THE HILL CAFE

The brief for this project involved the design and construction of a restaurant and event space at Constitution Hill, in Braamfontein.  The site is one of the most historically ‘heavy’ in Johannesburg, playing host to a British military fort (before Johannesburg’s existence), a prison, an army barracks and a Constitutional Court.

Our first proposal borrowed heavily from Kazuya Sejima’s serpentine pavilion, and involved the construction of a series of stainless steel pavilions designed to ‘reflect the context back on itself.  This design was rejected by two of the most senior figures in Johannesburg heritage today: Herbert Prins and Flo Bird, who enlightened us that the proposal destroyed the elevation of the former wardens house and also that the overall intervention missed a great opportunity, that was to in some way remember a part of the fort that had been demolished in the 1980’s to make way for the Transvaal Scottish Regiment’s parade ground.

With Herbert and Flo’s guidance we re-structured the pavilions as a primary east-west volume, which continued the footprint of a former madhouse, and the north-south element, which recreated the jail wall. These changes produced the form of the building, as a series of cleretorey roofs welcoming North light into the space, and a planted screen on the west façade, to protect from harsh sunlight. The jail wall was rendered as a piece of urban furniture termed ‘the Activator’, and includes chess boards, seating and a table tennis table.

The project was liberating for Local Studio in that it has no permanent foundations, and although the client has a 5-year lease on the space, could be disassembled in a matter of days. This ‘lightness’ allows us a certain freedom of design, that might not have been so acceptable in a more permanent intervention.