In a world in which a majority of the global population now live in towns and cities, and a country which has long been blighted by urban decay, it is clear that a fresh vision for the future of city living has been long overdue. South Africa’s quite remarkable Menlyn Maine development – an innovative new urban space which fuses the ‘new-urbanism’ principles of multi-purpose liveability and safety with architectural beauty, has certainly provided it.
Endeavour Magazine had the pleasure to speak to Henk Boogertman, Menlyn Maine’s Director of Architecture and Design, and one of Africa’s best-regarded architects, about what Africa’s first ever green city brings to the table.
The world has changed beyond all recognition over the course of a century that has witnessed the emergence of a new digital age, and the rise of the motor car. Among these many changes, the rapid urbanisation of the global population is key amongst them. In a little over 100 years, the proportion of people living in urban centres has risen four-fold, from 14% in 1900 to roughly 60% today. This, combined with a massive rise in the global population and the unsustainable use of fossil fuels needed to power them, has placed huge strain on many of the world’s oldest and largest cities.
In South Africa, the congestion, pollution, and sprawl has long-since reached a critical mass, and triggered an incidence of suburban flight that has seen business and retail flee the centres of once-great cities like Johannesburg and Cape Town. South Africa’s cities are dying, and it has become clear that a new model of urban centre is needed, which ascribes to the ‘new-urbanism’ principles of creating a safe and comfortable urban space – one which is multi-purpose, and in which the pedestrian, not the car is king. In Menlyn Maine, Henk has provided the blueprint for a city model that is fit for the modern age.
The Menlyn Maine mega development – a 350,000 sq. metre urban precinct that is being built at a cost of R10 billion, is according to Henk Boogertman: “A huge thing. It’s one of the biggest commercial construction projects underway in the country today.” Undoubtedly, it is the most ambitious construction project that South Africa has seen for many decades, and upon its completion Menlyn Maine will be comprised of 140,000m² of commercial office space, 35,000m² of retail, dining, and shopping space, 35,000m² of up-market residential apartments, 18,000m² of luxury hotel space, a 60,000m² Time Square Entertainment Complex, and large tracts of scenic parkland and open urban space.
Situated just outside of Pretoria in Gauteng Province, the Menlyn Maine development is truly unique, in that it is the first green city of its kind to emerge on the African continent. Each and every component building in Menlyn Maine has been designed with environmental sustainability in mind, in order to create a precinct that is highly energy and carbon efficient, to the extent that it is Green Rated by the Green Building Council of South Africa – one of only a handful of urban regions in the world to earn this accolade.
Of course, looking after the planet is all well and good, but more importantly than this Menlyn Maine is just a great place to live, that provides leisure, entertainment, and safety. The precinct represents a blend of function and aesthetics that adheres to the principles of new-urbanism, the result of which is an urban space in which people can walk and live peacefully, day or night, in an environment that encourages wellness. “Ultimately, it’s a new decentralised city centre. So if you take a main city centre like in Central London, you would also have a centre outside of it, like Canary Wharf. That is what we mean by a decentralised CBD – it is a business district that stands on its own legs as a separate entity. That is what we are building here at Menlyn Maine.
It’s mixed-use, it’s a decentralised CBD in the sense that it’s a business district consisting of hotels, apartments, a casino, entertainment, shopping, apartments, offices, medical facilities, which includes a cutting-edge specialist hospital and a medical centre. There are outdoor leisure areas and parks where people can relax and hangout close to the offices. That’s the full mix of what we have at the moment,” explained Henk, who as Director of Architecture and Design of Menlyn Maine is spearheading the project.
He continued: “The big idea of having a mixed-use urban area is to create a place where you’ve got everything on your doorstep, where you don’t need a car – a common thing for people living in Western countries, where you don’t need a car! In South Africa It doesn’t work like that, so our precinct is unusual in that it embraces old urbanism, which is what it is, not new urbanism, and operates in the way that a city should operate. A city should have people that live there, work there, go to school there and be entertained there, and shop there – do everything that they need to do there, and be able walk to go do it.”
