Transparency and light play a starring role in the new extension of the Cape Town International Convention Centre, a striking blend of glass, steel and sandstone


You feel uplifted standing in the concourse of the new eastern extension of the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC), according to Jasper Blokland, associate at Van der Merwe Miszewski Architects. The award-winning practice – in a joint venture called Convention Architects (with SVA International and Makeka Design Lab) – was in charge of the building design of CTICC 2.

The concourse is ‘quite provocative’, Blokland adds. During the day, natural light floods through the high-performance facade into the airy concourse or foyer area, a massive ‘urban space’ that measures 28m from floor to ceiling.

The building attained a 4-star Green Star design rating from the Green Building Council of South Africa. ‘The glass facade is not only about achieving a certain spatial and light quality in the building, but also creates a visual connection between inside and outside that makes those in the concourse feel part of the street and the public realm,’ says Blokland.

‘Although the facade serves as a physical sep­aration that allows the environment inside to be controlled, it’s very important to us that it also speaks to the people outside who may be walking or driving past. One of the great things […] happens at night. When you go past in the dark and see the lights on inside, the building really glows. You become aware of what’s in­side and see beyond the surface of the buil­ding. That’s one of the reasons for choosing the glass facade: it makes the building more of an intriguing place.’

The story of the new building – which carried the working title CTICC East but is now officially called CTICC 2 – is also an intriguing one. It involves an unexpected archaeological find that brought the excavation work to a halt, as well as changes in the design. There was also a change in leadership when Julie-May Elling­son left her position of CEO at Durban Inter­national Convention Centre in 2014 to take over the helm of the CTICC.

Being an urban planner by profession, she took an active interest in the design and construction process. ‘For me the issue of integration was criti­cal. The CTICC doesn’t sit in isolation but is very much part of the city,’ says Ellingson. ‘It was for this reason that we rejected the initial brise soleil wall proposed by the architects and chan­­­ged this to the glass facade. We also added a series of meeting pods to take into account the changing nature of meetings and included a cof­fee shop that spills out onto the pavement to ensure an active public edge.’

Some of the construction activity was temporarily stopped when the contractor excavating the service tunnel between CTICC 2 and CTICC 1 came across remnants of a historic pier. The archaeological experts, who were imme­diately consulted, declared it to be the far extremity of Cape Town’s old harbour pier, which had been built in 1910 and also featured a pavilion for ballet and concert performances. The entire structure was demolished in the late 1930s when the land was reclaimed from Rogge­baai. A part of the historic find is being pre­served and will form the centrepiece in the CTICC’s Old Pier Cafe.

Another result of the land reclamation is the relatively high water table in the Foreshore area. ‘We had to dig two basements down, which meant going below the water table quite close to the roads and to the new Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital on the one side,’ says John Meiring, technical director at Sutherland, who collaborated on the CTICC 2’s structural, civil and facade engineering.

‘We also dug two tunnels coming out from the basement: the service tunnel between the two buildings and the parking entrance. We had to close part of the road while building the service tunnel. That again involved digging below the water table as well as under a stormwater culvert, which is an old canal that runs under the road,’ he explains. ‘So we effectively had to dig under the canal while keeping the water flowing above us.’

Selecting the site for the CTICC 2 – on the corner of Heerengracht and Rua Bartholomeu Dias, leading into the new Convention Square – had been challenging in itself. Several loca­tions were explored to the north of the exis­ting building as well as in what is now the V&A Water­front Canal District, until the final site was identified to the east of the original centre – next to the Naspers media headquarters.

The two parts of the convention centre straddle Heerengracht and will be connected by a skybridge towards the end of 2018, in addition to the already operational service tunnel. The bridge picks up the theme of transparency and light by being ‘very glassy’, according to Rudolf Esterhuyse, associate at SVA Architects. ‘It will be supported by four columns, two of which stand on the island in the middle of the road. The bridge curves back in towards the moun­tain, and the columns are also angled and sculpted. So it’s going to be quite an interesting structure.’

Alan Winde, Western Cape MEC of Economic Opportunities, even went as far as telling guests at the official CTICC 2 opening in January 2018 that the glass skybridge could become Cape Town’s latest tourist attraction.

