City Space: Molteno Reservoir – What could it become?

Those of you who have been painstakingly searching for a venue to host your three-legged biathlon, take a deep sigh of relief. I have found a location that not only covers the stipulated 800m distance but also provides aquatic facilities.

Molteno reservoir, positioned just above the ridiculously dog friendly De Waal Park, is an unusual place. It is fortunately accessible to the public, despite being property of the waterworks. Its 800m circumference makes it a popular destination for upper middle-aged women looking to chat with their friends and other runners too.

The History

Built from 1877 – 1881, the 200 000 kilolitre water storage facility was commissioned by Premier John Molteno. The shell of a power plant and now missing its smoke stack is the Graaf Electric Lighting Works, the first hydro-electric plant in South Africa and also the first power plant in Cape Town. However, if we’re talking architecture and power, the new timber guardhouse beside it surely trumps out. The little man inside it came to me and deleted a large portion of my images seemingly at random.

Industrial by nature, the site is not an obvious space of recreation. Save for the solitary precast Greco bench, the site does nothing to welcome visitors. The ground is pot-holed asphalt, the grass, trees and bushes are unkempt. An ancient rotten skeleton of a bench sits beside a ramshackle guardhouse. Yes, to say the visitor is considered is to tell an easily read lie.

It is a pleasant walk (or run) though; it must be something about the changing aspect of the surrounding scenery which is enchanting. The mountain looms like a lush mossy garden wall at your back whilst the city paves a floor below you off towards the ocean and endless horizon. Beside you is the still mountain water resting in this rather antiquated reservoir. The solid stone walls are dotted with rusting hooks, some of which suspend a green across the berth. Its purpose unknown, it remains a curiosity of the meander.

Not unlike the folly we find positioned off-centre of the reservoir. It surely serves/served a purpose at some point. Accessed by a yellow and black girder bridge, the rounded hut is a bit like the architectural prop to a Rapunzel meets Atlantis fairy tale.

Whatever its purpose may have been, it is likely it has now been replaced by this contraption: a vital well-ruler-wine bottle contraption with access restricted by a forceful barrier.

The Future Space

While the reservoir is a fantastic space and usable by the public it hardly is encouraged by the management who have instructed security to fiercely enforce the draconian rules prohibiting everything save running or walking(these images are illegal).

This space could be so much more; convert the shell of a power plant into a restaurant or function venue, build a pontoon and allow people to swim. In no time you’ll have a popular and profoundly unique Cape Town space that is also a tourist attraction and the best part is everything is already there!

Grab a friend,tie your legs together and go see for yourself…

There are 6 comments

  1. Michael

    Converting the power-station into a community space – for exhibitions, shows and other cultural activities would be amazing – but I can imagine that the people who live in the surrounds would not be too thrilled with the increased activity – especially with regards to noise at night and parking. Interesting post!

  2. Gareth Pearson

    I had no idea it was accessible to the public. I’m definitely going to run through there. I assumed the reservoir provided municipal water. Is this not the case? I’m just curious given the suggestion to let people swim. Making the reservoir more inviting would be great, perhaps creating a clear connection to the park below. Converting the power station would be great, but as Michael mentioned, Oranjezicht residents are not known for their affinity to noise. Maybe daytime activity could fly, and jobs could be created by having full time ‘shushers’. Nice recon report Rob.

    1. Robert Bowen

      It is indeed still used for drinking water hence swimming is not an option, but I think there is certainly the opportunity for infrastructural sites to be recreational, beyond simply running tracks, it simply requires some lateral thinking.

  3. Sean Dayton

    Is it owned by the City’s water department or national government’s? I would imagine if owned by the City it would be easier to meet the right people, present a plan for the Reservoir, how much it’ll cost to upgrade etc and get it done. It is a beautiful space with lots of potential – it just needs a small cash injection and people with a plan…

  4. Francois

    Robert, you need to get your facts straight before posting articles like this. Be careful that your ignorance does not further fuel the fire of closing this property down to the public completely, which is more likely to happen than you might think.
    Also, next time those guards might prosecute you and take your camera away. Not because they feel like it, but because it is their job to enforce the laws imposed by the City of Cape Town.

    1. Rouen Smit

      Hi Francois – before posting comments like this, could you explain what facts Robert got wrong? We always update posts with more correct and updated information, where possible.

      It’s easy to be a doos in comments, but could you have written this post?

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