Hotels & Lodges



Thesen Islands

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 sixty years ago and some of the equipment inside is more than 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. It was in a very dilapidated state when the project started, so to adapt it for re-use was quite a challenge: To fit all the client’s requirements into the existing shell between the existing pieces of machinery, working with a range of different levels, no square walls and a brittle building envelope all added extra dimension to an already interesting project.


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. The design & documentation process took six months and construction took exactly a year, so the Hotel was completed on the 30th of June 2010. 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. The turbines, pipework, parts of the boiler and chimneys were all refurbished and repainted in their original colours, so the layers of paint that were applied over the years had to be carefully removed down to the original layer, to which the new colours were matched.


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. New structural members were added to support the new floor slabs that were cast inside the existing shell: Since the single volume spaces were all converted to three storeys and the existing external walls couldn’t be used to support the new slabs on their own, most of the load fell to structural steel that had to be used in conjunction with concrete to support the additional floors. The re-use of much of the existing materials enhances one’s experience of the buildings and it brings one closer to the original sense of place – the exterior of the building also responds to the surrounding area by contributing to the industrial aesthetic of Thesen Harbour Town, which includes a number of refurbished industrial structures.


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 in order to fulfil a complex brief. 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.

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