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Radisson Blu Hotel and Residence Cape Town on track

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A handpicked team of architectural, construction and design experts is ensuring that Cape Town’s eagerly anticipated Radisson Blu Hotel and Residence Cape Town is well on track to opening its doors within a year.

Formerly known as Safmarine House, the award-winning former office building in the heart of the city is easily recognised by its flamed and polished granite exterior. Now, its upper floors are being transformed by developer, Signatura, and land owner, Stonehill Property Fund, into Cape Town’s highest (and one of the most luxurious) residential developments. Stonehill has also commissioned the development of the lower floors into a five star hotel which will be operated by Swedish group Carlson Rezidor as their flagship Radisson Blu hotel.

Floors one to 11 are being reconstructed into the Radisson Blu hotel and floors 12-23 will house up to 170 sectional title, one and two bedroom (40-88m²) apartments. This includes seven 97-214m² penthouses, and three three-bedroom penthouses up to 290 m².

Originally costing US $6-million to build the iconic glass, granite and concrete modern high-rise, the current investment will total R1-billion.

Derick Henstra, executive chairman of dhk architects and responsible for the overall hotel, says: “The hotel and residential sector is undergoing rapid growth at the moment, and this development is being turned around in a year to take advantage of this upsurge in the market.”

The development is separated into three distinct elements – the Radisson Blu hotel, residential apartments and penthouses. Each element is being handled by a specialist team, bringing their particular expertise to the project and giving each part of the development its own character while ensuring that it works within the vision as a whole. It’s a fast track programme and requires seamless coordination among the professional team and contractors.

Brinley Pritchard, dhk associate director, says construction on the apartments started in September 2015 and the hotel started a month later, while construction of the penthouses will start early next year. The apartments and penthouses will be ready for occupation by the end of October 2016, with the Radisson Blu and three bedroom penthouses following later in the year.

Apartments on track

Focusing on the apartments, Juan Bernicchi, director of Bernicchi Architects, says current construction is proceeding over several floors in a staged programme. Stripping out existing walling has begun, with first fix installation of services underway on six floors. (All the work needed to take a building from the initial stages to putting plaster on the internal walls). The estimated completion dates will also be staged over three months, starting in June 2016 with four floors, another four floors from July and the final three floors from August.

“The existing building form allows for plenty of natural light and views from most internal spaces. The position and shape of the building maximize the 360 degree panoramic views of the city, which are, frankly, unbelievable,” he says. Windows (that can be opened) to all external viewing spaces are a unique feature, “not often achieved in conversion of office high rise buildings”.

City offices are often noisy due to their direct interface with surrounding activities, so converting this building into more private and comfortable living spaces (and attaining the required acoustic levels) has been a key challenge to address. “We’ve worked closely with our engineers to achieve the required comfort within the apartments,” says Bernicchi.

He adds that there are sufficient experienced people within the construction profession to meet the exacting standards. “Once the project is in full swing there will be hundreds of skilled people working throughout the building with a view to achieving a world class result.”

Juan Hugo (owner of JW Hugo construction group) confirms that initial demolishing has been undertaken and they are working on nine floors, building walls in order to complete the first fix services – heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), plumbing, fire and mechanical work.

Discussing the conversion of this office building to residential use, Hugo says that apart from the shell of the building and the lifts, all aspects of the apartments will be newly built. Existing services must be stripped before they can start from scratch on the new apartment layout. A particular challenge is penetrating post tension slabs, while bypassing the post-tensioning cables when coring or breaking through.

All the existing windows are being retained, not just to provide natural light, but also to make the most of the fabulous vistas. “The building was designed and built symmetrically, the designers have done a great job in maximising the space and views,” says Hugo. As for the 10 “sensational” penthouses, “the space and finishes will make them exceptional.”

Early in the new year JW Hugo should complete the walling and ceilings for the entire project. All this work on the apartment phase has required approximately 120 people working full time.

“Not often does a project in a building like this come along. It’s a brilliant project to be working on with a great team,” says Hugo. “This is a perfect opportunity for investors and homeowners to take advantage of what this building has to offer on completion. It’s unique. Imagine living above a Radisson Blu, with all the benefits?”

