R50 million Watershed development for the V&A Waterfront

[Artist’s impression of the Watershed: Heinrich Wolff]

Ahead of its official October 2014 opening, the V&A Waterfront’s Watershed is revealing itself as a light and airy, generously spaced street-styled retail space. A dramatic internal and external renovation was undertaken in January 2014, and fit out has now started.

Formerly the Craft Market and Wellness Centre, commonly known as the Blue Shed and adjacent unused Workshop 17, this historic warehouse structure has been totally reimagined by Wolff Architects. The new open-ended building includes a transformation of the double volume height, with a 100m long skylight ensuring an abundance of natural light and the southern façade sheeting replaced by glass overlooking the Robinson Dry Dock and Table Mountain.

The R50 million Watershed development will house some 150 traders, commercial offices, 1000m2 of dedicated exhibition and eventing space, and Workshop 17, the innovation collaboration with the UCT’s Graduate School of Business.

The catalyst for this dramatic transformation was in fact Workshop 17. It was this proposed innovation hub which led to the unlocking of the bigger space and the opportunity to broaden the project beyond the innovation hub to reimagine the existing craft space within the Blue Shed.

The amalgamation of the existing Blue Shed and the original Workshop 17 warehouse translates into a space that is 50% larger and able to accommodate a far wider product offering from small business owners.  The innovative architectural design capitalised on the opportunity for connections and interactivity by creating a street through the physical building, turning it into a truly multi-functional space.

Speaking on the dramatic transformation and the design thinking, architect Heinrich Wolff said, ‘’The diversity and intensity of human interaction had to be improved. To achieve this goal a strategy of collective interest was developed. The proposal was to take over the whole shed, remove the two short end facades and make a street right through the middle of the building.’’

Wolff goes on to explain that design is required to make cities that work better for its citizens. In the case of this project, the urban corollary of a market economy, as opposed to a mall economy needed to be considered and would require not only a conglomeration of urban actors, but also a spatial structure that could grow and allow others to participate in it.  The result is a space that substantially increases the diversity and intensity of human interaction in the street.

Watershed construction-floating mezzanine floor [Image Credit: Heinrich Wolff]

Watershed construction-floating mezzanine floor [Image Credit: Heinrich Wolff]

The two existing markets, the Craft Market and Wellness Centre and the Red Shed, at the V&A Waterfront have long been a springboard for small businesses.The new Watershed will present additional opportunities for new traders in the expanded space. Eighty seven existing traders from the two markets will be joined by approximately 60 new traders featuring the likes of local talent such as the Essie Letterpress, Strato, Jasper Eales, rural development agency Africa Ignite and Zizamele Ceramics.

The new retail focus is a celebration of African craft and design. The Watershed will have a wide product offering across various categories, all creatively designed, beautifully crafted, and produced entirely in Africa. The collection will be curated by Trevyn McGowan of Source, a well-known figure in both the local and international design world. Categories to be included in the new Watershed space include art, ceramics, craft, fashion and accessories, furniture and furnishings, gifting, jewellery, curios and textiles and soft furnishings.

The Watershed will be positioned as a talent incubator, giving tenants exposure to the millions of local and international visitors that the Waterfront welcomes on an annual basis. According to David Green, CEO of the V&A Waterfront, “We have the opportunity to build on our established small business platform for further economic growth. This is very much in line with the Western Cape Government’s focus on opening opportunities for citizens and creating conditions for economic growth. Additionally, we have creative talent in this country that is well worth showcasing, and we aim to provide a platform for these entrepreneurs of the future.”

McGowan and the V&A Waterfront’s Small Business team have worked closely with current market traders to tailor their offerings to the new space, which has reworked criteria for its traders to ensure all products have a unique design, and are made from material sourced in Africa.

Lending their experience and skill, the Cape Craft and Design Institute (CCDI) is a valuable partner in not only their support of this initiative and presence in the Watershed but also in the regular workshops they will run for traders and small businesses across Cape Town.

The Watershed is positioned on Dock Road in the Waterfront, and is nestled between the Two Oceans Aquarium and Jou Ma Se Comedy Club. It will officially open for trade in October 2014.