South African Astronomical Observatory

Cape Town


The client approached us to convert an existing workshop space into an Auditorium and Exhibition complex to be used by the South African Astronomical Observatory.

The old building circa 1910 was located on a Heritage site next to an underused solar telescope. It comprised a large open space and attached service spaces and a separate flammable store area and was used as a workshop for the general maintenance of surrounding buildings on the site.

The shed like building had an industrial feel to it on the inside with steel gantry beams and steel windows enclosed by solid thick white painted plastered walls. We decided to make our extensions in a modern style up against the old gabled building so that the original and new are easily visible. Yet the new work ties into the existing by using materials such as the steel framework that we encountered and maintained in the interior of the original space.

We decided to remove the existing unsightly flammable store building that was located in the way of the new exhibition area and blocked the site from its wonderful mountain views. Our idea to put a pond and water feature at this entrance court area had to be abandoned due to lack of funds.

The original workshop space did not need much to be converted into a hall. Most of the work here comprised opening up a sidewall to the new covered patio using folding sliding metal doors to open the hall to the patio.
The service areas were completely revamped to create a disabled toilet, male and female toilets, storage areas and a kitchenette. These services come off a passage that leads to each side of the building and acts as a fire escape as well as an access passage.

The new exhibition space made in steel and glass with a brick plastered base, clips onto the original gable end of the building to become a new entrance for the complex. This space links the new hall with the original solar telescope dome, which can now be used for educational purposes.

The hall and new exhibition area lead onto a new large covered patio that overlooks a lawned garden with wonderful mountain views.

All three spaces i.e. hall, exhibition area and patio open up to each other so that the complex can be used for large or small gatherings.

Lectures are now held at the new Auditorium and the exhibition space is used for changing shows, which educate the public on various aspects of Astronomy. Children have workshops in the hall and exhibition area that spill out onto the covered patio. The complex served by its new kitchen can also be used for entertainment. Disabled access was added and thee are parking facilities on the site.
ArchitectAmanda Katz Architects
ClientThe South African Astronomical Obsercatory (SAAO) and South African Large Telescope (SALT) under the auspices of the National Research Foundation
Building ContractorMSK Construction
Structural EngineerAlten Hulme and Associates