The Vineyards Office Estate in Cape Town is built into a wine farm (Springfield Farm) which has been in existence for many years. It overlooks Durbanville and is situated in the middle of the vineyards.
The brief to the design team was to build an office campus which drew heavily on the Western Cape farm vernacular. It was to resemble a collection of farm buildings or “werwe” with vineyards rolling in and around them. The point of departure was to retain the essence of a wine farm and have the buildings as part of the landscape.
Formal courtyard planting with Banksia roses and Plectranthus neochilus
Mixed indigenous planting on top of entrance embankment
Design philosophy and planting
The landscape design philosophy endeavoured to draw the vines up to the buildings and in areas where the slopes are very steep, mixed fynbos has been planted to introduce the feel of the fynbos found in the valley running along the edge of the nearby farm. By using a planting palette found traditionally on wine farms, the landscape architects engaged botanical anchors to recreate the experience of visiting wine farms elsewhere in the area. In planting this traditional style against the offices, the scale of the buildings was set and strove to capture the fragmented look of Dorp Street in Stellenbosch; each block is treated within its own scale, as opposed to being designed as one of many. The design team also brought a slightly eclectic and varied rhythm to the design as a break with monolithic planting which may otherwise have overpowered the development. Although there are visual cues which are repeated, the landscape design avoids a corporate look of planting with a broad brush. Using nooks and crannies, a ‘catholic’ (all-encompassing) palette has been used, with the addition of some eccentricity. “We have drawn heavily on indigenous, but could not resist tucking the likes of Aspidistra and Prunus cerasifera ‘Nigra’ into unexpected corners,” says Turner.
Moving away from the buildings, the design philosophy engages ‘order exploding’ or a collapsing of scale. The tight scale and ordered form against the walls and around the buildings breaks down to meet rambling fynbos which is never too far away. Says Turner: “The balance and interface of these two elements has been really fun to work with and the mixed fynbos has simply exploded on site. We are delighted with it. It has its own anarchic style that defies taming and we have now reached the stage where we stay out of it and let it do its own thing, self-seeding and finding its own rhythm. Its proximity to the colonial cousins (*) around the buildings is a refreshing break from vast expanses of tame landscaping. Then from wild and wooly, we go agrarian when the space permits, and the vines are planted.” These are of key importance to the aesthetic, as the development is an extract of wine farm ‘werwe’. Without the vines, it would lose all contextual relevance.
From the far bank, the appearance of the buildings is fairly conspicuous, and many trees have been planted in an attempt to mitigate this. The idea is that the trees will fracture the faces of the buildings, and the strong vertical elements will assist in countering the horizontal lines of the construction. There is a mixed palette here too, using the ‘old favourites’ such as Platanus acerifolia, Quercus nigra and Populus simonii, combined with many indigenous species such as Ekebergia capensis, Cunnonia capensis and Podocarpus falcatus. Less commonly used species such as Curtisia dentata, Diospyros whyteana, Apodytes dimidata, Pittosporum and Trichelia emetica have also been included.
Indigenous embankment planting around the informal rock pools leading to the entrance water feature
Entrance island water feature
Landscaping operations only commenced on site when approximately 60% of the building and civil works had been completed and the area “looked very much like a construction site with lots of mud and rubble,” says Eric Cherry of Urban Landscape Solutions. Nevertheless, the completion date was (as usual) the same day for the landscapers, builders and civil contractors who were “all over each other, working in a confined space.”
Landscaping took place on steep slopes which are exposed to strong winds and a subsoil layer of heavy clays. Works included:
- bulk earthworks involving the construction, shaping and topsoiling of a large entrance berm, and the entire site, from stockpiles of existing topsoil;
- placing of large boulders throughout the site;
- installation of a fully automated irrigation system;
- detailed preparation of all planting areas including composting, fertilising, forking over beds, hand raking and tree hole preparation;
- Planting and grow-in maintenance;
- hard landscaping of flagstone areas, a boules court, mowing edges, a staircase, pathways and water features.
When surrounded by fynbos, the imposing water feature appears natural and at home in the landscape. Its power is engaging.
Left: The passage behind one of the areas of the building had to double as an over-land stormwater escape. By dishing the soil into a channel, laying pavers and heavy boulders into it, a functional and aesthetically pleasing solution to the problem was found.
As the site slopes fairly steeply in places, a number of retaining walls have been built, shaped to appear as ‘werf mure’. The landscape architecture worked with these where possible, using them as seating areas, water features and planting boxes. Hard surfacing has been fractured using cobbles, brick and tarmac to give variation and avoid a monolithic appearance. Kerbs and edgings are roll-over style with clay bricks in the header course. Dorp Street (phase 2 of the development) has a ‘leivoor’ as seen in Stellenbosch and many of the old farm towns in the country. These are channels, almost like mini canals, which ran through old towns carrying agricultural water to the homes and farms.
Water features included the entrance road dry river bed, an entrance water feature with waterfall and a formal water feature. In the first instance, the dry river bed was constructed from bidum with large boulders (from the site) interpacked with gabion rocks. Secondly, for the entrance water feature and waterfall, a pond was built from concrete and the waterfall was built at the top section, as per the entrance water feature. The lower section of the water feature was built with two smaller concrete ponds with overflows (waterfalls) into the lower pond. A reticulation system pumps the water up to the top pond. Very large boulders were used in this feature. Lastly, there are seven formal water features with fountains throughout the completed phases; they follow a modern Cape Dutch style.
A large staircase with interlocking pathway has been built between the Dorp Street phase and farm 2. The pathway was built with a sifted laterite and concrete mix. De Hoop edging was used to edge all lawns.
A large chess/checker board was built using flagstone pavers in grey and sandstone and a bolos court was built using pavers as edging and laterite as the surface. Large rocks from the site have been placed throughout the gardens, especially on embankments.
The main approach to the development drew heavily on precedents such as the Boschendaal Estate and traditional farm roadways running alongside a stream. The ‘wilder’ feel of farm roads is emulated here and the heavy tree planting was designed to create a screen so that the experience of arriving or leaving is on a roadway half the size of the actual entrance required to channel the traffic adequately.
The embankment has been planted up in a random style using assorted fynbos species in an attempt to recreate the natural fynbos found in the adjacent riverine area.
The Vineyard Office Estate received a Silver Award in the 2005 SALI Awards of Excellence in the category of Design By Others.
(*) The term ‘colonial cousins’ is explained by Turner as follows: There are local indigenous plants and non-indigenous imports, brought to the country by immigrants. In the same way as the immigrants were colonists, so too were the exotic species they brought. However, because they have been here for so long, they are as much part and parcel of the local plant palette as Afrikaners are Africans. Hence the meeting of the two – indigenous meets colonial settler, giving rise to the term ‘colonial cousins’.
Text and photos supplied by Jason Turner of De Villiers Turner & Associates and Eric Cherry of Urban Landscape Solutions.
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