Meet the architect behind the Constantia Nek revamp

Cape Town’s oldest restaurant has undergone an extreme make-over by the Harbour House Group and after months of renovation and eager-anticipation Harbour House and La Parada Constantia Nek have officially opened their doors at this iconic Cape Town site. Architect David Townsend takes us through the journey.

A major revamp of one of Cape Town’s oldest restaurants is no small undertaking – how do you even begin to approach a project like this?

The extent to which Constantia Nek is iconic and memorable in the minds of many Capetonians really became apparent once we began the project. People of all ages constantly approached us with memories of weddings, 21st celebrations, ‘dinner and dance’ evenings etc. All pleading that we restore and revive the old place where these memories were created. On visiting the site, the potential of the building and its location immediately became apparent. However, the aging condition of the existing building and unwelcoming, dark interiors meant a lot of work was required to bring new life to the restaurants. Expert advice from heritage experts was sought from the outset and a lengthy process of fine tuning the design to suit the practical and heritage requirements was undertaken.

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What was your initial brief from Harbour House Group?

Due to the size of the existing buildings, Harbour House Group realised that there was the potential for two restaurants within the existing buildings. It was decided that two existing brands namely, Harbour House Restaurant and La Parada tapas bar, would be the perfect mix. “Old charm & history meets new blood & vigour!”

Restoration brings with it a host of challenges … what were your key considerations when approaching the restoration of a heritage building?

Initial advice from heritage consultants was that the visual character of the exterior should be retained but on consultation with the Heritage Western Cape authorities it was decided that some of the internal elements were also of historical significance and should be retained. Working with historical buildings is a highly specialised field and the Harbour House Group design team were lucky enough to be aided by a very competent team of heritage consultants both in the design and execution phases of the project.

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The upgrade has involved the upgrading of all buildings as well as the parking area – what can guests expect now from the revamped facilities?

The significant investment by Harbour House Group at Constantia Nek has meant that patrons can now enjoy first-class facilities with the quality of food and service the group is renowned for. Both restaurant brands in the building have very different ambiances and offerings giving patrons the choice of casual and formal dining. Knowing that the site will once again become very popular, the parking capacity has been significantly increased.

We see that care has been taken to preserve the original facade – how important was the preservation of the original building?

The Constantia Nek buildings have been there since the 1920’s and are engraved in the memories of many Capetonians. Harbour House Group’s design team realised to have altered these in any significant way it would have been counter-productive to both the public in general and to the restaurant brands.

We see you worked with Jason Lucas Master Thatchers – does this kind of project require more specialist contractors?

Restoring old buildings requires artisans who can work with care and sensitivity. In particular, much of this building is of timber construction with thatched roofs. Therefore both the carpenters and the thatchers needed to be able to work in a historically sensitive manner.

The restaurant is now open – how does it feel to see your vision finally brought to life?

The project took a long time to bring to fruition so there is nothing more rewarding than seeing the restaurants and terraces fill up with happy patrons from day one. The success has been immediate and this is the best reward for hard work put in by the Harbour House Group’s design team, consultants and contractors.

The interiors are incredibly stylish – did you work with the Harbour House team to ensure consistency of design?

Harbour House Group has an internal design team of architects and interior designers responsible for all the aesthetic decisions around the project.

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How did you balance the historical exterior with the contemporary interiors?

The La Parada section of the building is the more historically significant part of the building and therefore had to be very carefully maintained. The Harbour House Restaurant part of the building was an addition in 1974 and this allowed the design team more scope to modify the interiors. The team believes it turned out quite well as both styles of interiors suit their respective brands.

Read more about the restaurants here.

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