From Constantia wineries to Kramats, it was a gentle but wonderful start

View from Beau Constania tasting room

I had a gentle and much appreciated start to my explorations as I was met at Cape Town airport by architect and teacher Kevin Fellingham and his wife, curator Winnie Sze who whisked me off to Beau Constantia, a beautiful winery overlooking False Bay. I can think of no better way to get over jet lag than to have a glass of delicious South African white in hand, appreciating architecture in good company. We sat in the tasting room a glass box atop one of a series of pavilions designed by Jon Jacobson that nestle into the hillside amongst the vineyards. The siting of the pavilions, including a converted shipping container took advantage of the topography, creating a synergy between landscape and buildings. Windows framed views into the surrounding landscape – even the toilet pavilion (below) had a spectacular view over the valley with Stellenbosch in the far distance.

We then went on to Klein Constantia, yes, another winery, but at this one it was pure archi-appreciation. Gawie Fagan designed a cellar in 1986 just up the hill from the original Cape Dutch homestead. The building greets you with a wide upward-sloping entrance and gently lures you through a deep archway door and along a solidly built corridor with light filtering down the stepped, side-wall. Lovely details are everywhere – slots in the wall glimpse to a parallel space now a shop, a flagstone in the tiled floor denotes a threshold into a top lit octagon space, and is a sign to look up and glimpse Table Mountain through a specially placed window high in the wall ahead. The simple form of the building can be appreciated when standing in the working yard to the back, with a parred-back facade. It feels like a farm building that has been given just enough intention to feel like architecture.

Down the hill sits the Kramta (Muslim shrines that mark the graves of Holy Men) of Sheik Abdurachman Matebe Shah who was one of the three teachers who brought Islam to southern Africa in the seventeenth century. The more magical Kramat however was that of Sayed Mahmud, 10 minutes further along the road in Groot Constantia designed by Frank Flemming (a partner of Herbert Baker) with gardens and a washing block recently added by Gawie and Gwen Fagan. The whole place has an atmosphere of calm and peace – the shrine located at the vista of a gentle slope that encourages slow movement towards it. The washing building is reached via a simple but subtly joyous concrete pergola covered in vines. The long, facing wall of the washrooms, is adorned with a beautiful mosaic and the inside reveals one of the most serene spaces I have entered in a long time.