South Africa : Woodmead Retail Park's Upmarket Shopping Experience

Woodmead Retail Park is an open retail precinct of some 44 000m2 and is situated at the point of convergence of the M1 and N1 highways in Woodmead, Gauteng. This contemporary retail centre features curved accent walls, covered walkways, steel and glass and incorporates the use of natural materials into the design.

The Brief

The developer’s brief to MDS Architecture was to design a contemporary retail node in the heart of the busy area of Woodmead with an upmarket retail aesthetic. The design needed to be highly visible from both the M1 as well as from Woodmead Drive and was to meet the needs of the tenants whilst offering an enjoyable experience to shoppers with provision for ample parking. The open mall and parking area is anchored on each end by Pick n Pay and Woolworths. The variety of national tenants includes The Hub, Dischem, Toys R Us and Rochester Furnishers.

Woodmead Retail Park is not themed but has been designed in a modern contemporary way. Being an open mall, an abundance of natural light creates the feeling of walking down a boulevard for those who explore the entire length of the walkway. There is parking available for over 2000 cars. An additional attraction within the development is two motor retail dealerships which form part of the overall precinct.

Interpreting the brief

The walkways at Woodmead Retail Park, in contrast to the conventional lean-to roof construction common to Value Retail Malls, are a combination of steel and timber, and are nearly 6m in height. To counteract the effects of the afternoon sunlight penetration, the walkways have been created with a 5m depth, together with horizontal steel louvers at the outermost edge.

Visibility from the M1 highlights tenant signage and lifestyle advertising, masking the service area of the centre. Rather than utilising ungainly signage pylons, fully glazed feature entrances incorporating signage coincide with the entrances to the major tenants, and serve both as visual breaks in the building as well as nodes of focal importance, which in turn enable ease of orientation by the consumer. In line with MDS Architecture’s brief to explore interesting material usage, these entrances are glazed with Arctic White laminated safety glass, which serves a dual design purpose – to both minimize sun insolation during the day, while creating oases of light in the evenings. Off-shutter concrete piers with in-situ recessed joints frame these ‘light boxes’ and serve as points of visual solidity, in contrast to the walkway, which is more delicate and horizontal in form. Pre-determined sizes and positions of illuminated signage boxes which are built into the shop-front facades themselves, ensure that clean lines, and a distinct lack of clutter to the walkways are the over-whelming impression when experiencing the shopping centre.


Woodmead Retail Park is an upmarket environment, with first grade finishes specified throughout. Shop fronts are generous at 4.5m high and feature clean lines and materials.

As the design of the shopping centre had to accommodate a 10m fall from one end to the other, the decision was taken to express the changes in level rather than hide them, and simultaneously to break up the potential monotony of an extremely long pedestrian walkway. To this end, the building is divided into a series of separate sections, each housing retail space at the same level, with the changes in level between these sections taken up with ramps and stairs, and accentuated with a series of arched face-brick piers.

At the base of the entrances, organic motifs are expressed as inlays in the floor. These features, with their textures and patterns, attract shoppers through the entrance features of main tenants. Floor pattern detail separates the forecourts from the rest of the walkway.

Indigenous landscaping has been used wherever possible, requiring low maintenance. Trees are located on the edge of the walkway and on the parking areas rather than throughout, thus creating green zones with avenues of trees. They offer shading to west facing shops and create a warm enveloping ambience in the open walkway with their dappled, screening light.

Solar control was paramount in the design process. Solar studies were undertaken to establish western sun penetration into the shops. As a result, the design required oversized walkways, some 5m deep. The walkway roof also incorporates a horizontal louver edge to filter the light falling on the shop fronts.

The food offerings at Woodmead Retail Park are grouped into two distinct zones. The first area, a restaurant court, overlooks the freeway intersection to the north and incorporates a raised open deck to take advantage of the views of the valley. The second area incorporates essentially fast food restaurants, with seating spilling out under planted trees and umbrellas on a deck raised slightly above the level of the walkway.

The shopping centre offers convenient access for the disabled, with ramps at every entrance. A 500m2 stand-alone pavilion houses the News Café and is very prominent at the entrance to the site, enabling secure after hours access for evening entertainment.


Natural materials have been extensively used to express the texture and visual appeal of various elements. These include stone, steel, brick as well as extensive indigenous landscaping.

Natural stone cladding in the form of shard riven walling has been used selectively on various external walls and to highlight changes in level. The finish is not a smooth manufactured look but in keeping with the essence of the raw natural material. Lime washed face bricks used on demising piers between tenants, are accented with glass mosaics for detail and the walkway feature exposed timber rafters and ceilings with steel supporting columns. The exposed steelwork support is a strong design feature, framing the high walkway.

The walkway flooring is unpolished terrazzo-type pavers. Colours are clean and bold for a contemporary feel.

The signage criteria has been developed to ensure good exposure for the tenants without obliterating the Centre but still affording all tenants the necessary visibility.


The building aspects of this shopping centre are not so much unique as a return to tried and tested conventional building techniques, to achieve both an interesting aesthetic as well as to meet the low maintenance requirements of the client.

The first of these is the use of almost 4 000m² of Oriented Strand Board (OSB) sealed with Derbigum torched on SP3 and SP4 water-proofing, to create a trafficable, water-tight walkway, including an integrated OSB gutter.

The second is a series of face-brick arches built using traditional methods, whereby face-bricks are placed individually in soldier courses between scrim wires and curved form-work to effect an arch with the ends of the bricks forming the underside of the arch, without the use of brick faggots or concrete lintels.

It was a challenge to provide substantial steel support to the curtain wall glazing on the vertical face of the feature entrances, (which in some instances span 15m) without compromising on the intended aesthetic of a delicate glazed light box between substantial concrete piers. Ongoing close liaison between architect, engineer, and the specialist glazing sub-contractor was integral to achieving this, with many design options discussed, detailed and discarded before the successful finished product was manufactured and erected. Glazing has been detailed to cantilever or project at the intersection of horizontal and vertical glazing, as well as at the bottom of the vertical face, and small expansion gaps between the vertical glazing and the flanking concrete piers, all create the impression that the glazing ‘floats’ between the piers.

Construction of the shopping centre has required the deviation of an existing road.

Woodmead Retail Park opened its doors to the public in April 2008.

(c)2008, Despina Harito



MDS Architecture – Architects

SIP – Principal agents and Project Managers

WSP Consulting Engineers - Mechanical, Civil and Structural Engineers

Quad Africa Consulting Engineers – Electrical Engineers

SFT (Specialised Fire Technology) – Fire Consultants


MDS Architecture is an award-winning design practice that has designed buildings that attract the business, the people and the activity that lead to a sustained performance. With a proud reputation spanning in excess of 50 years, the practice is renowned for its skill in the sectors of hospitality and leisure, retail developments, offices, residential buildings and interiors. For more information on MDS Architecture, visit