When we opened La Motte’s historic werf to the public earlier this year, it introduced a new era for the historic Cape Dutch buildings on the estate that have been treasured and cared for since their restoration by my late father-in-law, Dr Anton Rupert in the early 1970’s. Their new role as part of the estate’s guest experience required some physical amendments to these architectural beauties and their surrounding gardens. Inviting guests into the historic heart of the farm did, however, meant more than opening these treasured buildings, it also meant sharing many of our memories and stories.
Perhaps I am too sentimental. Google says the simple definition of a building is a “usually roofed and walled structure built for permanent use (as for a dwelling)” and the role of a building is “occupancy, primarily as shelter from weather, security, living space, privacy, to store belongings, and to comfortably live and work.” But of course, we know that this living and working come down to the way we live our lives and the people in our lives. We also know that roofs and walls are not always just that and that the beauty of buildings really is in how they fulfil their primary duties while bringing us joy – warmth and shelter while you hear the rain on the roof or wide-open doors and stretched stoeps for enjoying a summer’s breeze or sunset view. Plenty of reason to have sentimentality when it comes to buildings.
This art of combining function and form, is why architecture is such a celebrated field. This is also why, when we realised that certain amendments to these historic buildings were required to make them guest friendly, selecting reputable and talented architects were of the essence. The amendments to La Motte’s Jonkershuis (1752) for the La Motte Artisanal Bakery and Garden Café were done with such care and class that Malherbe Rust Architects were just recognised by the Cape Institute for Architects for this project and their “noteworthy contribution to architecture”.
The Cape Winelands are renowned for the prime and varied examples of Cape Dutch architecture that host wine tasting rooms and restaurants, serve as accommodation establishments, family homes and even office buildings. Keeping them in use, is what saves these buildings. Once recognised as national monuments, today, when restored to their original state, many have the status of provincial monuments with regulations protecting their heritage and authenticity. These beautiful buildings indicate some of the earliest formal settlements at the Cape, but in global terms, South Africa’s architecture is a modern story.
South Africa’s oldest building is the Castle of Good Hope in Cape Town. Built between 1666 and 1679 this replenishment station and defensive fort was built by Dutch East India Company (VOC). It is, however, only a baby compared to some of the oldest buildings in the world that are still used today. The Pantheon in Rome was built in the year 117 AD and is still used today as a museum and a place of worship. Windsor Castle in England was completed in 1070 and is the largest but also the oldest inhabited castle in the world. There is also the Theatre of Marcellus that was completed in 13 BC! Over 2000 years old, tenants still live in apartments on its upper floors. The Aula Palatine in Germany was built in the early 4th century and is still used as a church today while the Hagia Sophia in Turkey (build 527 – 565) is used as a mosque. In Matera, Italy, the 60 000 inhabitants still live in houses built by their ancestors 9000 years ago. And then there is Ye olde Trip to Jerusalem, a pub in Nottingham that opened in 1189! (Read more)
Some of the world’s oldest structures, are, however, not inhabited anymore. They include the Stonehenge in England (3000 BC), Malta’s Megalithic Temples (3600 BC) and the Cairn of Barnenez (4200 BC) that even predates the Pyramids of Giza! (Read more)
Back home, I have a new appreciation for buildings. By opening the doors of the Cape Dutch buildings on La Motte’s historic plaaswerf to our guests, we are sharing some of the family’s fondest memories of growing-up and living on the farm. While maintaining respect for the heritage and design, the experience has to be welcoming and family-friendly and the ambience has to be authentic.
Earmarked to host the Bakery, La Motte’s Jonkershuis, built in 1752, was originally used as a horse stable, cowshed, chicken house and cellar – and simultaneously as a dwelling. After extensive renovations, the homestead was declared a national monument in 1975. The brief and challenge of the new development were to maintain this historic importance and relevance of the building, within its garden setting, while making it guest- and operation friendly. The intimate space had to be redesigned within the regulations applicable to historic buildings, to ensure the necessary guest amenities, a working bakery (with oven and proofing rooms), kitchen, storage and scullery for the café operation as well as room for retail.
Combining nostalgia with new, the architect’s suggestion was to extend the elegant Cape Dutch building with modern glass and steel to offer both inside and outside seating and unimpeded views of the bakery and kitchen. Today, guests enjoy the smell of freshly baked bread while sipping on their coffee or wine and keeping an eye on little ones exploring the calm of shaded gardens, scattered with charming over-sized wooden acorns. Exactly the memories the family wanted to share.
History and heritage stay relevant when we incorporate them into our everyday lives – whether you worship in an ancient European cathedral, live in a 9000-year-old home or visit a Cape wine farm to enjoy the charm of its historic ambience and tradition of hospitality.