Open House, by Kimberley-born artist Jacques Coetzer, was the winning design in a public art competition held during Cape Town's 2014 World Design Capital programme. Rising up three stories to 10.5m, the bright-red house facade, with stairs and balconies, was envisioned as a place where people can go to speak, sing, cry or simply wave to passersby. Coetzer drew inspiration from corrugated metal structures, RDP homes and Long St itself.
According to the competition brief the artwork was supposed to celebrate 20 years of democracy for South Africa, as well as depict the city's history, diversity and future aspirations. On our latest visit, though, the stairs up the structure were taped off and the place declared a 'crime scene' as part of another arty installation highlighting decreasing bee populations because of commercial farming practices.
Rock Girl Benches
As you wander around the City Bowl, as well as up on Signal Hill, at Lion's Head and the V&A Waterfront, keep your eyes peeled for the colourful mosaic-decorated benches created by Rock Girl (www.rockgirlsa.org). This inspiring project was started by human-rights lawyer Michelle India Baird in 2010 when she was volunteering at the Red River School in the crime-ridden Cape Flats suburb of Manenberg. There was an urgent need to create safe places there for young girls and boys to sit and not be harassed by gangsters.
Several prominent Capetonian artists and designers, including Lovell Friedman, Laurie van Heerden, Atang Tshikare, Paul du Toit and Lyall Sprong, have since become involved in creating the benches. Most of the ones in Central Cape Town are twinned with a sister bench in the townships, such as in Gugulethu, where there's one at the Amy Biehl Memorial, and in Khayelitsha at the Grassroot Soccer Football for Hope Centre.
In Prestwich Memorial Garden there are three benches: Time Out by artist Paul du Toit, in the shape of a symbolic Rock Girl; an oversized wooden bench by Mark Thomas (who also designed the Boomslang at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden); and a metal and wooden bench by Laurie van Heerden inside Truth Coffee. You'll find others at the southern end of Long St, outside the Backpack, and in the lobby of the Cape Town International Convention Centre. If you go for a surf in Llandudno or Muizenberg, look out for benches there as well.
One of the city's most attractive public plazas, Church Sq is surrounded by handsome old buildings including the Herbert Baker – designed National Mutual Building, parts of which date to 1905; it now houses the Iziko Social History Centre. The property developer Urban Lime has been buying up and restoring some of the commercial spaces in buildings around the square including Speaker's Corner, set to house a restaurant, bar, events spaces and offices.
There are plans to launch a free sound-and-light show in the square by the end of 2018, with the projections screened at night onto the National Mutual Building. Information on the square's history will also be transmitted to visitors via a hi-tech interactive app.
The square's name comes from Groote Kerk, the mother church of the Dutch Reformed Church, which borders the square; adjacent is Spin St, where a small circular plaque in the traffic island marks the location of the Slave Tree, under which it is believed slaves were sold until emancipation in 1834. In the square itself is the Slavery Memorial, 11 low black-granite blocks engraved with the names of slaves or words relating to slavery, resistance and rebellion. There is also a statue of Jan Hendrik, one-time editor of the Zuid Afrikaan newspaper and a key figure behind the drafting of the 1909 South African constitution.