Cape Town's ugly buildings

CAPE TOWN - You don't exactly spot ugly buildings, especially large ones, they kind of assault you from a distance, bearing down on you as you get closer until thankfully you're too close and can't see it anymore.

I mentioned Disa Park and The Civic Centre in a previous article and didn't have too look far for more city shockers, assaulting my senses for years. REW readers also had plenty examples from Milpark Centre in Milnerton, Cavendish Square in Claremont, UCT's Tampon Towers in Rondebosch, Sonnekus in Camps Bay, Grand West in Bellville and the Ritz Hotel in Sea Point. The Ritz I will talk about later but the first is a Cape Town classic.

Good Hope Centre

Pier Luigi Nervi was a well known Italian engineer with many famous buildings to his name. Included amongst them; The Pirelli Tower, Milan (1950) (collaborating with Gio Ponti), the Olympic Stadium in Rome (1960) and the Australian Embassy in Paris to name but a few high profile projects under his rather esteemed tool belt. So how did he come to produce the Good Hope Centre in Cape Town in 1976? A white elephant if ever there was one and an ugly one to boot. As a sports arena it can accommodate a maximum capacity of 7 000 people. Sure it gets used, the odd expo, international netball, world cadet finals, no it's a real world beater. Thanks Pier.

Many moons ago it was used for gymnastics, (a popular sport in South Africa in the 80s), tennis tournaments, music concerts (The North Sea Jazz festival - Now Cape Town International Jazz Festival and hosted at the CTICC - was first housed there), and the MCQP (Mother City Queer Project) which hosted its 2000 mega party ("Toy Box") there. But it's a funny multi-levelled layout, large in places but never large enough for big events and always too large for smaller ones. To be fair to the old girl, once the new Convention Centre was built she didn't stand a chance but she is hanging in there and is still up for the big occasion when it calls.

The centre cost about R14m to build in its day and almost never turns a profit. It has had several mini makeovers but none can change its image as a Cape Town White Elephant. More than ten years ago there was an offer to buy it and turn it into a film studio but the opportunity was missed by the City Council. The centre itself sits in a good location near to the station, bridging town and Woodstock.

So she's no looker but there is still something immensely appealing about her as a venue. She's kind of like the corner café of old, as apposed to the 7/11 franchise of new. A mom and pop venue as apposed to the rent a crowd that regularly frequent the CTICC. From Choir festivals to community events the ugly duckling does have its purpose - but in that prime position for how long?

Ritz Hotel

Sea Point on the Atlantic coast in Cape Town is dotted with apartment blocks, most adhering to the seven and eight story maximum that is allowed. But a few buildings in Sea Point have exceeded that, Pavillion Place, opposite the swimming baths, the Twin Towers, that old age home block in Holmfirth Road, that beachfront block on Beach Road and the Ritz Hotel, now The Cape Town Ritz Hotel. Completed in 1973, the Ritz stands tall above all others surrounding it, its 22 floors dwarfing its neighbours and offering some of the best views in the area. But it is more famous for its classic 70's style revolving restaurant at the top, still an institution in Sea Point and still going strong. Its 22 floors contain 222 rooms and a bar, one floor below the top, which only revolves when you've overdone it.

Ritz Hotel

The building now stands as an icon of Sea Point, not very pretty but the views (and all rooms have views) are still awesome and the restaurant still revolves. It carries many memories for visitors who have stayed there but also for those of us who partied at the club at the bottom of the building in our younger days. Pascha's was a Sea Point institution itself for a while, its cove like position tucked away beneath 22 floors of a three star 70s classic

Article by: Barry Washkansky -