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Robert Silke’s radical transformation of The Onyx

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On its own, irrespective of the sustainable aspect or the inclusivity of its Cape Town audience, it's a stunning piece of design. Sold out too!

There’s been a fair amount of hype about what’s going to be the tallest or largest building in Cape Town over the past few years, but little is made of the re-inventions of current spaces into glorious city-changing landmarks. 

The master architect of urban regeneration, Robert Silke, is transforming Cape Town’s Foreshore with his new Onyx development for John Rabie’s Signatura, with 219 units already sold out ranging from studios of 35 sqm to 200 sqm penthouses fetching over R20m. 

Silke explains, “Johnny Rabie has this sixth sense for what’s going to be the next big thing – he saw the opportunity in the area, found the ideal property, and didn’t have to wait for approval. In partnership with Nedbank, the property’s owner, we could get into the project very quickly. Instead of a new development, we made a new building out of an old one, and that’s incredibly hard architecturally, but it has brought new life to the Foreshore.”

“The trick here has been to edit a corporate “black glass box” into an apartment hotel – something that inspires fantasy and the joy of living in one of the world’s great harbour cities. This happened by careful surgical intervention (to the facade especially) so as to create opportunities for futuristic and sculptural white aluminium curved balcony features, off-set against the existing black facade. The crisp aluminium detailing evokes the experience of a luxury yacht. We didn’t even think we had the skills and expertise in South Africa to pull this off. It’s more like an iPhone than a building – a piece of product design. I think that’s perhaps one of the reasons is why it captured the public’s imagination.”

The outcomes of commercial design are currently quite predictable in South Africa, (“at its lowest ebb” Silke explains) and yet it’s no secret consumers and investors are yearning for something more bespoke – creating a shift to smaller scale individualised design, not just in property, but in products too. The challenge is delivering something sustainable, authentic and high quality. “In a world so caught up in sustainability, recycling a building through thoughtful conversion is probably the greenest act a property development can do – more than any regulation or bylaw can demand – but to do it with style, well that’s a whole other thing,” adds David Cohen of Signatura.

Silke continues, “Run by Newmark Hotels, the hotel component of the development is not another subset of a large chain – it’s a “one-off” – and for that reason the materials inside make use of real wood and marble. In a generation when we are looking for differentiation and value, Onyx delivers, with some apartments offering expansive views and wooden decks.”

Design maven Michael Chandler, of Chandler House, explains, “Robert’s work is visionary and yet deeply nostalgic at the same time – romantic and poetic. I wish the rest of the city would wake up and follow in his footsteps, but I think its very hard to get right and something that Robert is so good at. The Onyx presents as a glamorous sailing ship, full of happy travellers ready for a voyage of adventure.” 

The development’s clients range from European and African billionaires through to neighbouring Naspers’ employees – interestingly, there many residents who do not use a parking bay, a growing trend in a world of rising vehicle and parking costs with Uber as a popular alternative. City dwellers, entrepreneurs, and employees have access to Woolworths and Virgin Active and enjoy the benefits of hotel facilities with use of both the hotel pool and bar, as well as access to room service. 

“What has been really rewarding to see is that the base of residents and hotel guests is totally eclectic and diverse which is exactly what we are seeking to achieve in the city. It’s a real sign the city is growing up,” Silke concludes.


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