Transformation of The Onyx in a tough property market

Transformation of The Onyx in a tough property market

All 219 apartments have been sold at The Onyx, the former Nedbank building on Cape Town’s Foreshore.

All 219 units have been sold at The Onyx in the Cape Town Foreshore – and this in a slow property market.

Master architect of urban regeneration, Robert Silke, is transforming the Foreshore with his new Onyx development for Johnny Rabie’s Signatura, with units ranging from 35m2 studios to 200m2 penthouses fetching over R20 million each.

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.”

He says the brief was to make something aspirational and beautiful and give it a genuine joy and frivolity – and there was a budget available to do it.

Silke set about transforming the office building into a luxury cruise liner.

“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 why it captured the public’s imagination,” says Silke.

The outcomes of commercial design are currently quite predictable in South Africa – “at its lowest ebb” Silke explains – and yet it’s no secret that 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,” says David Cohen of Signatura.

Silke says: “Run by Newmark Hotels, the hotel component of the development is not just 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, with some apartments offering expansive views and wooden decks.”

The development’s clients range from European and African billionaires through to neighbouring Naspers’ employees – interestingly, says Silke, 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.

“It has been really rewarding to see 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.