EAPI summit takeaways: Reusing what exists to preserve heritage with contemporary design

What’s an architect’s responsibility in preserving heritage? This is one of the key takeaways observed by two dhk partners, Peter Fehrsen and Peter Stokes, following their attendance at the 11th annual East Africa Property Investment Summit (EAPI) held in Nairobi, Kenya.

This year’s event was held between 17 and 18 April and attracted more than 443 attendees from 19 countries. The programme explored topics such as the growing role of Gulf investors and developers in East Africa, creating liveable spaces, strategies to minimise risk for developers and investors in the region, and leveraging tech to plan and execute faster across the value chain. Peter Fehrsen was invited to take part in a panel discussion titled Regenerating the City along with other thought leaders in the field.

According to the African Development Bank Group, East Africa is projected to lead Africa’s growth at 5.1 % in 2024 and 5.7 % in 2025. This makes it a very attractive region for investment and development.

Peter Stokes offered an insight into the discussions: “Africa in general is experiencing huge growth potential. I know that Dar es Salaam, for instance, has a massive growth plan determining how and where it would grow and what infrastructure networks might look like.” Peter also commented on a recurring theme which came up in discussions over the two days: “If these cities are going to grow, who is doing the developments, what are the needs for workplaces and student accommodation, where are people going to live and where are children going to be educated?” These and multiple other conversations focused on everything that comes with the growth of cities in developing regions.

Both dhk partners highlighted the recognised skillset that South African practitioners bring to the region – including those on offer from dhk, particularly in terms of adaptive reuse which introduces contemporary additions to existing historical buildings.

Peter Stokes noted: “It’s important to remember the origins of a city. In Dar es Salaam, for example, the earliest buildings date from the mid 19th century. There are going to be potential heritage resources that may be protected and worthy of keeping. The retention and reuse of existing structures has several benefits, including improving the ecological footprint, and improving proposals by retaining features of the streetscape that the local community have become familiar with.”

dhk has various examples of this approach in our portfolio. “That’s something that we have at dhk and can bring to the party in every way,” says Peter.

Peter Fehrsen shares Stokes’s sentiments, noting that preserving historical elements also offers an opportunity to build on that history as a form of redress; especially if the community has personal experiences associated with the sites in question. “Cultural heritage and memory can be just as important as the built form as a means to foster vibrant communities,” says Fehrsen.

In South Africa, dhk has been engaged in several projects involving heritage sites. This includes The Rubik, a newly launched contemporary tower in the Cape Town CBD on the corner of Loop and Riebeek Streets. The brief from Abland Property Developers was to produce a viable yet unique design for a modern mixed-use building that straddles the historical inner-city district and the more recently developed city blocks north of Riebeek Street.

ONEHUNDREDONM, on Sea Point Main Road in Cape Town, is another example of old meeting new to achieve a sensitive transformation of a heritage building into a striking piece of contemporary architecture. We designed the seven-storey, mixed-use development for Blok, to reimagine a Victorian-era building and repurpose it for modern living. Set in a vibrant location with natural beauty, ONEHUNDREDONM features retail and commercial spaces on the ground-floor level and residential accommodation on upper levels.

In 2021, Tower Property Fund appointed us to reimagine and revitalise the Old Cape Quarter Development in De Waterkant. This was successfully achieved by highlighting the existing heritage architecture while including contemporary elements and dynamic social, retail and residential spaces.

Another significant project is 32 on Kloof, a heritage building situated along popular Kloof Street in Cape Town. The client brief for this project was to establish additional premium rentable space by adding two floors to the existing building, maximising the floorplates and reinventing the windowless basement. In response, dhk respected the rich history of the site via a contemporary aesthetic that references, rather than replicates, its existing heritage.

32 on Kloof was the catalyst for the redevelopment of the historical Longkloof Precinct, which is characterised by historic red and white masonry buildings with heritage conditions that needed to be protected and preserved.

The primarily landlocked site is currently undergoing development for Growthpoint. When complete, it will invigorate the area with new commercial and retail spaces, a 150-key Canopy by Hilton hotel and a new urban realm offering secure pedestrian routes linking Kloof Street to Cape Town’s CBD.