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Is Portside Towers the Future of Cape Town’s Architecture ?

 Is Portside Towers the Future of Cape Town’s Architecture ?
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Cape Town has been crowned World Design Capital 2014, and there is a sense of anticipation in the air. What home-grown marvels will the Mother City show the world?

This is also the year that the completed Portside building will be unveiled. At 139 metres, it’s going to be Cape Town’s tallest building.

The only problem? While you can bet that the building will boast the best views of the city, it has to be said that the tower itself doesn’t do much for the overall view of Cape Town.

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Portside Towers, Galetti

“It’s just another monolithic hive of office space incased in concrete and glass, which is a shame considering the initial rendering of the building.”- Laine Barnard

The building is co-owned by Rand Merchant Bank and Old Mutual, and was designed in a joint venture by DHK Architects and Louis Karol Architects. It compromises a full city block, bordered by Buitengracht, Hans Strijdom, Bree and Mechau streets.

It’s not the ugliest building in the world, true, but couldn’t we have done better? Cape Town’s most massive architectural offering to date does little to show why we were elected the World Design Capital 2014.

“The construction site looks like a scene from the sixties slowly superimposing itself against Cape Town’s skyline. It doesn’t say much about our imagination if we’re taking inspiration from the Dallas TV series.” –Laine Barnard

Architecture does more than just outline the skyline. It defines the character of a city. The only aesthetic feature Portside can boast for itself is its height, and that isn’t really something to be excited about. Cape Town has one of the most distinct and recognizable skylines in the world, but erecting skyscrapers will significantly detract from the natural charisma of Cape Town.

Yes, there are worse buildings, but compare it to what the rest of the world is doing with its architecture.

The Portside building isn’t just one Capetonian building out of many. It’s going to be representative of the city’s entire architectural layout, and will probably be setting the standard for the next decade. The world’s attention will be on us this year so it’s just a pity we don’t have something better to show.

Some people might say that this is a trivial rant, that there are more important things than a building having a pretty face.  Such as being sustainable, for instance.

Portside is South Africa’s first Green Star-rated skyscraper – a prestige awarded to buildings that comply with certain environmental standards. The Portside building being eco-friendly is truly commendable, but this doesn’t mean it couldn’t have been attractive as well. However, this is part of a wider design issue.

For a long time, the green movement in architecture has had a reputation for being all substance and no style.  In The Shape of Green, the architect, Lance Hosey, makes the case that “The ugly truth about sustainable design is that much of it is ugly.” He points out that the world’s most beautiful architecture isn’t sustainable, and the greenest buildings are unappealing.

However, he makes a strong argument that beauty is in fact a fundamental component of sustainability.  Why is it important that green architecture should still be attractive? Because attractive design is more enduring.

“Humans are wired to appreciate aesthetics; it’s part of our DNA. Support is given to what captures the imagination. Sustainable design therefore will have a stronger future if it appeals to our senses as well as our sense of responsibility.” –Laine Barnard

Thankfully, while Portside seems to have missed the ship, we are now starting to see a shift in green architecture from the dull to the sublime. Check out these gorgeous examples below:

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The Nanyang School of Art, sourced from Architizer.

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The Crystal Island in Moscow, sourced from Fahrenheitmagazine.

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The India Tower in Mumbai, sourced from Fahrenheitmagazine.

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The Burj Al-Taqa in Duba, sourced from Elmundo.

Surely the city named the World Design Capital 2014 could have also found a way to bring together responsibility and style? The unveiling of a great building at this time would have been a massive boost for Cape Town’s image (and made up for our ugly new logo).

The film director, Jean-Luc Godard, wrote that “it may be true that one has to choose between ethics and aesthetics, but whichever one chooses, one will always find the other at the end of the road.”

There’s no rule saying that all new buildings must be an architectural feat of genius. It’s just that this was a disappointing waste of an opportunity.

 

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