dhk Architects completes urban park in Cape Town that references historic Amsterdam

Urban Park
Photo credit: dhk Architects

Battery Park is a new 12,000 sqm urban park situated at a key entrance-way to one of Africa’s most visited tourist destinations, the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town.

Developed as the nucleus of a larger urban vision for the district, the site includes a park and piazza that effectively conceal a 1,206-bay parking facility as well as new pedestrian routes to invigorate the precinct with activity.

The site is of archaeological importance as it contains the remnants of one of the city’s oldest structures, coastal fortification the Amsterdam Battery.

This provided a unique opportunity for architecture and urban design firm dhk – to pay homage to the historic landmark whilst incorporating a parking facility and providing spaces for leisure and recreational activities. The project forms part of an urban design framework created by dhk for the V&A’s previously underutilised Canal District that facilitates the reconnection of the historical city centre and De Waterkant to the V&A. The aim was to create a publicly accessible park which lies at the nexus of a multitude of new pedestrian routes stitching the new district into the surrounding urban fabric and thereby helping to invigorate the area.

The Amsterdam Battery was erected by the Dutch along Cape Town’s coastline in 1784 to defend the city from seaborne and land attacks. In the 1800s the building was used to house prisoners; and was later remodelled and strengthened by the British but eventually abandoned. In 1905 the battery was largely demolished to make way for railway connections to the port, leaving behind only a small portion of its rear curved walls.
The historical remnants are now perched eight metres above the new canal running through the site at a lower level.

During construction of Battery Park archaeological excavations revealed former datums which were used to inform the design. The raised park has been kept at the battery’s original inner courtyard level whilst planted edges above retail units on the piazza represent the estimated natural ground level that fronted the battery. Various architectural and landscaped elements reflect the structure’s original footprint, such as semi-circular curved pathways, concrete additions to the rear ramparts, splayed canal-facing walls and concrete-clad structures – giving visitors an authentic sense of the battery’s former size. An axial visual connection to Cape Town’s Noon Gun on Signal Hill has also been retained, thus preserving the site’s historic sightline.

On the elevated park level, visitors can explore landscaped gardens with trees and stone-clad planters, meandering walkways with built-in benches, a concrete skatepark, basketball court and new pedestrian routes. Throughout the park and piazza cantilevered steel pergolas scale the design and provide much-needed shade.

The lower piazza level contains 11 boutique retail units that line the splayed canal-facing walls and form an active eastern edge to the new canal pedestrian route. The intention behind the piazza was to activate the canal via a range of water sports and provide a link between the V&A and the CBD – encouraging a pedestrianised environment. Referencing the battery’s original façade, loosely packed stone-filled gabion walls shroud the parking facility and stone-clad planters contain fynbos and waterwise plants.

Historic cannons from Amsterdam Battery found scattered throughout the V&A by the Cannon Association of South Africa and preserved for the development of the park are now on display inside the interpretation pavilion. The artefacts sit on top of precast concrete plinths, made to resemble old timber cannon carriages, allowing them to protrude through the embrasures and overlook the canal.

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