Robert Silke’s New Project: Spindle


Both a nod to PoMo and NYC’s tall-’n-skinny skyscrapers, Cape Town’s own skyline will have a new spike with the Spindle designed by one of our favourite architects, Robert Silke.

To be built on the Plein St/Spin St corner of Church Square, the luxe-living Spindle will contain 11 full-floor 143m2 – 150m2 apartments on its upper floors, with two duplex penthouses above. Each unit will occupy its own full floor, with its own key-card lift access and its own private lift lobby… plus, in true New York 5th Avenue style, you’ll have a dedicated 24-hour doorman and valet who, after you’ve pulled up outside your residence, will park your car for in your dedicated private parking bay in a nearby parking garage. The building will also house full-floor A-grade professional office chambers with the same own key-card lift access and private lift lobby access facilities. The project is scheduled to be finished in 2025.

VISI’s Editor, Steve Smith had a chat with Robert to get the skinny on the skinny…

So Robert, you reckon Cape Town is ready for a PoMo revival?

Well, you and I have both been ready for the great PoMo revival for a long time now Steve, but I still think of Spindle as a relatively classical and conservative building. Spindle is a classically Modern tower, Late Modern if you will. If you think of Richard Meier’s work in LA (like Getty Museum, see attached) which was so Late Modern, and so concurrent with 1980’s Post Modernism, that it somehow has the residual flavour of homoeopathic quantities of PoMo about it. 

What inspired the design? 

Spindle is a modern-day fairytale. The tower is both extremely tall and extremely small all at the same time (yet comprised of very large units) which is an allegory for Cape Town I think. I was in Tokyo in 2017, which is a city of small towers. But although Tokyo is all about smallness, the actual flats at Spindle (nothing less than 142m²) recognise that Cape Town is all about “not suffering like that”. We’re still in Africa and we like space. Spindle is about having everything all at the same time. “Let them have their cake and eat it”. So there’s something of the impossible about Spindle, which sports huge mansion apartments in a tiny and tall footprint (find out more about Robert’s other influences in this story).

Most new apartment blocks to tend to look a lot like high-rise parking garages, because that’s essentially what they are, but Spindle’s thirteen units come with 36 sectional title parking bays in a neighbouring garage. Liberated from the banalities of parking, Spindle is literally a block of penthouses – where you live in the view and the lift opens into your own entrance hall.

The best parts of the Cape Town inner city are the oldest parts (which is a truism for most great cities) and are therefore heritage-protected. Spindle’s site is an anomaly, since it comprises a small corner, just a small corner in one of the most historic, cultural and architecturally-complete parts of the city centre – open and underdeveloped. An open wound in the best part of town. The proverbial worst building in the best street. The condemned existing building is dumb and ugly, the site is quite small, and the rights to height are profound.

So, as it should be, the site constraints define the brief and the tower basically named itself and designed itself. In the very best parts of Manhattan (Park Avenue and 5th Avenue), there’s a phenomenon of needle-like high-rises for billionaires. By Manhattan standards, Spindle is no skyscraper, and neither is it meant for billionaires (okay not dollar billionaires!), but it’s a very Capetonian answer to the archetypal dream of living in splendid isolation on your very own floor of your own ivory tower.

Your buildings are very distinctive and clearly stand apart from others surrounding them. How conscious are you of the surroundings when sketching out a new design?

The best parts of the Cape Town inner city are Heritage Conservation Areas (Spindle is in one, Anew (Formaly Vib) is in one, Tuynhuys is in one) and are highly regulated by the heritage authorities – yet we manage to achieve modern and sculptural (and unapologetic) new towers that are sometimes taller than one would expect – some might even say overbearing … and we get away with this by staying contextually aware. Heritage conservation is not about aping the old buildings next door, but rather about relating to that context. The site and the context always come first, and our style comes second. 

Spindle is mostly shaped by its site and defined by the forms of the adjacent architecture – and our style is simply a vernacular through which we interpret those things. But, as it happens, the context here has some rather high-quality PoMo, in the form of the PoMo High-Tech Truworths corporate HQ as well as the historicist PoMo Woolworths corporate HQ – so I’m thinking you’ve picked up on something that we haven’t even seen; ie that we’ve absorbed and designed-in subliminally. Okay, maybe it’s a little PoMo.

And how would you describe the impact of your work on the city’s architectural DNA?

We’re trying to fit in and be a good neighbour, whilst trying to bring something new to the party – and using the same kit of humble parts that Cape Town is generally made from. Since the beginning, Cape Town has always been about white-plastered masonry with sculptural curves, gables and the like – and we see ourselves very much within the ambit of that old Cape vernacular. 

We’re not into big glass, big steel or big aluminium, and history shows that those kinds of things ultimately get corroded by the sea air or blown away by the south-easter. We’re not trying to change the city or replan the city, but rather try to design according to The Campsite Rule: “Leave the campsite better than you found it.” 

If one of these apartments were yours, run us through the furniture and décor you would be putting in there.

Although these full-floor units are all about the views, there are a lot of smooth white walls that are all about spaces for art. Not only oil paintings but niches for quality sculpture, both inside the units and even on the balconies. The penthouses are of course, double-volume – 6m and 7m tall in the living rooms. 

The interiors are solid and understated, with no brass on the taps and no fur on the handrails. The walls are white and the floors are herringbone and the tiles are all granite like the boulders in Bantry Bay. The joinery is pitch-black. Thus the scene is set for the acquisition of some serious art and some outrageous furniture – maybe even some Memphis.

If I could have a flat in Spindle, I’d go to Die Kunskamer or to Strauss and acquire some of the old South African masters, which will be at least as good an investment as the property itself. The first ever luxury property I designed was the double-volume Mutual Heights penthouse for an investment banker, who wasn’t prepared to shell out for the giant Preller I found for him at Die Kunskamer in 2004 for the asking price of R220k. Last year I saw the same work again at a Kunskamer retrospective organised by Frank Kilbourne of Strauss – who told me the Preller now belongs to Clara Wiese and is probably worth R12m – R15m – which is more than enough to buy one a mansion floor at Spindle – and decorate it, with change.

But one doesn’t have to spend millions on art. South Africa produced some exceptional Post Modern artists during the 1980s whose work is seriously undervalued and that’s what I would be collecting here.

Thursday 11 May sees the opening of Inova (the successor to the legendary Innovations) in Harrington Street, which is within short walking distance of Spindle. We helped them design their new showroom and I’m told they have an agency for Memphis Milano – the premium PoMo furniture brand. I’d shell out on a few key pieces from them, but then pad with some late 20th century vintage pieces (PoMo yes!) from The Space Agency and Ride a White Swan.

And a silk qum rug, my flat would need a silk qum to tie the furniture to the art. 

The apartments are selling for R10 750 000 – R11 250 000; the two penthouses are R19 500 000 (257m2) and R22 500 000 (280m2); and the office chambers for R10 250 000 – R10 750 000.

Find out more about Spindle, here.

Take a closer look at 6 creative projects by Robert Silke, here. Looking for more architectural inspiration? Sign up to our weekly newsletter, here.