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Design Competition reimagines Sea Point Library square : An interview with the winning team, Craft of Architecture (CoA)




“The design was praised for the cohesive and consistent nature of its scheme, in particular the inviting ‘grandstand’ quality of its raised berm…a confident reimagining of public places”

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Craft of Architecture (CoA), a local design firm won the design competition to reimagine and redesign the Sea Point Library square into a more meaningful and valuable public space. We interview Michal Korycki a partner and director at the company.

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What is the future of the civic commons in our cities? How can we better leverage these shared public assets to make our cities more economically competitive, livable, and just?

The Sea Point Library and the Civic Centre, as well as the Ellerton Primary School, constitute a cluster of well-used public facilities that are deeply integrated into their communities. However, the public realm that exists between these facilities is at best inert and at most hostile – as shown by the uninviting 2 metre-high fence that defines the site’s public frontage.

In 2015, a design competition was launched with a vision to help reimagine what public space looks like, how it feels, and how it invites people to act within the context of Sea Point and Cape Town.

The competition launched by Blok, and operated by Future Cape Town (as part of the Urban Interventions collaboration), was built on the idea that this space can become a significant, valuable and meaningful place in the public life of those it serves and could  potentially serve. It is hoped that the entries inspires a rethink and re-imagination of the public realm across Cape Town, and encourages others to collaborate and invest where they can to improve urban life.

The design competition was informed by a placemaking framework and research report.

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The competition jury composed of 8 members and 6 entries were received namely :

The teams each had 10 minutes to give their presentation to the jury, followed by 8 minutes for Q&A. After the presentations and a debate session, the submission by CoA was selected as the winner.

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Future Cape Town : Why did Craft of Architecture choose to participate in the design competition for Sea Point Library square?

Michal Korycki : We have a young and dynamic team that is excited to work in the realm of public space. We also know the neighbourhood quite well and some of us have lived in the area for 14 years.

Future Cape Town : How did your first site visit influence your design process?

Michal Korycki : While we were walking towards the site we were drawn to the corner of the main intersection. It’s the most complex and difficult area on the site. You have the busy and noisy traffic intersection but it is also the best point for exposure and communication. Being the library square it was important to us to propose the primary use of this space to be used for relaxation, outdoor reading and hanging out with friends – this was quite difficult to express on a busy street intersection. When one stands on this corner, your natural reaction is to turn your back to the street and face the sun, the library and the ocean in the background. This was really the departure point for the design; we realized that being elevated from the street level one would get a better view of the ocean and this also forms a visual connection to the promenade. A green amphitheatre solution gave us everything we needed to achieve this while forming a buffer from the busy road.

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Future Cape Town : Your vision for the square is to not be exclusive and neither be fashionable. Is this is a commentary on how public spaces are created and consumed in Cape Town?

Michal Korycki : Not necessarily, there exists an amazing and unique rawness in Sea Point, from exposure to the natural elements of the ocean to the variety of different people living and using the spaces. There is a variety of smells, textures and sounds that are continuously orchestrated for us to experience. The idea was to draw from this rather than to impose something new.

Future Cape Town : How important is the narrative of the neighbourhood and square captured in the design?

Michal Korycki : Well we really just wanted to extend it rather than interpret it. However we did make a lot of reference to the bold architecture of the promenade wall, the colour and texture of the rocks, the kelp and the sea shells. You can see it in the expressive form of the retaining structure of the amphitheatre and in the use of the charcoal coloured concrete and timber.

Future Cape Town : How did your design relate to the important social systems which keep the space functioning?

Michal Korycki : Almost everything we put into the design was a result of the detailed brief, and we wanted to strengthen what was there already and working. Understanding the different uses of the site, the design amplified them to create more traction between them, for example creating a sense of security within the space without having to build a fence. During the design process we interacted with the existing systems on the site and we learned more about them, hopefully the design outcome enhances these systems in the future.

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More information about the design

During the site visit, the team discovered the following elements which helped orientate the design process:

  • The library elevation facing the court is in the shade for most of the day creating a rather gloomy façade, this drove us to investigate opportunities to activate this elevation.
  • There is a great view of the sea from the landscaped circle at the intersection corner of the site, which makes for a great relaxing and soaking in some sun spot.
  • There is a certain kind of buzz of activity off the bus stop zone which we wanted to use to feed energy into the scheme.

Some of the elements discussed by the winning design team to define the concept – along the lines of “living walls, the authentic nature of the place and its people” – included:

  • Coast line with its raw character, and a context of natural materials.
  • Meeting of functions and elements.
  • Enhancing the existing elements of the area. 
About the Jury 

The Design Jury represented the combined expert team of Blok and Future Cape Town as well as representatives from the Sea Point Library, the Arts and Culture, Sports and Recreation and Spatial Planning and Urban Design departments of the City of Cape Town.

They are as follows:

  • Jacques van Embden, CEO, Blok
  • Lior van Embden, Head of Marketing and Sales, Blok
  • Jacinta Avontuur, Head Librarian, Sea Point Library
  • Liezel Kruger-Fountain, Principal Urban Designer: Spatial Planning and Urban Design Department
  • Luyanda Mpahlwa, Director : Design Principal, DesignSpaceAfrica
  • Than du Plessis, Principal Facility Officer, CoCT Sports & Recreation
  • Erik Janse van Rensburg, Principal, WAUW Architects
  • Zayd Minty, Manager: Department of Arts and Culture, CoCT

More about CoA : 

With a Bachelor of Architecture degree from the University of Natal 2003, Michal worked at several firms in Durban before moving to Cape Town where he established COA with his partners in 2007 – current. Michal believes that creativity thrives in an environment of experimentation, invention and surprise. In design, he explores the delicate balance between playfulness and sophistication. Michal presents expertise in team leadership, visual communication & 3D modelling and compliments this skill set with a strong inspiration from nature and an inherent attention to detail, proportion and scale.

COA is an award winning Architecture Company founded in 2006 by partners Ian Gray, John van Wyk and Michal Korycki.

Design focused architectural firm that believes in craft filtering down to the last degree; from concept to final product. It is this ‘hands on approach’ that is evident in everything we do. Valuing the creative process above all else places a strong emphasis on a collaborative approach. All of this is made possible by the smart, imaginative minds of our design teams, supported by a strong professional organisation, enabling projects to flow smoothly and timeously.

Our goal is to simply listen to our client and intelligently interpret their needs, resulting in design that not only compliments the project location and specific requirements, but also delivers a unique and personalised solution. As passionate architects and designers we are constantly trying to improve our craft and thus continually evolving. While this ensures innovative design, we still place a strong emphasis on simple, sustainable, timeless architecture.

We believe that ultimately the process needs to be an exceptionally enjoyable experience for our clients. On entering our studio, one can sense our environment being a breeding ground for contagious creativity, harnessing an array of strengths and talents.

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