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Turbine Hotel & Spa
Thesen Island, Knysna, Western Cape

Michael P (Mike) LOUW: Design Architect
Michael P (Mike) LOUW: Project Architect



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34°02'54.89" S 23°02'55.42" E

As one of the oldest industrial structures retained for adaptive re-use on Thesen Islands, the transformation of the old power station into The Turbine Hotel & Spa has now been completed. The Powerstation is a building of approximately two thousand square metres and it used to be part of the Thesen Sawmill. It consists of a number of structures that were built and added onto over a long period of time, the largest of which were built about fifty years ago and some of the equipment inside is almost a hundred years old.

It used to provide electricity for the whole of Knysna and Plettenberg Bay by burning woodchips left over from the cutting of locally harvested timber logs. It was decommissioned approximately ten years ago and its estimated generating capacity, had it been in working order, would be 8.5MW - this is approximately one third of Knysna’s present demand.

The new hotel, which was designed within and around all the existing structures and equipment, consists of 24 boutique rooms, a spa, conference facilities, a restaurant called The Island Café and The Turbine Tapas Bar. It incorporates the original turbines, mechanical equipment, operating panels and extensive sections of piping. In addition, more than three hundred smaller pieces of equipment, including numerous gauges, switches, buttons and dials were allocated specific positions in the new hotel. Meticulously catalogued and detailed by CMAI, each piece was removed from the building to be cleaned, repainted, re-glazed and built back into this living museum. Many of these items were further customised to house new LED light fittings and have been linked to the hotel’s lighting circuits.

In addition to recycling the original structure and re-using as much of the existing building materials of the building as possible, numerous energy- and water-saving measures have been implemented to minimise resource consumption: Solar water heating, heat pumps, energy-saving modules that automatically switch off power in the rooms upon exiting, LED & CFL lightfittings throughout, rainwater harvesting and water-saving fittings are just some of the innovations that were incorporated.

The Turbine Hotel & Spa is a great example of how previously derelict and obsolete industrial structures can be sensibly adapted to house a variety of functions. It also illustrates how the adaptive re-use of existing materials and structures can preserve the sense of history associated with a building while responding to the surrounding environment in a positive manner.

[Mike LOUW, July 2010]

All truncated references not fully cited below are those of Joanna Walker's original text and cited in full in the 'Bibliography' entry of the Lexicon.