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V&A Waterfront, Cape Town

The Victoria & Alfred (V&A) Waterfront in Cape Town is one of the world’s top waterfronts, and one of South Africa’s major tourist attractions.

When I took these photos in late 2010, Auckland had its Viaduct Harbour and Princes Wharf, but Queen’s Wharf was still closed to the public, and the first stages of Wynyard Quarter were at least six months away from opening. We’ve come a long way in the last three years, and Auckland’s waterfront will keep improving as Wynyard (and other areas) continue to develop.

Table Mountain is visible from most parts of Cape Town (well, the parts that tourists go to at least), and provides an impressive backdrop when looking back towards the city from the V&A. Please excuse the photobombing seagull.

There’s a good night-time shot of this office building on Wikipedia.

Trees are often lacking in waterfront settings, but can add some real warmth and colour, and help to make spaces seem less artificial. I’m pleased to see that Wynyard Quarter is getting a better dose of plant life than Princes Wharf and Viaduct before it.

A stage for performances and cultural displays is always popular; when I was there, the Diwali festival was on.

Cruise ships, charter yachts, and working vessels rub shoulders in their berths: the V&A Waterfront, like Auckland’s one, is a working waterfront, with a major port nearby.

The V&A Waterfront is also home to a major shopping centre, Victoria Wharf, which is strongly oriented towards tourists, and includes a large number of high-end and luxury retailers. And a Canterbury of New Zealand store, funnily enough. Jimmy Choo was selling shoes for NZD $2,000 or $3,000; I don’t think I was the target market. Eating and drinking, though, was a bit easier to afford, and allowed for more of an interface between the inside and outside of the shopping centre.

The photo below shows well-utilised public seating along the water’s edge, and an admittedly uninspiring part of the shopping centre.

There are useful parallels for Auckland; while Wynyard Quarter won’t have as strong a retail focus (based on the master plan for the area), it does incorporate a significant amount of public space amongst what will eventually be plenty of private space – apartments, offices etc. With the bars and restaurants in the various waterfront precincts, Auckland is already spoilt for choice.

I haven’t shown many shots of the private space at the V&A Waterfront (apartments, hotels etc), because I didn’t really visit it. I understand that it’s more separated than we would expect here; a symptom of South Africa’s higher crime rates, and residents’ and guests’ need to feel secure in their home environments. Or the massive divide between the haves and the have nots, if you prefer.

The private and public spaces at Wynyard Quarter are much more integrated than this, although of course the apartments and hotels will be top-end, and there will still be some degree of separation. Although Auckland developments like The Parc and Lighter Quay are more separated than the norm, they still relate to the street, and you can walk right up to them. In South Africa, you’d expect to have fences and armed security guards between you and luxury apartments!

There’s some fascinating background on V&A Waterfront here, written by the waterfront’s former Executive Manager – Planning & Development. The article talks about the V&A’s history, how it was financed, its design principles and international context, and it’s recommended reading for anyone who is interested in large-scale, master planned development.

Fifteen years ago, those who lobbied for what is today Cape Town’s Victoria and Alfred Waterfront were regarded as idealistic dreamers. When the V&A Waterfront Company was formed and work started in 1989, most Capetonians said ‘it will never happen’. Today, the project receives 22 million visitors annually and commercially it has been one of South Africa’s biggest real estate success stories.

10 comments to V&A Waterfront, Cape Town

  • Glen

    Can’t agree more that the V&A is an absolute gem. I was fortunate enough to spend time in Cape Town in 2011, and really enjoyed the V&A. It has become a real focal point for the tourist areas of Cape Town, and is becoming more so as redevelopment into public recreation and shopping areas proceeds around it. It also helps that the boats to Robben Island and other marine tours leave from just by the V&A, bringing people through the V&A as they go to other places. (the ‘hub role’ is also reinforced by handy services such as a very helpful office selling tickets to shows all around Cape Town. Does downtown/waterfront Auckland have such a service? It makes taking in local entertainment much easier for visitors…)

    The key to the appeal of the V&A for me was that there was almost no vehicle access to the public areas, both in the Victoria Wharf mall and outside. It brought a sense of unimpeded and relaxed movement, and encourages people to come, stay and spend. Auckland waterfront planners could take note.

  • But John those crazy South Africans have excluded the most important part of any pedestrian area in NZ – cars.

    I notice too that they have foolishly used their sea frontage for money making retail and hospitality space rather than for its prime use, free parking.

    Crazy stuff. They need some well informed urban designers like Brownlee and Joyce to sort it out.

  • Craig

    What few people know is that the V&A was a TOTAL failure until RETAIL was introduced. Serious retail with huge anchor tenants. This is something Wynyard needs to do, on a smaller scale, but there needs to be a reason for people to go there apart from eating and drinking.

    • Sailor Boy

      Have to agree here the only times that I ever seem to end up going are to eat at the sals or for the movies. Once the Fonterra building goes in there should be enough workers to support some retail so council needs to push it, possibly free rent for a year or two?

  • Gary

    I have made a number of submissions on the plans for this area. I think what they have done is great but the plan should have looked at attractions to the area first before other features were put into it. I do not believe what is on the table at the moment is sufficient to attract people to the area on a regular basis.

    Other waterfronts I have been to do this by providing attractions and entertainment and that works.

    • Have you been to Silo Park, especially in the evenings? It’s fantastic. The food, the atmos, the movies. WA are doing a great job with events I think.

      • Sailor Boy

        Is that not the problem? You shouldn’t need events once the area is mature

      • Craig

        It’s only fantastic because it is a Friday night, in good weather, and that Ian all coming to an end now. It is great in summer, but in winter it takes a beating, with the place deserted.

        • John Polkinghorne

          I’m not sure I agree Craig… Wynyard is often still very popular in winter, unless the weather’s crap or people think it might be. It would do at least as well as any other outdoor public space in Auckland I can think of on that basis, and probably better. And the area is still in the very early stages of its development.

      • Gary

        Patrick, yes I have been to Silo park a number of times but not when there is an event on (apart from the World Cup) as these usually don’t suit with a young family. But it should not be an area that you go to just for special events – there should be attractions there at any given time that make people want to use that part of the city.

        As I said; what I have seen so far is good (and the renders for planned areas look good too) but I don’t see a lot different (from what is already there, e.g. bars and restaurants) in the rest of the plan for the public to use apart a large open space at the end of Wynyard; which to me may be a little bit pointless when there are many other ‘free’ (to get to) parks in the city to use for the vast majority of people which are much closer. Most areas seem to be zoned for a mix of residential, business and marine business areas. I have not seen any planned attractions as it seems like it will be left to private development companies to build this area apart from the street areas?

        I really hope I am wrong about this; I am hoping for something a little more like Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco or the V&A development in this story to attract a greater variety of people into the city.

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