SMITH Studio housed in restored building

A thoroughfare of Cape Town for more than four hundred years, Cape Town’s Church Street has become a node of artistic talent and now welcomes its latest addition, SMITH Studio, a contemporary fine art gallery.

While SMITH will be home to contemporary fine art, these modern works will be housed in a historical building whose ambience was retained during the restoration, completed in line with an environmental ethos using green materials, natural lighting and ventilation.

“We will be honouring the rich history of the area, which has been influenced by the many cultures of Cape Town residents over the years, by adding a space that reflects the history of the building and the vibrant current contemporary landscape of Art in Cape Town,” said architects Reanne Urbain and Alexander McGee.

The building, located at 56 Church Street, has transfer deeds dating back to the early 1700s. The property was, for a brief period, owned by Jacob van Reenen, from a family instrumental in establishing early Cape agriculture and the wool farming industry in particular.

Heritage architects Gabriel Fagen, who consulted on the project, said the simple building was soundly constructed and retained its “pakhuis” (warehouse) like character despite building additions throughout the 19th and 20th century. No other pakhuise have existed in the area since 1895.

Title deeds show that the property changed hands 11 times between 1835, when it was owned by Johan Coenraad, and 1954, when it was sold to Simon Velk. Between these periods residents included people linked to the Methodist Church and a hairdresser.

The studio’s dimensions – narrow in width at just six metres and with double volume ceilings – presented the architects with a unique design challenge.

“We wanted to expose our visitors to the very fabric of the original building – dry pack slate walls, yellowwood beams and Oregon roof trusses as well as the 1950’s teak façade and stairwell.”

During the renovation, everything from timber floorboards to ironmongery and nails was salvaged and incorporated into the new design. “It was important that the new proposal be environmentally passive in design,” McGee said.

A new open-air courtyard, as well as a new stack-ventilated roofscape allow for natural light and air to permeate within the building. “New interventions are light, transparent and are textured on a framework of simplified modernist forms.”

SMITH Studio , directed by Candace Marshall-Smith and curated by Amy Ellenbogen will join the First Thursdays initiative, where the City comes alive at night as art galleries extend trading hours and welcome guests to specially-hosted cultural events.