Revised set of plans for Opera House

Ivor Markman

ARCHITECTS from The Matrix CC have submitted a revised set of plans to the Provincial Heritage Resources Agency (Phra) for the R32-million extension to the Opera House.

This comes after suggestions from ratepayers who contributed to a public participation process after the presentation of proposed plans.

Most of the public’s objections related to the visual impact of the new building and how it would affect the older structure.

A typical response, as published in the Phase 2 Heritage Impact Assessment report for Phra, read “… the design of the structure is brutish and ill-conceived, and totally disrespects the beautiful architecture of the building next to it, particularly the metal beams extending across the front facade of the old [Opera House] building …”

The Matrix CC director of architecture, Albrecht Herholdt, said the approach to the design, a contemporary building in contrast to the old building, had not changed, but it had now been redesigned as a “background” building.

The new building will be set back three metres on the site to expose the corner of the 1985 extension, while the two buildings have been separated by a three-metre glass link.

This means the cliff on the side of the Donkin Reserve will have to be excavated to accommodate the new structure.

At one end the building will be constructed half a metre below ground level, rising across the site to four metres at the opposite end.

The excavation of the rock has added two months and R4-million to the project.

This drop has allowed the new roof line to align with the roof of the existing building.

“That was done in order for the building not to compete in scale and mass with the old building,” Herholdt said.

The original plan called for the felling of the old tree in the western-side garden but now it will remain.

“By doing that we also created a public space in front of the building which will assist with outside reception space for the foyer.”

The old stone is to be retained in the garden and new rock from the cliff excavation will be used in the base of the building to visually bind the various elements.

Since the original building was built in 1892 it has been extended four times.

The dates 1892, 1911, 1927, 1934 and 1985 will be added, in metal, to indicate the historical addition of each section of the building as well as the expected date of completion, 2014.

“We believe the sun attacks colour so the older parts of the building [will be painted] in the lightest colour. The later the extension, the darker the colour,” Herholdt said.

All the colours of the buildings have been toned down. The new section will be painted soft grey with a stainless steel screen facing Whites Road.

In order to make the building blend in better from the Donkin, a grassed, green rooftop area with benches accessible from the restaurant has been added.

A stained glass window of Athol Fugard has already been obtained, but two more windows, of John Kani and Winston Ntshona, are to be commissioned to make the building more culturally representative.

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