In Henk’s view, what’s happening at Menlyn Maine is the regeneration of what a city should be – what cities used to be in South Africa, and what they still are in some of the world’s leading urban centres. Underground parking means that the environment is pleasant and uncluttered, and the flat cityscape is perfect for families with prams and people who are disabled, not to mention joggers. The view is enhanced further by the presence of art and sculptures in Menlyn Maine’s piazzas and parks, as Henk was keen to mention: “We’ve embraced public arts, which are a common occurrence in other major cities around the world, but also performance arts. In our piazza we’ve got a lot of activities every weekend, so we tend to do a lot of events on our premises that activates the precinct.
We’re about to open our casino, which will ultimately be the biggest in the country, just across the road from one of our parks and we’ve set-up a massive gig where bands will perform to guests. Then there’s our 8,500-seater multi-purpose arena where we can host sporting events such as boxing matches, tennis matches etc. and which we can also use as a venue for conferences. Big, big music shows. Things just don’t exist like this in SA at the moment, or not on this scale anyway.
It’s a great vibrant city centre where something is always happening, where there’s always something cooking and where there is always a hive of activity”
There are even cycle lanes in Menlyn Maine, which is astonishing for a country where urban cycling is all but unheard of. And if this wasn’t enough, there is even a striking 8,500-seater closed arena, capable of hosting sporting events, like boxing and tennis matches, gigs, and important conferences. Absolutely every facet of the development has been centred around coming as close as is possible to creating an environment which is positively utopian.
Naturally, demand from businesses and aspiring residents for office, retail, and residential space has been utterly unprecedented. Henk elaborated on this, saying: “MM has definitely become a very good investment address, and a first-choice place to work. There is currently a very low demand for office space in Pretoria, but we are continuing to gain momentum from companies and individuals who want to be here. There has been incredible demand for our residential properties, and since we launched our residential apartment scheme in November last year we’ve sold 255 units – we will be starting construction work on the residential areas within the next 2 months. In South African terms, this is unheard of success.
This is the kinds of demand we’re facing at the moment, because it’s such a great address from a leisure, shopping, working, and lifestyle point of view. It’s outstanding.”
Suffice to say, Menlyn Maine has set the standard for future city developments in South Africa, and already other urban developers are following suit. The success of the project has shown Africa that the green concept can work here, and that it can be achieved at reasonable cost – unlike in the Middle East where huge sums of money can be spent on enormous civic construction projects without looking at the price tag. Mega developments in South Africa have to make financial sense here, and it does, not only during the construction phase but in the long-term too.
In a country where the well-publicised difficulties of Eskom have led to blackouts and power shortages, energy supply from the national grid is unreliable and expensive. In-light of this, it is perhaps unsurprising that investment in renewable energy sources in South Africa has risen markedly over the past decade, as businesses and residences seek to meet their energy requirements using off-grid sources. With its heavy use of solar energy sources and its commitment to energy saving, Menlyn Maine is saving money and the planet.
Henk concluded the interview, saying: “Energy in South Africa is very expensive, so people are saying if I can use the sun, which shines 90% of the year, and in some cases 100%, why don’t we use the sun to generate power? So, if you have a shopping centre component like we have using 3MVA of power a day and we can generate 500KVA a day, and the shopping centre is open during the same hours as daylight so we don’t need to store the energy, this means we can reduce our power consumption substantially. The savings from this we can use to augment our operational costs, meaning that we can put the money into maintaining our parks and landscaping areas and mall in great shape. The tenants don’t have to pay for upkeep of MM, its paid for by the sun.
In the long-term, it just makes sense to invest in renewable energy sources financially, especially solar power. It is a very effective method of power here in South Africa – the sun is our friend basically, and we want to use it. It’s a social thing, it’s a cultural thing, it’s an earth thing – it’s the right thing to do, but it also makes financial sense.”