The expansion had been on the cards ever since the original complex opened in May 2003, in order to remain globally competitive and keep up with the demand. The convention centre has hosted nearly 7 000 events for local and in­ternational delegates since 2003, which tran­slates into more than 16 million visitor days. Last year alone it generated almost 800 000 visitor days from 482 events. It had to turn away a significant amount of business in the past because it just didn’t have the capacity, but the expanded complex is now able to ‘welcome more events and more people in more ways’, according to Ellingson.

‘We can now host very large events, such as the 15 000-delegate World Ophthalmology Congress, across the entire complex,’ she says. ‘Cape Town would never have won this bid if it wasn’t for the CTICC’s expansion. And we can host multiple large events across both venues simultaneously, which we couldn’t do before.’

Although the CTICC 2 seamlessly integrates with the original building, it differs distinctly in its configuration. The 31 000 m2 expansion consists of 10 000 m2 exhibition space and 3 000 m2 of formal and informal meeting spaces built across six floors (two of these underground). The expo space can be subdivided into six smaller halls and the meeting space breaks down into four suites, five pod rooms and an executive boardroom. There are wrap-around balconies and three open-air terraces that include a rooftop venue with panoramic views of the city, Table Mountain and the harbour.

A key design principle was to juxtapose the transparency of the glassy concourse area with the solidity of the exhibition halls and more private function rooms, says Blokland. ‘The total exhibition space is about the size of a rugby field, with one hall stacked on top of the other one. These are enclosed in a solid surface (in this case locally sourced sandstone), because exhibitions and conventions require the ability to block out light for projections and generally provide as much control over the lighting as possible.’

The building responds to the changing nature of meetings. The days of ‘talking heads’ standing in front of a huge auditorium are over, says Ellingson. ‘People want face-to-face inter­action and not just content. You will still have the plenary session but these are interspersed with a series of small breakaway sessions in which detailed issues are discussed and then reported back into larger plenary sessions. The nature of our building has to speak to this demand as well as take account of changes in technology, which in turn impact on how conventions and exhi­bitions are held.’

The CTICC 2’s structure has already won the commercial category at the 2017 Steel Awards. ‘There’s enough steel visible to be proud of what we’ve done,’ says Meiring. ‘The biggest challenge regarding the steelwork was probably the support structure for the upper hall, because we only had four internal columns to support the 5 000 m2 floor. In addition to dead load, this steelwork carries a design live load of 750 kg/m2 above as well as exhibition hanging loads and movable wall elements below.

‘Another challenge was the sawtooth roof of the concourse. With steelworks it’s generally easier if everything either lines up in one direction or if it runs perpendicular. But the sawtooth roof stepped up and stepped down, and didn’t line up with anything underneath while also carrying elements of concrete slabs and the skylight feature.’

The skylight together with the glass facade plays a crucial role in the green design of the building. Jaco Kemp, sustainability specialist at Arup, who acted as a consultant during the initial building design for the Green Star rating, says the use of natural daylight can significantly reduce the need for artificial lighting and hence energy costs.

The high-performance glass facade is a good example of this. ‘Passive design elements such as performance glazing and shading ensure that the right amount of daylight and solar radiation enters the space, although this must be carefully balanced with aspects such as glare reduction and thermal insulation,’ says Kemp.

‘The better your glazing, the less heat it transmits into the building, which in turn reduces the workload of the air conditioning, thereby improving the energy efficiency.’

Other features are energy-efficient LED lighting, daylight sensors and occupancy sensors in the offices. The overall electricity consumption is further reduced through heat recovery wheels in the air conditioning, which minimise the heating and cooling energy even when the exhibition halls are at peak occupancy.

The fully automated building management system controls and measures the energy use, and aims to ensure that the building performs at its optimum. Over time it should deliver proof that the CTICC 2 is not just a pretty facade but that there’s green clout behind the transparency and light.



Makeka Design Lab
SVA International
Van der Merwe Miszewski Architects

Target Projects


Aveng Grinaker-LTA


Anchor Steel Projects

Mbatha Walters
& Simpson

Scheltema & Co

By Silke Colquhoun
Images: CTICC, Andreas Eiselen/HMImages, Alain Proust

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