Taking its name from its flagship project in Pretoria, Menlyn Maine Investment Holdings’ ambitious development is located in the northern part of South Africa’s Gauteng province. The city of Pretoria itself is one of South Africa’s three capitals (the other two being Bloemfontein and Cape Town). Each holds a branch of the South African government – in Pretoria’s case, the administrative branch. The city was established in 1855 and has naturally undergone many changes and evolutions since then, but now, it is about to gain its first ever ‘Green City’. We spoke to Henk Boogertman, Menlyn Maine Investment Holdings’ Executive Director of Architecture and Design, about their company and the project that they are driving.
Pretoria’s ‘Green City’ development, Menlyn Maine, began in 2008, when the land site was first purchased. Eleven years later, it is finally in its last stages, with around 85% complete. The entire precinct is Green Star rated, making it not only the first green city near Pretoria, but the first in the entire country. To qualify for this rating, every element of the city must reach a careful green standard, from power and power generation to water recycling and purification, waste management and waste recycling, and even the use of sustainable, efficient air conditioning systems.
One of the greatest aims and challenges of the task is to maintain a high standard of living and design whilst also meeting this green criteria, not sacrificing either to achieve the other. As the company states, “Human connectivity is the cornerstone of our mission and vision at Menlyn Maine. We strive to connect humans and create an environment where this connectivity can be celebrated.” To achieve this, the company must think carefully about the layout within each building, and also how the developed city interacts as a whole. It is so far achieving its aim in delivering quality; as Henk told us, “All of our buildings are minimum 4-star rated. This includes retail, offices, sport and recreation facilities, hospitals, residential apartments and hotels.” Not stopping at just the buildings, the company has put the same level of thought into its outdoor spaces, which are not only attractive, but accessible. “Our many parks, piazzas, as well as our well-designed paraplegic spaces, all have disability-friendly pavements and general pedestrianized accessibility throughout the precinct.”
Improving both accessibility and, through discouraging the use of cars, the city’s green rating, public transport is also a key priority for Menlyn Maine, making sure that public transport points are in close walking distance to all major city locations. In good design, practicality is essential, but it is not the full story, and when it comes to traffic and transport, thought has also been given to aesthetics: less than 10% of vehicle parking in Menlyn Maine is placed above ground, whilst over 90% will park underground.
This green city has been in development for over a decade, and it is very close to completion. The way it has taken form has been well received: “As the precinct is almost complete, with only four more building sites to be developed, one can already see how the precinct lives and works. As a sustainable, people-friendly and pedestrianized precinct, it has become the address of choice to work, live, shop and experience world class entertainment. Menlyn Maine is regarded as a remarkable success story in the development fraternity country wide,” Henk tells us with pride. The results are not only admired, but are even being used as learning points by others – an example of ‘What To Do’, and how to do it well. “We have been approached by various landowners and developers to come over to our developments on educational tours and fact-finding missions.”
The logistical undertaking of creating an advanced, coordinated green city, combining residential, commercial and retail builds, was vast. “Building a large, mixed-use project over ten years calls for careful planning, management and on-going marketing. The biggest challenges faced were town planning approvals and the successful management of the building process, especially in and around buildings that are already occupied as completed parts of the puzzle!”
Whilst working on the green city, the company developed and still co-owns a 90,000 m² regional shopping centre in Ballito, Kwa-Zulu Natal. Now, off the back of both successes, and as work on the green city is drawing to a close, Menlyn Maine Investment Holdings is looking into two new development projects to throw its talents at. “We are now purchasing two new mixed-use projects in the Western Cape and Mbombela provinces in South Africa. We are absolutely convinced that designing and developing mixed-use precincts and urban spaces lead to better architecture and urban design, better environments for people to live, work, shop, be entertained etc. This in turn leads to better and sustainable projects that make better investments over time.”
These projects are currently still in the planning and negotiations stages with the sites’ land owner groups. The company aims to be able to officially announce both projects in the coming months. Whilst both projects will take inspiration from Menlyn Maine, and will similarly be green, mixed-use urban developments, they will not be copies of the company’s flagship, or even each other: “Both initiatives will be very different from each other and if they come to fruition, they will certainly offer great excitement and create enthusiasm in the areas around the sites.”
Menlyn Maine Investment Holdings are a South African based company, and this is where they intend to stay: “We prefer to operate within the borders of South Africa, even though I have operated as an architect (with Boogertment & Partners Architects) on large projects in Kuwait, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, China and Mauritius”. Henk’s past experience is varied, but the company is dedicated to development in its home country, even though the conditions in the sector are not always favourable: “The building industry in South Africa is extremely depressed, due to a slow-growing economy. South Africa does however have a few ‘pockets of excellence’ where we focus our energy and expertise. We have very strong competition, as there are a number of developers in these areas where there is still demand and growth capacity.”
Whilst there is firm competition, companies also engage in fruitful cooperation to combine their talents and take on the challenging sector together. “We form joint ventures with other developers and contractors with whom we have built up sound and strong relationships over the years, as some of them are experienced in certain types of developments, and sharing risk from time to time in new projects is very helpful to get them off the ground. WBHO and Barrow Properties are our preferred contractors and development partners, and we also partnered and co-developed some of our retail-orientated projects with Flannagan & Gerard, a well-respected and very successful shopping centre development company in South Africa.”
Menlyn Maine itself only has a small team of around 25 members of staff, of whom seven are in senior management positions, with the rest working in finance, leasing and administration. “We believe our staff are respected and remunerated well. We involve all our staff in training and mentoring, as is required to take our company forward. We strive to promote from within, although we do from time to time outsource certain functions or services that need specialised expertise that we do not have. A basic lean and focused organization works well for us!”
“Although we are a small team, our senior management is very focused and involved with all our projects, and the skill set combination of finance, legal, development knowledge and design capability stands us in good stead in the type of precinct development we are involved in.”
Henk joined Menlyn Maine in 2011, but maintained a strong relationship with his previous employer, Boogertman & Partners, who take on much of the company’s architectural work. “The move from Boogertman & Partners to Menlyn Maine was completely unplanned and was agreed to at a time when Menlyn Maine needed somebody to represent the company in all aspects of design and marketing of this prestigious project. I count myself extremely fortunate to have been offered this position as a senior partner in South Africa’s largest and most successful architectural practice, and have not regretted the move for a single moment.” With the projects under Menlyn Maine’s belt, and two new potential projects soon on the horizon, we’re not surprised! It will be exciting to see Menlyn Maine finally up and running, and we cannot wait to touch base again in a few months’ time, and find out what these two new project sites will be.