17 March 2010

Idasa’s Revamp

Suter A4Suter 1Ed Suter writes: The democracy think tank, Idasa, has renovated its historic Spin Street building and created an inviting place to meet, eat and browse books.

After four years of fund raising, Idasa is about to launch its new ground floor restaurant, book shop and conference rooms.
Idasa staff hope that the new public space will become a centre for the exchange of new ideas, the place to go to read a foreign newspaper (there will be a focus on African publications) or a venue to share ideas over a delicious meal.

“We want it to be a place for people to eat, drink, think, read, talk – all of the things we like doing,” says Judith February, who runs Idasa’s Political Information and Monitoring Service.

February believes South Africa is at a point where its citizens need as much conversation as they can get.
Idasa, benefiting from its proximity to parliament, aims to provide a platform for those conversations. Idasa has been based in the Herbert Baker designed building since 1997, across the road from the refurbished Church Square. It is ideally located to take advantage of the MPs, diplomats, journalists and non-government organisations on their doorstep.
Of their prime spot just outside the whirlwind of parliament, Judith says, “It’s unique anywhere in the world, that you can have a democracy institute in the back garden of parliament. So there has to be a way in which we can try to use that. There was a sense that this could be a place where people could meet and talk and also wrestle with some of the challenges of South Africa in an environment which is unique and pleasant,” says February

Bringing on board experienced partners

For the new project, Idasa has invited experienced partners such as Mervyn Sloman from the Book Lounge to set up and advise the running of the new book shop in the building, Lobby Books, and Robert Mulders, from the much-lamented Rosenhof restaurant to create the building’s restaurant, 6 Spin Street. The task of taking a building of some reverence and making it contemporary fell to architect Justin Cooke of Architecture Co-op.

Creating a space that was open, both to new ideas and in the literal sense, meant sweeping away the warren of cubicles that had mushroomed on the ground floor. The new space is filled with light, the room’s volume emphasised by the ceiling’s interconnected arches and a counter along the windows running along Spin Street, allows diners to engage with the passing parade on Church Square.

Commissioned artworks add interest to the new space

The centrepiece of the new room is an art piece, In the Balance, by artists Brendhan Dickerson and Petra Keinhorst, winners of a competition to find a site-specific piece. Suspended from the ceiling on a multi-tiered scale, a number of figures, either in groups or alone, are perfectly balanced with each other, achieving the balance that Idasa aims to achieve between the many viewpoints in a democracy.

Two other installations, Ed Young’s “Flying Arch”, with a life-size flying sculpture amidst rotating quotes projected onto the walls and artist Dan Halter’s “Reconstituted”, a beaded curtain made up of the scrambled up letters of the South African constitution will also be installed, providing more incentive to visit this space.

After holding many successful debates in their in the building before the renovation, Judith says there is still a perception that Cape Town is not engaged in the big national conversations. “One of the reasons we wanted to do this was to dispel the myth that Cape Town was really a place where people were not interested in debate, they were not interested in dialogue and really that we were a place apart from the rest of the country,” she adds.

Check out the photos, here.

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