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Renting A Room At The Tower of Babel | The Somerset Strip Motel, Cape Town, South Africa.

Part 2 Project 2002
Robert Silke
Emily Rowlands
University of Cape Town | South Africa
Brassai focuses his gaze on that most human of figures, the prostitute. In his photographs, she embodies the essence of the city, and is the human whose presence reveals the complexities of Paris, through her occupation of its streets and interiors.” – Katherine Shonfield, AJ, March

District Five - a small, innercity, dockside neighbourhood of central Cape Town - was partially (andquite mysteriously) spared destruction - thanks, ironically, to efforts of the late Dr I.D. du Plessis, the ultra-nationalist apartheid cabinet minister – a closeted homosexual – and the man partly responsible for flattening District Six.

A history of forced removals & homosexual worker worship today defines the white, gay & gentrified “de Waterkant” – once District Five, a poor, mixed-race fishing community.

Recognising the anaemic state of urbanism in present-day Cape Town, a city torn apart by
highways, apartheid & 20th century town planning – the thesis identifies the seeds of a new, post-apartheid urban condition – piggy-backing on infrastructure once used by government to separate and control – the highway.

This is an admittedly-imperfect program & brief for the ‘restoration’ of “de Waterkant” - by harnessing the basest of commercial forces in the aid of social transformation – represencing Trash, the exiled working class, into the Cape Town inner city … stripping off a few layers of "de Waterkant"'s debilitating tweeness,
as a first step towards restoring Cape Town – that provincial old seaside whore – back to the kind of accidental, dangerous imperfection which just seems to elude her – the kind that makes cities great.

Robert Silke
Emily Rowlands

TOPICAL THINKING - frames the discourse for the THESIS Bachelor of Architecture program. Although ‘design discourse' in the School Planning is directed at independent inquiry, current investigations by thesis candidates have tended to reflect the events and concerns in the contemporary SA city. The city, as perhaps the highest form of built human expression, therefore, becomes a natural locus for speculation and thinking topically.

Individual topics have been specifically identified through a process of research around issues of transformation in relation to emerging political processes, as well as to contemporary architectural theory. In particular, the critique of type and its associative limitations in relation to the assumptions and certainty associated with the <western|apartheid|colonial> position have predominated. The discretionary influence of both precedent and the linear <date|place|building> method promoted by the previous conception of architectural history demands direct confrontation.

Site and Program are interpreted as verbs demanding a researched and argued uncovering of ‘siting and programming' as core design generators. These issues have been re-interpreted through a ‘narrative process' whereby interactive exercises sought to provoke difference and effect new sets of social arrangements. Consequently, process has been privileged above that of final product, in an attempt to overturn that other hegemony; formalism | material culture, which seemingly predominates global value. Phenomenal experience and temporal possibility have become checks for developing a thoughtful and resilient material culture within the architectural inquiry.

Robert's scheme was selected for its provocative and meaningful contribution to debate surrounding the post-apartheid city. 'Renting a Room at the Tower of Babel – The Someset Strip Motel, Cape Town' evolved an intelligent response to conditions of change in the inner city of Cape Town. Through in-depth readings of cultural constructs in the emerging city, his project has set new spatial relations for addressing the condition of the transforming city. With this submission, it has been the topic and thinking process, rather than purely formal resolution that premiated selection.

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