The future of Salt River: architecture students investigate research platforms for emerging technologies| FUTURE CAPE TOWN

“Students produced urban strategies to improve issues of inclusive sustainable design and promote future development”

The third year students of the school of architecture at the University of Cape Town spent 2015 envisioning the future of Salt River. Here are some of their findings and design proposals.


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In November of 2015, the school of architecture at the University of Cape Town (UCT) exhibited the work of the third year students focussed on Salt River in an attempt to gain a better understanding of the characteristics and potentials of the area. Salt River is a suburb of Cape Town located near Table Bay to the east of Cape Town’s central business district. The suburb, with a large residential component, is a self-sufficient light industrial area which is historically associated with the textile industry. In recent years the edges of suburb has evolved into a commercial area and has been the topic of various urban renewal and revitalisation initiatives.

The work of the students was based on a year-long engagement with Salt River through a series of mapping exercises of the neighbourhood. These mapping exercises were used individually to inform each student’s interpretation of the site and to identify the problems that need to be addressed.

“Having seen the effects of urban regeneration in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, where he was born to a Somalian father and an American mother, rapper-actor Abdi Hussein sees parallels in Cape Town’s Salt River.When I first moved to Cape Town in 2008, the Old Biscuit Mill’s festivities on a Saturday morning generally attracted people of colour, but it is no longer that,” says Hussein about the city’s artisanal produce market, Neighbourgoods Market, in the industrial and residential community of Salt River. In fact, the people of colour feel ostracised. Things are so expensive there now.”

According to the mapping and fieldwork done by the students; Salt River is an ideal location for a more mixed and inclusive urban development strategy. The anchor point of each student’s urban strategy is a proposed research centre for emerging technologies. According to the student’s project brief, these research centres propose to empower the community of Salt River by introducing publically accessible educational facilities and specialised research platforms. These buildings also aim to create job opportunities for locals and improve the social environment of the area. Salt River is also viewed as the ideal location for such development:

  • due to its close proximity to two major national roads (Voortrekker Road and the M4 freeway)
  • its easy access to the commuter rail infrastructure as well as two large research institutions (University of Cape Town and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology) and
  • its close proximity to the city centre (only 4km away)

Based on the mapping exercise, the students confirmed media reports and neighbourhood perceptions that t Salt River faces is the risk of being gentrified – or at least the risk of re-development which could displace the current residents and character of the area. The class aimed to proactively address the issue of gentrification in Salt River by exploring building models and urban interventions that could implement increased densities without fracturing or disregarding the existing social fabric and cultural characteristic of the area.

The major project for the year was developed as an extension of the urban strategies developed throughout the year.

The typology of the projects were focused on the development of different research centres for emerging technologies. These research centres aimed to empower and engage the community of Salt River by implementing publically accessible educational facilities, while trying to solve current and future problems through productive and research orientated spaces.

The students were presented with 8 brownfield sites in Salt River from which to choose,  to design a building to accommodate one of these five emerging technology research topics:

  1. Concentrated food production research
  2. Fabric and textile development research
  3. Bio-tech development research
  4. Alternative energy production/storage development research

A selection of 4 projects represent some of the technology research topics:

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Concentrated food production research by Kaamil Wills

The design forms part of a larger scale urban design strategy which aims to revitalize and reconnect the core of Salt River with the ‘fringed areas’ surrounding it. The programme of the building is mixed use, facilitating productive farming, education, research labs, and a public market. The building’s primary function is however, concentrated food production and research conducted in the field exploring methods to maximise the efficiency and productivity of urban farming. It encourages urban farming as a model for future city development and acts as an example demonstrating why it is a beneficial strategy at a larger environmental scale, as well as a smaller social scale. The concept of building ‘integrated agriculture’ is explored, specifically how architecture, horticulture and modern technology are combined to achieve this. The key concept of the space is to exhibit the experience of the food production process from the beginning to the consumption stage, where produce is distributed on the ground floor.

site response

Cross section

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Fabric and textile development research by Oliver Brown

Citrus Circle explores the idea of architecture as a practical art. The aim of the intervention was to transform the condition of the existing ‘abandoned’ spaces in Salt River, through considering the history of the textile industry and the nature of existing spaces and uses. The building makes it possible to intervene in such a way that it can attempt to positively impact the area with easier walking routes in-between public transport nodes and the Salt River Market, by implementing the idea of a street through the building. The program of Citrus Circle also address issues regarding import and export in the South African textile industry. Citrus Circle addresses these issues by focusing on organic and sustainable solutions for a potential re-emerging textile industry in Salt River. In Cape Town there is a large citrus industry. Tonnes of citrus waste can be transformed and made into clothes which are biodegradable. This core process is integrated into the building which includes research spaces, laboratories, a lecture theatre, design workshops and an event space to exhibit the clothes.

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Bio-tech development research by Diana Kuhn

Summary of project

The proposal for The Emerging Energy Production Arcade (EEPA) uses energy systems which celebrate sustainability with technologies that lets the whole building function as a real ‘machine for living in’. This building demonstrates how simple these systems are and how it is possible for a house to function like a sustainable machine. The systems are all connected that form a loop of energy. An arcade with a vaulted ceiling is the main circulation space of the building and serves as a movement route between the Salt River residential area, the train station and the Salt River market space. The spaces of this building are integrated in such a way to promote a notion of public accessibility that encourages people to come gain knowledge on energy.

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Alternative energy production/storage development research by Christine Botha

Christine - siteplan

The ‘Salt River Alternative Energy Centre’ aims to develop possibilities of transforming‘lost spaces’ into valuable public spaces. The program of the building aims to expose people to knowledge about alternative energy systems that will ultimately power our future cities and households. The building will facilitate the engagement with ideas and resources through interactive exhibitions and public lectures. The urban strategy of this project was to create integrated public spaces with access to a new transport interchange. This includes the revival of the Salt River Market by relocating the existing train station to the Salt River market.

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  1. All images property of The School of Architecture, Planning and Geomatics, University of Cape Town