Old meets new in development of historic warehouse

An artist impression of The Barracks, once complete.

Owners of a historic building on the corner of Strand and Bree Street have restored the old warehouse to form part of a new development.

Once complete, the R150 million mixed-use development called The Barracks will see the old warehouse at the bottom, and a modern, 70 micro-apartment building on top.

The historic warehouse dates to around 1767 when it was part of the Lutheran Church complex, serving as a military barracks from 1785 and later as a store for wine and wheat.

An early 1800s map shows it as a military depot and there are references to it being used as the naval hospital.

Co-owner Casey Augoustides, who is also the owner of Mikes Sport, currently housed in the building, said the project has been under way for many years already.

He said the original concept developed by Gabriel Fagan Architects dates back to 2009.

However, the plans were the centre of a court case and a long battle with heritage activists who did not want the site to be developed.

It was reported that the Habitat Council had won the case that went to the High Court, but Mr Augoustides said they appealed the case.

The battle was led by the then Habitat Council CEO Marie-Lou Roux‚ who died in September 2017.

“We sat down with Marie and we had chats over coffee. As nice as she was, we could not come to an agreement about how to develop this historic building. Many plans later, the building work was approved.”

The Mayoral committee member for spatial planning and environment, Nieuwoudt said the land use application for the Melck Warehouse was finalised and subsequently building plans were approved on March 30, 2016, and thereafter construction work commenced.

“The approval of the building plan concluded the Council statutory processes and Council is now functus officio (they no longer have official authority).

“The development that was approved was a revised proposal with a reduced height compared to what was originally proposed.”

The CapeTowner approached the Habitat Council, Heritage Western Cape, and the South African Heritage Research Agency for comment but they did not respond to questions.

Mr Augoustides said the original warehouse on the property was built by Martin Melck in the 1700s.

However, over time, the property was sub-divided into six smaller pieces and modified to suit the numerous subsequent individual owners.

Mike and Casey Augoustides outside the Bree Street entrance of The Barracks

“My brother and I started negotiating to purchase a piece of the property in 2001, and over a period of almost 10 years managed to buy all the various pieces and consolidate them back into one.

“We approached Gabriel Fagan Architects and Dr Steve Townsend as possibly the most experienced and respected heritage specialists in the country for guidance on how the site could be restored and developed in a financially viable and heritage sensitive way.

“Developing an appropriate design was a challenge, and many further challenges arose in following a construction process to strengthen, protect and restore all the various elements on the site that were in very poor condition.”

He said the historic buildings on the block which form the commercial level of the development have been fully rehabilitated and restored, and the transfer slab (first level of the new upper building) has been built, ready for the residential component to proceed shortly.

The retail component on the ground floor has already been let out, and the first tenants, MiCaffe, had set up shop last week.

The first part of the development involved rehabilitating and restoring the historic warehouse including returning the exterior façades along Strand and Bree Streets to the best-known form as referenced from an 1880s photograph from the Cape Archives of the view up Strand Street from the corner of Bree Street.

Modern interventions have been removed while all authentic heritage fabric was retained, restored and showcased. The old heritage roofs were kept and protected during this process.

The main entrance has been created on Bree Street with an arcade slicing through the building to link up with the church courtyard. The modern new building sits as if floating on top of the heavy masonry of the historic building, set back to preserve the views of the Lutheran Church and 18th century street scape.

Mr Augoustides said during the restoration work, many discoveries were made, which have been documented. “Perhaps the most noteworthy was the discovery of a large first floor room with historic arches that had been bricked up over the years, historic floors and ceilings that had been hidden under additional layers of floors and ceilings.

“This large room had over time been modified and partitioned into smaller spaces with the insertion of walls, three modern staircases and a bank of toilets.”

He said the removal of the modern interventions, opening up of the arches, and exposing and restoring the historic yellow wood timber floors and ceilings had resulted in one of the most unique and interesting historic spaces in the city.

“Archive records and historic evidence suggests that this first floor room was used as a barracks to house the military regiments which serviced the various sea-side fortifications at a very early stage of the city’s development.”

He said getting the old and new to look like one building was one of the biggest challenges.

“The decision was to contrast and separate the new additions so that it is abundantly clear what is historic and what is new.”

In a walkabout, Mr Augoustides showed the CapeTowner an update on the building work.

While work on the warehouse was done, the top, modern part of the building was set for completion in a few months.

Mr Augoustides explained that they wanted to make a clear mark between the preserved heritage and the modern parts of the building.

The old roof beams were kept, but reinforced with iron.

“We kept the old roof beams, stripped them and reinforced them with iron beams because they were so old. We also kept the old arch ways, and where we found old brick walls or signature windows, we kept it exposed.”

The Barracks developer Casey Augoustides shows the CapeTowner an original wall from the Martin Melck warehouse.

Above the warehouse, the parking area for the apartments floats above the heritage building, said Mr Augostides. The “floating part” is visible by the shape of the floor, which is slightly dome-shaped, and can carry about 30 vehicles, said Mr Augoustides.

“We couldn’t put the weight on the warehouse, it is too old – so we had to build it slightly above the roof.”

He said the building will be connected to the Lutheran church grounds, and plans are under way to use the courtyards as a communal space, although these plans are still in early stages.

Ross Levin, licensee for real estate agency Seeff Atlantic Seaboard and City Bowl, said the development meets the need for modern living while preserving the important architectural heritage of Cape Town.

He said there were 64 micro apartments comprising predominantly studios along with a limited number of one- and two-bedroomed units.

Prices range from around R1.7 million for a studio, R2.4 million for one bedroom and R3.8 million for a two-bedroom flat.

Mr Augoustides said despite not having officially launched yet, some apartments have already been sold.

The development is set to be complete by summer 2022.