Although it covers an area of 1 000m2 of outdoor restaurant space, the new R15 million steel and glass canopy at the V&A Waterfront has met the client’s brief to its architects by being ‘99.9% invisible’.
‘The V&A Quayside area has a wonderful view from its spectacular position only three metres above the old Victoria Basin. And its restaurants are popular for their singular location in one of Cape Town’s main attractions,’ says architect Robert Silke, whose partnership was responsible for the new structure’s design.
For Silke, the brief was a manifold challenge, as the nearly 30-year-old retail and lifestyle hub is protected by architectural design constraints, and the 150-year-old antique working harbour, that remains its primary element, cannot be tampered with in any way.
The work on the canopy is now complete, to the satisfaction of the V&A management and its high-profile restaurant tenants. For locals and visitors from upcountry and abroad who flock to the V&A, the canopy makes it possible to enjoy the sights and sounds of the harbour and the views beyond – even in the teeth of a winter storm or a summer south-easter.
Robert says the instruction from client, V&A CEO David Green, was to provide a structure in perfect harmony with the façade of the buildings at that point, and to create a light, unobstructed direct line of sight from one end to the other.
‘Visitors were to be able at a glance, to make their informed choice of the five restaurants – that drift into the newly created undercover space.’ The absence of umbrellas and other obstructions would create clear sightlines.
‘What we created, was a structure of large horizontal sections of Italian awnings, on a metal frame that echoes the texture of the harbour’s traditional steel beams. Protection from the wind is provided by vertical frameless high performance glass that is almost invisible. Cool misting and heating functions are built into the structure.’
To meet the varying preferences of diners, the four-metre-high canopy supports what Robert describes as five different micro-climates, providing anything from comfortably cool, to near full solar exposure for the Europeans who love to bask in the African sun.
Restaurateur Ian Halfon has operated for 25 years at the V&A where his award-winning restaurants in the Slick Group, Balducci, Belthazar and Gibson’s draw enormous patronage.
Not optimistic at first about whether the Cape Town weather could be controlled outside on the Victoria Wharf, he now says the canopy concept was visionary as a long-term solution. ‘Robert is highly talented, and it’s an unbelievable job that affords the best of both worlds.’
Niaz Ahmed, Project Manager in the V&A Development Department said the new structure exactly performed the role it was designed for, to provide usable, protected space in a conservatory environment. ‘The concept took two years to refine and among the constraints was the fact that the V&A remains adamant that the public realm cannot be abused, so the solution had to be in keeping with the existing structure and the harbour it overlooked. It has culminated in a very happy outcome.’
“The public space on the quayside of Victoria Wharf is (like Sea Point Promenade) one of Cape Town’s few social condensers, or equalisers, where anyone is welcome to share public space. The Quayside is a true meeting place. It’s a very special public realm where we have to go the extra mile to make certain that everyone is being catered for and included” says, Silke.