The corner of Adderley and Strand Street is held to be one of the worst examples of 1970s town planning, featuring buildings with blank facades and roadways built for vehicles which completely excluded pedestrian walkways. Instead, people were forced underground into a concourse linking the railway station, St George’s Street, the Golden Acre and Adderley Street, while cars raced above.
According to heritage specialist Bridget O’Donoghue, two centuries earlier this corner was only one urban block from the beach and the clear skies above the small settlement were the site of pioneering astronomical observations and research.
In 1751, Nicolas de la Caille set up an observatory in the rear courtyard of a private house and measured the positions and graded the brightness of nearly 10 000 southern stars, primarily as an aid to navigation. This led to the definitions of the southern constellations used to this day. La Caille also measured the distance between the earth and the moon, Mars and other planets; recorded the daily weather and tides; fixed the longitude of Cape Town and measured the height of Table Mountain.
“The developer’s vision is to create a landmark feature”
All of this is long buried underneath concrete and tar, but recognition could yet be given to this early astronomical work within a new skyscraper, Zero2One Tower, which is being developed by FWJK Developments on the intersection, across from the Cape Town railway station. Despite its current depressing state, the intersection is an important one, acting as a gateway to the historic heart of the city, and the “symbolic centre of the city”.
The developer’s vision is to create a “landmark feature” – a mixed-use residential building that takes up the whole city block with a range of housing options for various income groups. The tower will “contribute to the making of an active, vibrant and safe public environment”. It also promotes the use of bicycles, walking and public transport as the primary mode of access for residents.
In a report for Heritage Western Cape, it is recommended that the concourse access points should be closed, and that pedestrian walkways should be provided through and around the new building. There should also be public access to commercial and retail facilities on the first few floors, as well as on the upper floors which could have a hotel or viewing deck for the spectacular views from the 140- metre height.
The report says the building should be approved, because it will reinforce the special prominent location and is in line with the City of Cape Town’s Tall Buildings Policy. It would be situated within an established cluster of tall buildings, which in turn will provide a “visually coherent skyline”.
Looking ahead to a day – far from the 1970s, when the car was king – to a new mobility future, the heritage report also advises that on-site parking be kept to a minimum and is designed for possible conversion into habitable spaces.
Finally, Heritage Western Cape recommends that there should be some form of interpretive centre or area that recognises the astronomical achievements that took place in the small courtyard on the site during the late 18th century. In this way, Cape Town could gain not only an “iconic” building for the future, but also greater exposure for a little-known pioneer of science from the city’s past.