- Cape Town's V&A Waterfront Project Adaptive Re-use as a Foundation for Sustainable Urban Renewal   click here to open paper content331 kb
by    Van Zyl, Pieter | pietersvanzyl@gmail.com   click here to send an email to the auther(s) of this paper
Short Outline
An overview of the V&A Waterfront Project in Cape Town, South Africa,
describing how the new residential, commercial and leisure uses have been
developed through adaptive re-use of harbour buildings and retaining the
working harbour elements. An innovative “Package of Plans Process”
facilitated the urban regeneration success story.
Some of the world’s most innovative real estate developments have taken
place at urban waterfronts. From Boston, Baltimore, Vancouver and Toronto
in North America, to Cardiff, London, Rotterdam and Barcelona in Europe,
and Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Singapore and Osaka, waterfronts worldwide
have become retail, leisure and entertainment destinations. Successful
waterfront projects have re-established the rich cultural and historic
links between land and water in many port and river cities across the

Nearly thirty years ago, those who lobbied for what is today Cape Town's
Victoria and Alfred Waterfront were regarded as idealistic dreamers. When
the V&A Waterfront Company was formed and work started in 1989, most
Capetonians said 'it will never happen'. Today, the project receives over
22 million visitors annually and commercially it has been one of South
Africa’s biggest real estate success stories.

But the story of the V&A Waterfront goes back more than 150 years. In
September 1860, HRH Prince Alfred, Queen Victoria’s second son, tipped the
first load of stone to start construction of the breakwater for Cape Town's
harbour. The Alfred Basin, the first of a number of basins providing
shelter for shipping in Cape Town, was completed ten years later. It was
almost immediately too small for the increasing fleets and growing size of
the ships and a second basin, the Victoria Basin, was completed 35 years
later and served as the gateway to Southern Africa until the 1940's. Nobody
anticipated that the Port of Cape Town would lose its gateway status with
the growth of air transport, nor did anybody anticipate that the City’s
reclaimed Foreshore would, in effect, separate the historic City from the
sea. Although the Victoria and Alfred Basins later became the centre for
Cape Town’s fishing industry and smaller scale ship repair activities, the
area was relatively isolated as a result of customs fences and became
neglected over the next fifty years.

In November 1988, Victoria and Alfred Waterfront (Pty) Ltd (V&AW) was
established to redevelop the historic docklands around Victoria and Alfred
Basins as a mixed-use area with a focus on retail, tourism and residential
development, with the continued operation of a working harbour.

Significantly, the V&A Waterfront is located between two of the world's
greatest urban icons — Table Mountain and Robben Island. It is easily
accessible from most parts of metropolitan Cape Town and is within twenty
minutes’ drive from Cape Town International Airport.


After a year of public consultation and negotiations to obtain Cape Town
City Council’s planning approval, redevelopment started at the end of 1989
with the installation of new services infrastructure. This was a victory
for the citizens of Cape Town, who had campaigned vigorously in the late
1970’s and early 1980’s to reverse the isolation of the City from its
waterside as a result of land reclamation, railway lines and freeway
construction. The use of an innovative planning and land use management
process (known as the “Package of Plans Process”) has been used by the V&AW
and the Cape Town City Council to facilitate a flexible approach to the
development programme. The result has been an urban regeneration success
story of international stature.

The charter agreement between the V&AW and the City of Cape Town in 1989
started with a simple goal: “To make the V&A Waterfront a very special
place for all Capetonians”. Some 24 years after the adoption of this
important developmental and civic goal, the V&A Waterfront project has
succeeded admirably in achieving it in a sustained manner.

Key elements in the V&AW’s overall strategic development concept was the
adaptive re-use of harbour sheds and warehouses and the retention of the
working elements of the harbour, which provide vitality and an exciting
backdrop to new development. These working harbour features include the
harbour tugs, the pilot and fishing boats, and shipping traffic to the
synchrolift and dry dock. Authenticity has been a key objective in the
replanning and design of the area and the restored fabric provides a rich
maritime experience for residents, local visitors and international

The V&A Waterfront project has been very successful in transforming the
historic, under-utilised part of the Port of Cape Town into the City’s
premier tourist, retail and entertainment destination. It has now become
Africa’s most visited destination, with 22 million visits annually.

The V&AW has also succeeded in changing the loss-making historic part of
the Port of Cape Town into a profitable property investment project with an
enviable international reputation and profile
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