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Simon's Town Heritage Advisory Committee

Guidelines for the Conservation and Development of the Simon's Town Conservation Area

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Character Appraisal

Simon's Town is a special place. It has a character quite different from other towns along the False Bay coastline or anywhere in the country.

The distinctiveness of a place may come from much more than its appearance. In Simon's Town, the particular character is to a large extent a function of the intimate and highly visible connection between history and geography. The safe anchorage provided by Simon's Bay led to the role of the town, from the middle of the eighteenth century, as a victualling station. From the time of the second British occupation it became a dockyard town. This naval maritime role has endured and has contributed substantially to the increasing role of tourism to the economic base of the town. The particular benefits offered by the coastal location and the specific topographical features, characterized by a relatively steep north-facing mountain slope and a narrow coastal plain have resulted in maritime-related land uses and a specific urban and architectural form which is unique in regional and national terms.

The elements of character that contribute to distinctiveness of place can be summarized as follows:

1. The enduring and dominant role of the town as a naval orientated port. Topographical constraints particularly the lack of flat land adjacent to the water's edge, have limited the normal commercial and industrial activities associated with a safe anchorage and have restricted industrial activity to the servicing, victualling and repair of naval craft.

2. The setting of the town perched between coastline and mountain with its strong linear emphasis characterized by the clustering of higher-order activities along St Georges Street and the range of vistas and panoramas resulting from the response of the built form to the topography.

3. The linear, clearly defined banding of land use activities, with naval orientated servicing and repair. Activities on the coastline, a narrow strip of commercial activity along the main road and a range of residential densities on the mountain slopes.

4. The typology of building types which has resulted from this maritime role and the nature of the topography. Historically storehouses, boarding houses and taverns all revealed relatively narrow dimensions and a degree of integration and overlap between land uses. Subsequent commercial and residential development has continued to reflect this form.

5. The infinite variety in the response of the built form to the natural terrain. Within this variety a degree of consistency is evident, characterized by a relatively fine grain of building forms; the tendency of building to hug the ground rather than perch on artificial platforms supported by pillars; the tendency of the plan form to run along the contours rather than against them, a veranda dominated architectural form, a vertical emphasis in the treatment of apertures and the extensive use of local sandstone used in a variety of ways, including retaining and boundary walls and some buildings of quality.

6. The high concentration of conservation-worthy buildings reflect the town's history. These include early maritime fortifications, the early Dutch East India Company's store rooms, the oldest patent slipway in the southern hemisphere, the turn of the century dry dock and the whole range of stone structures and buildings associated with the west and east dockyards. The area known as the "Historic Mile" contains a great many buildings of architectural significance that are relatively intact. Similarly Admiralty House and the range of generally unaltered Regency, Victorian and Edwardian styled villas and row houses contribute substantially to the character of the town. The single and double story flat roofed buildings evident in the early half of the nineteenth century have in most instances been replaced with hipped slate roofs, often with verandas at lower and upper floors.

7. The material evidence of the place's cosmopolitan history resulting from its role as naval port and dominant role of the Royal Navy in providing a powerful backing to the civic authority.

8. The presence of discernable areas of particular identity within the core conservation area and transitional areas and the extent to which new additions in terms of their scale, form and architectural detailing have generally responded in an appropriate and harmonious way to perceived identity.

9. Large numbers of structures contribute to the overall character of the area, not because of their architectural merit, but rather by the nature of their scale and massing, and townscape qualities.

10. The character and relationship of spaces within the area, in particular the green valleys which bisect the mountain slope and the existence of mature tree canopies, often comprising exotic but not invasive tree species.

11. The range of views, including panoramic vistas and glimpsed views, from and towards town, and the picturesque, townscape views within it.

12 The positive, visually permeable and human scaled interface between public and private space. This relationship, characterized by the absence of high boundary walls is more evident in the older historic areas and is eroding in the newer residential suburbs. It contributes to a qualitative and environmentally safe public realm.