We recently visited an old power station adapted as a magnificent 5-Star hotel on Thesen Islands in South Africa. A Norwegian, Charles William Thesen bought what was previously known as Paarden Island and began processing timber there in 1922. The waste timber was used to power giant turbines at the power station, which supplied electricity to nearby Knysna and Plettenburg Bay for decades. In 2001, the plant was decommissioned, Geoff Engel and Dandre Lerm bought it in September, 2007, and by August 2010, CMAI Architects had helped the new owners transform the original buildings - equipment and all - into the 24-room boutique Turbine Hotel.
Located along the Garden Route, arguably one of the most scenic drives in the world, the Turbine Hotel is part of a major adaptive reuse project that converted the old industrial site into an upmarket mixed-use project with residential and commercial properties. According to Artefacts, the power station was one of the oldest structures on Thesen Islands to be transformed, and it was specifically designed “within and around all the existing structures and equipment.”
“It incorporates the original turbines, mechanical equipment, operating panels and extensive sections of piping,” Artefacts writes. “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 the 100-year-old equipment, the hotel comprises 24 rooms, gloriously decorated in fine furnishings, a spa, conference facilities, as well as the 90-seater Island Café and Turbine Tapas Bar. There’s a pool and deck outside, and a smattering of modern art interspersed with the historical artifacts. The Turbine Hotel also boasts a relatively light footprint thanks to a variety of energy and water-saving measures, including solar water heating, smart technology that switches off lights when guests leave the room, low-energy lightbulbs, and even a rainwater harvesting system.
Albeit out of reach for the budget traveler, the Turbine Hotel demonstrates a wonderful marriage of history and contemporary life without exacting too high a price on the local environment.
All photos by Tafline Laylin for Inhabitat