant to design.

Warehouse gutted and modernised in more recent times

There has been reference by some objectors to construction which will necessitate the gutting of the building – this is entirely incorrect and misleading. The proposal is not just to retain the remaining original fabric in the building, but also to carefully restore and protect it. The vast majority of the site is currently occupied by modern structures of concrete columns and slabs, however a pocket of original timber fabric remains and is of great interest. It must be understood that this is the site on which an ancient warehouse once stood. However that warehouse no longer exists and what we have is a modern structure with remnants of the old hidden from sight and in need of attention. From the diagram called ‘timber area’ a plan of what exists can be seen, as well as what is proposed for this area.


The original warehouse built in the 1700’s did not cover the entire property. There was an open yard between the warehouse and the adjacent Church property which was built on only much later in the 1900’s – this area shown on the top of the ‘before’ plan. The thick solid blue lines indicate the remaining structural walls of the warehouse and the blue dotted lines indicate timber floor. The walls and floors filled with white are modern. By comparing the existing with the proposed it can be seen that the current large intruding staircases will be removed from the warehouse timber area and relocated to the yard area along with lift shafts and other structural elements. Timber will be re-introduced to fill the gaps where the staircases and toilets were to restore the floor. Also all the original arches and windows which previously existed and are currently bricked up will be re-instated. In order to support the modern structure levitated above the warehouse, relatively slim columns (800mm in diameter) will penetrate the existing building and just two of these will be inserted very carefully through the original timber floors which will remain in place and not be gutted. The other columns pierce through areas which are already modernized with concrete and steel. This small intrusion of the two columns is compensated tenfold over by the removal of the other large modern intrusions (staircases, toilets, kitchens, modern brickwork etc) currently in the area of interest. A quick comparison of the two diagrams clearly shows that this space will be greatly enhanced by what is proposed and will allow visitors to experience this part of the building in its true historical form. Construction methods are being employed which will not damage the integrity of the remaining original fabric, but rather serve to strengthen and protect it for many years to come.


At present the bits and pieces of authentic fabric are currently well hidden from the public eye and do not offer any value in their current arrangement. The attached pic ‘old warehouse’ shows the condition the building was in when the current owners bought it. Whilst there have already been some changes and improvements made, it is the first time in more than 2 centuries that an overall restoration of the buildings is possible. The scheme developed by the Fagans is cleverly designed to encourage access to this part of the building as well as to the block as a whole via a new thoroughfare from Bree Street linking up with the Church courtyard. The impressions show how the building will spill open on to Waterkant street encouraging pedestrians to mill through and experience history – a real asset for the fan walk and the general public.


When considering the new addition above, one should always keep in mind that from nowhere are the heritage buildings seen on their own. Right from the first concept sketch the objective was to ensure that all signature views of the Lutheran Church complex along Strand Street are preserved without compromise. Visual Impact studies were undertaken to ensure this and by looking at the photomontages it is clear that this has been achieved. The heritage buildings are always seen in the context of the modern layering which surrounds them. The decision to levitate the new component above the old warehouse with a clear gap will allow the restored heritage buildings below to be read as a separate uncompromised structure, while the schick new component above will be absorbed into the surrounding modern townscape. A clever solution and entirely fresh alternative to simply lumping something on top with a minor setback. Cape Town is shortlisted to become the 2014 World Design Capital and it is precisely this type of exciting creative thinking which is an asset to our bid. Objectors have another argument (all too late of course if one looks at the surrounds) that the Lutheran Church should be protected as the dominant landmark it once was, but one only has to look at this pic from the late 1800’s to see that even back then it was being embraced by development. This is on ongoing process which will not stop – like a living organism the city constantly adapts to changing needs and in the process renew itself with layer upon layer of new fabric. This scheme highlights that there is pragmatic way in which old buildings can be retained and preserved whilst still allowing the city to evolve and grow.


The fears that the heritage of these buildings will be ruined or lost are quite simply unfounded – the longer the debate has continued the more this has become apparent.  Today’s architecture is what becomes tomorrows heritage and this project is very fortunate to have the involvement of calibre people such as Gabriel Fagan and Dr Townsend.

Change, not just for this site but in general throughout our city, is inevitable and it has to be managed in a practical way rather than simply resisted.  When it forms part of a well thought out plan with multiple benefits, it should be embraced.

There are 2 comments

  1. Belinda Johnson

    It should not be allowed. What happens between the glass to and the funny looking pegola things.

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