Hotel progress

Murray & Roberts is undertaking construction of the hotel – and interestingly enough, the original high-rise was built in the early 1990s by the same firm. Safmarine House received a merit award from the Institute of South African Architects plus a Fulton Commendation from the Concrete Society of South Africa. And the original site agent, Mark Fugard, is still with Murray & Roberts and has taken over as Western Cape MD in January 2016.

Preparatory work started in mid-September, with demolition of the first occupied levels starting in mid-October. New construction activities, including the first hotel mock-up bedroom, began at the beginning of November.

“The structural layout of the existing building is such that no major structural modifications are required in order to accommodate the hotel requirements,” says Dave Heron of Murray and Roberts. “The basic services (water, air conditioning and electricity) are already in place and can be adapted to meet most of the new requirements.”

Fire regulations have changed since the original building, says Heron, and these have to be accommodated in the new layouts. Plumbing provisions for water and sewer are far more onerous than required for a single use office environment.

Stripping out of existing partitions, ceilings, and services is already under way. Construction of the new hotel rooms commenced in October 2015. The first rooms will be ready for hotel operators’ fit-out by end of June 2016, with balance of the work completed in a phased manner between then and December 2016 when the hotel will open.

As the concrete structure and façade are already in place, the manpower demand for this hotel will be considerably less than for a new build. However, Heron still expects 400-500 employees when construction peaks

Producing five-star hotel amenities can be challenging, but Heron is unfazed by the requirements: “We are managing the construction of three hotels in Cape Town at the moment, and the secret to the demanding finishes is the careful selection and management of the specialist sub-contractors who carry out these trades.”

Source Interior Brand Architecture is responsible for the design of the hotel interiors, and by mid-November 2015 were busy with the construction documentation phase for the passages and guest rooms, and with design development of the public areas.

Director Evon Smuts-Rogers says key references will be the original 1990s building (which was inspired by the art deco heritage of the city) and its inner-city location. Influences include the array of city cultures, its stone pavements, waterways, status as an ocean liner destination, geometry of the nearby Company’s Garden, and more.

“We are designing the hotel to honour that inspiration in a contemporary manner,” she says. “We are approaching the design as one would a finely tailored suit, with attention to detail and respect for being seen in the city.

“Finishes and coloration will be elegant and understated. Many finishes will be borrowed from the original building – such as fine stone, hardwood panelling and stainless steel. Because location is everything, our attention is drawn to the subtle hues the sea mist brings to the atmosphere of our city.”

The building retains many fine finishes such as hardwood panelling, white marble and black granite. Source IBA will build on the black-white theme in various ways.  Graphics for carpets and screens will be based on patterns found in the existing building, as well as other art deco sources, translated into contemporary motifs.

The emphasis is also on local sourcing, achieved to date in the carpets, joinery and metalwork. A number of local artists will create works for the public areas, passages and guest rooms.

“We work constantly with fantastic furniture makers, joiners and artists in Cape Town – our contact base is extensive and Cape Town is bursting with talent,” says Smuts-Rogers.

“The development is an incredible opportunity to revitalize the inner city by giving an obsolete building a new lease of life,” concludes Henstra. “It’s an example of true urban regeneration, and the responsible thing to do as a developer. It supports the notion of maintaining a vibrant and ‘alive’ city, not allowing the city to deteriorate as we’ve seen in many other parts of South Africa. From the travellers’ point of view it’s going to give people the opportunity of experiencing this exciting city and all it has to offer. A true urban experience. Like visiting a great New York hotel, only in a more beautiful city!”

Residents will enjoy access to a suite of world-class, five-star hotel services and amenities including room service, housekeeping, security and a 24-hour concierge. The development has its own generator, which will kick in automatically in the event of power failures or load-shedding. Every apartment will have energy-efficient air conditioning and LED lighting and superfast internet connectivity in the form of state-of-the-art fibre optic cabling. They will also have access to the hotel’s five-star facilities and services, such as 24-hour room service, gym, swimming pool and self-service laundrette (or hotel laundry and valet), hotel shuttles, personal grocery shopping and child care.

(Photograph: Juan Hugo of JW Hugo Construction; Shaun Rai of Stonehill Property Fund;  David Cohen, Md of Signatura; and Dave Herron of Murray and Roberts at the Raddisson Blu Hotel and Residence Cape Town (22 Riebeek Street), situated in Cape Town’s Waterside precinct, the financial and legal centre of Cape Town. The Cape Town International Convention Centre is just a few minutes walk away.)


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