When we realise that past and present are not exclusive but inseparable realms, we cast off preservations, self-defeating insistence on a fixed and stable past. Only by altering and adding to what we save, does our heritage remain real, live and comprehensible – David Lowenthal: The Past is a Foreign Country, Cambridge University Press, 1985
The brief called for the transformation of the existing Oude Werf Hotel in Stellenbosch into a five-star, worldclass sister to the Vineyard Hotel in Newlands, Cape Town.
At the Oude Werf, as at the Vineyard Hotel and the Graduate School of Business in the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, the conceptual objective has been to identify significant historical fabric, to remove or alleviate damaging intrusions, to restore the buildings carefully in order to preserve their integrity and memory, and to provide a powerful visual anchor and reference for the inevitable contemporary interventions needed to satisfy the myriad present and future demands of a sophisticated hotel.
The Oude Werf is the oldest hotel in Stellenbosch. Its site on Church Street is in the heart of the historic core of Stellenbosch and housed the town’s first church, where a number of deconsecrated graves still remain. The site is a good example of the typical Stellenbosch urban configuration – of peripheral buildings grouped around central courtyards that are entered down narrow poorts.
As is often the case where farms turn into villages and then into towns, the historic built fabric has been through many changes over time and, in particular, has suffered severely from recent clumsy ‘restorations’ and heavy-handed additions. This, and the absence of documented historical substantiation, has made meticulous and nonspeculative restoration challenging.
INTEGRATING OLD AND NEW
The original footprint and fabric of the heritage buildings has been repaired and reinstated. This has been achieved using traditional techniques and materials, such as cement-free lime putty plaster externally and locally-sourced bougrond plaster internally. Typical historic building techniques and materials have been revealed and displayed.
Particular attention has been paid to the most important visible aspect of the complex: the Church Street elevation. Off-the-peg mock sash windows and heavy-handed ‘restored’ plaster detailing has been removed and replaced with new purpose-made windows and simplified plaster detail in order to reflect the proportions and simple elegance that typically prevailed when the façades were first completed. The ponderous and lumpy front elevation of the 1980s post-modern infill building has been replaced with a drastically simplified linking façade, confirming that modest changes can often be the most radical.
Today’s sophisticated travellers require world-class contemporary interventions, which avoid all faux period overtones. These interventions tend to be simple, respectful and in complementary contrast to the dominant historical framework.
Hotels prosper through the number of rooms they can rent, therefore much effort has been made to maintain the scale and visual and environmental quality, not only of the heritage buildings but also of the external courtyards. Two major trees were saved at the cost of losing valuable basement parking space and having to accommodate a tree trunk inside the new building envelope.
Opportunities for reusing characterful elements from the old building in new contexts (the ‘stains of time’) have been sought – for example, an old teak door with an arched stained-glass fanlight has been reused in a frameless glass shopfront.
Access to the graves, covered at some stage by a kitchen floor, has been improved and a project is under way to upgrade the ‘crypt’ into an important heritage destination for hotel guests, tourist groups and the general public.
Apart from ensuring structural soundness and waterproofing, there has been the rich mix of challenges involved in providing the usual necessities of twenty- first century life (such as air-conditioning, lighting, electronic equipment, a lift, heat pumps and solar panels), as well as satisfying the demands of building codes and fire and safety compliance. These have been dealt with as directly as possible and are seen as part of the next layer in the ongoing heritage of the complex.