Andre Rademeyer, of ST&AR Architects in Association Kalk Bay, gave a very interesting talk about the beautification of Fish Hoek at the Fish Hoek Valley Residents’ and Ratepayers’ Association quarterly meeting on the Thurs, 24 Nov 2011. The title of his talk, illustrated with slides, was “Fish Hoek: Disaster or Delight? Architectural and Urban errors: can they be remedied?”
Fish Hoek was developed in the mid 20th century according to the Art Deco style then in fashion. The town’s characterful neighbours Kalk Bay and Simon’s Town had developed earlier in the Victorian era and their buildings reflect a more picturesque style of architecture.
Despite being the relatively ugly duckling architecture wise, Fish Hoek has a great deal going for it. It is the hub of the South Peninsula, with a large range of amenities. “In Main Road you can get anything from a pin to a motorcar. You cannot get that anywhere else in the area, not even in Sun Valley” Andre reflected. The heart of Fish Hoek is the beach and the challenge is to make the beach more accessible from the village.
Posing the question; “What makes good urban space?” Andre described the Piazza Del Campo, a town Square in Sienna, Italy, which he regards as one of the best urban spaces in the world. The main public area has a strong periphery of buildings defining “positive outdoor space” – effectively a large urban ‘room’ where horse races and competitions are held and activities take place in which the residents all participate, even if it is just for a family evening stroll.” In South Africa densification is “considered an evil to be avoided”, but there are great advantages to it. It “provides a sense of being held and a vital sense of community and greater access to opportunities (economic, social and cultural). People are more sociable in such areas – and less lonely.”
Fish Hoek Main Road has relatively good density on the Simon’s Town Road end where one feels safely bound by buildings of equal height, which could quite comfortably be taken to 3 or 4 stories. On the Clovelly side of Main Road, around the station, the buildings become single storey and one experiences a different sense of space.” Main Road is characterised by mountainscape , but is unfortunately divorced from the ocean.”
‘Genius Loci’ or ‘spirit of space’ is something that designers work with, terms that refers to a location’s distinctive character. Simon’s Town’s Waterfront area with the Victorian character of the buildings surrounding it, its connections to the water, its maritime aspect, public art and sense of history , is a comfortable space to be in.
In contrast, the shopping malls in Sun Valley are “placeless, faceless places” which provide a poor urban experience to shoppers. The blank “awful” exterior walls make the buildings look like sealed boxes – there is nothing that can be done to them to make the malls more inviting. Andre lamented the fact that the malls represent the predominant South African public space experience.
Fish Hoek, according to Andre, does in fact have it’s own particular spirit of place – especially when approached from the southern end. “ It is a nice place to be and is much undervalued.
Remembrance Garden is lovely space. It is beautifully landscaped and needs to have public activities take place there more than once a year. If it were in Beijing pensioners would be exercising in it every morning.” Unfortunately the gardens are somewhat neglected. They would, most likely, be better maintained if used more frequently. (A project for a local gardener to adopt?)
Andre went on to point out the lovely amphitheatre of lawn between Simon’s Town Rd and the entrance to the beach “where the planting and the placement of the benches has been haphazard”. More sheltered from the South Easter than most of the beach this is an area where fun community activities such as the Christmas Carols Service could take place.
Taking us on a visual journey down Main Road, Andre remarked that the Warren’s Pharmacy corner is a pleasant area where the planting works and the buildings are all in the right proportion. The covered walkways “create a strong sense of being held and protected. “ If the pillars could be continued along the length of Main Road, the road would have a far more attractive, cohesive and welcoming aspect to it. Chair person of the FHVRRA pointed out that there were indeed pillars in the 70’s but they were removed by the council of the day in order to prevent car doors from being damaged when opened!
The alley running alongside the Fish Hoek Standard Bank, which looks like a blind alley but is one of the few places which provides a connection to the beach, could be transformed into active and inviting public space with creative planting and by using it for informal trading where artists could display their talents.
“Fish Hoek Town Square should be the heart of the village, not a parking lot. It is an asset completely ignored.” This is one of the few places on Main Road where one gets a glimpse of the beach, but there is a lack of seating and the planting is poor. The strelitzias in all the planters along Main Road should be removed and other wind friendly indigenous trees planted. The square could be the venue of a regular market and other community activities. Napoli’s Greek restaurant further down Main Road “highlights what Fish Hoek lacks” , good planting and an outdoor place to sit.
Taking us into Beach Road , Andre pointed out how prime public space is taken up by parking areas, disconnecting Fish Hoek from its prime asset, the beach. An opportunity for Fish Hoek is to have a “living bridge” to the beach which could support commercial activity. The informal trader area near Fish Hoek station is half demolished. It needs to be enclosed, but to have traders on the street side as well. The station area should be an inviting hub of activity. The station building itself is not unattractive but the entrance should be in the front – and obvious.
Back on Fish Hoek Main Road, the gap at KFC kills the feeling of continuity and the low- slung buildings on this end of Fish Hoek take away the sense of security experienced earlier and provide instead a feeling of urban sprawl. The Triangle Building which once housed a much appreciated morning market is “killed by signage”, as is most of Main Road. The Fish Hoek Shoprite building, a building with no frontage on Main Road, has nothing to recommend it – “it is like a face without eyes and mouth.” And even uglier is the Fish Hoek Police station further down, “depressing, heavy fascist architecture made ridiculous with the Chubb sign on its outside wall”. Unfortunately, little can be done to this building to make it in any way more pleasing to the eye. This approach from the northern end of Fishoek lacks the identity and spirit of place that is experienced from the south.
Comments were made about the unwelcome and completely out of control sprawl of signage along Main Road, an issue urgently requiring attention by residents and business owners alike, the estate agents being amongst the worst offenders.
Andre concluded by saying that Fish Hoek has a many challenges but much can be done to improve its aspect and its spirit of place space. The project needs funding and energy and people willing to engage.
Are you willing to take the initiative and to put your energy and talents into beatifying Fish Hoek? We would like to hear your comments – and of your commitment.
Stephen Lamb of Touching the Earth Lightly in collaboration with ST&AR Architects in Association Kalk Bay designed the City of Cape Town’s Climate Smart Pavilion at COP17 in Durban which has been presented with the Award for the Best Green Stand. Our congratulations to Andre Rademeyer and the team! See http://www.capetown2014.co.za/2011/11/designing-a-climate-smart-city/