The Hill Cafe

CLIENT: The Awethu Project



LOCATION: Constitution Hill, Johannesburg, Gauteng

BUDGET: R750 000

Architect | Local Studio
Engineer | Carl Korsman
Main contractor | Local Studio
Landscape contractor | Jacques Damhuis




The Hill Café is a temporary construction built on the foundations of a demolished lunatic asylum in the historical old fort of Johannesburg. The building had initially been demolished to make way for a parade ground for the Transvaal Scottish Regiment. The client is a venture capital PBO and commissioned the building as part of a job creation initiative. Local Studio had previously done interior fit-out work with the client, who rents a lot of space in Constitution Hill. The Client had plans to take over the restaurant for many years and was given the tender in 2012.

The design had many different iterations, which were rejected by the Constitution Hill Heritage Committee. The building form and location were eventually entirely dictated by the committee's need to commemorate the location of the asylum. The material and construction methodology choices were governed, on one hand, by a need to contrast with the surroundings and, on the other hand, by the fact that Local Studio were the contractors of the project and needed to develop a simple building method.

The Hill Café has become a very successful restaurant and event space as well as a destination for office workers in the area. The client made back the cost of construction within one month of operating. Had Local Studio been aware of the intended use of the building primarily as an event space, rather than a restaurant, the methodology may have been rethought. The design consists of a very delicate steel construction and the sheer volume of people utilising this space has taken a toll. Like with many social infrastructure clients, maintenance is sadly not prioritised, which is also problematic.