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Uxolo Apartments is the first completed micro-unit residential development located in the Cape Town CBD. A façade of glass bricks not only lets in natural light, but also acts as a window into the world of the residents, emanating the interior lighting to the outside.

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The project, designed by Two Five Five Architects consists of 35 residential units ranging between 24m² micro-studio units and 40 m² loft units, as well as a lobby and retail area on the Ground Floor on a stand of only 195.5 m².

The initial development intention for the project was to create an iconic short-stay accommodation destination in Cape Town, with some long-term tenants, in the same way, that Tokyo has the Nagakin Capsule Tower and Rotterdam has the Cube House. The COVID-19 pandemic, however resulted in a re-evaluation of this approach, focusing on longer-stay tenants. This resulted in units that were far more complex in design to meet the considerably more extensive requirements of a permanent tenant. The change in focus required some additional planning but resulted in a building that arguably better responds to a need in the South African housing market.

For residents of South African cities, there are currently few ‘curated’ and cost-effective alternatives to the South African norm of urban sprawl and long commutes. The project located on Vredenberg Lane, an alley joining Long Street and within walking distance of Kloof and Loop streets, is within easy reach of offices, eateries, transport routes, and amenities. The relatively small size of the units ensures that they are affordable to a large section of the market.

In order to successfully accommodate a long-term tenant in the micro-units special attention was paid to detailing the interior of the units. A single joinery unit, almost stretching the length of the unit, accommodates all the possible daily needs and activities of a resident. The joinery installation was designed, manufactured, and installed by Kink Design, a branch of Two Five Five Architects. The fact that the joinery installation was conceived and managed efficiently in the same office ensured that the language of the project stayed coherent. The design of the unit simultaneously accommodates a fully kitted kitchen, built in cupboard, slide-out study desk, abundant concealed storage as well as a murphy bed that stows away to reveal a sofa for the lounge.

There are four of these studio units on each of the eight floors, along with a loft unit on every second floor. To accommodate these units the small site area available had to be used efficiently, with the building built right up to the 0m building lines. To allow for natural light in the units glass blocks were used, instead of stepping the façade back for windows; at night, with interior lights turned on, this means the tower appears to glow. The resultant flat façade was treated just like that, a flat plain on which a tapestry can be laid. The design takes inspiration from traditional patterns as seen in the work of Esther Mhlangu, as well as contemporary textile design such as rugs by Ninevites. The glass bricks on the façade were combined with different face bricks to create a ‘tapestry’ that is low in maintenance and should age well. These balconies create a value-added footprint to the units from which the residents can look over the city to the iconic Table Mountain.

From an architectural point of view, it is refreshing. "The building's façade and interiors were conceived to stand out, rather than mimic other buildings. Our aim was to use traditional materials in a way that would evoke excitement, not blend into the background," says Andre Krige of Two Five Five Architects.

The team delved into other design genres for inspiration. "Trying to figure out the façade was no small task. We looked at patterns and layouts, some inspired by Esther Mahlangu and The Ninevites' fantastic rugs," says Krige. Working with Corobrik products, the architects were able to create something on trend. "We ended up with something we think is fun: Ndebele meets Memphis style."

For the interior of the studio-style apartments, Two Five Five and sister company Triple Zero looked to the international market, specifically work by London-based 2LG Studio and Colombo and Serboli Architecture from Barcelona. "We also considered various social and economic demographics – the single occupant, a professional couple, an Airbnb guest – in terms of what they could possibly need from the space," says Krige.

Interior lighting, much like the architecture, is modern and minimalist, with wall lamps, linear LEDs and cabinet mounted fittings above the beds contrasting with the contemporary finishes within the studios.

The final design managed to fit in bedroom, lounge, dining room, en-suite bathroom and kitchen, as well as abundant concealed storage. "Then we set about making it look effortless." Internally, your attention is grabbed by pops of wild colour against neutral flooring and wall finishes. This combination of bold and understated tones reflects the kind of contrast that occurs when you blend the dynamism of inner-city living with the need for domestic tranquillity.

Uxolo, which means ‘peace’ in isiXhosa, is located on Vredenburg Lane – another nod to peace, and falls within the Urban Development Zone, known as UDZ. It is a tax incentive that was introduced to the Income Tax Act in 2003 with the objective of rejuvenating inner city nodes through capital injection in the form of investment. Much of Woodstock, Salt River and the inner CBD allow for attractive investment opportunity through the UDZ initiative.

PROJECT TEAM

Architects: Two Five Five Architects

Structural engineer: MISC Engineering

Electrical engineering: Frame

Main contractor: JW Hugo, Vredenberg Properties

Photographs: Paris Brummer, André Krige, Carel Nicolaas Smit

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Gregg Cocking
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