Design South Africa : Gugulethu Square

A Community-centred Approach to Shopping Centre Design

Cape Town's newest shopping centre, Gugulethu Square, is scheduled to open in October and promises to redefine the shopping experience for the residents of the greater Gugulethu area.

Construction is taking place on the site of the old strip retail facility known as the Eyona Shopping Centre in Gugulethu, a township 15 km from Cape Town. The N1 main route runs through the area and is close to the N2 bypass intersection. Gugulethu, along with Nyanga, was established in the 1960s due to the overcrowding of Langa, which was the only black residential area in Cape Town at the time. During the apartheid era, black South Africans were not permitted to live in the city of Cape Town and many people were removed to areas with poor infrastructure such as Gugulethu and Nyanga. Over time, there was growth and some infrastructural improvement but retail facilities have always been rather limited, necessitating residents to frequently shop in other areas.

The international commercial architectural firm of Bentel Associates International (BAI) were retained by the developers to design a practical yet upmarket shopping centre for Gugulethu while taking due cognisance of the local community and its culture and needs.

"This will be an exceptionally functional 25 000 m2 retail centre which will offer a diverse range of options to shoppers," says Stephen Roberts, BAI senior director and project architect. "The R350-million Gugulethu Square will be the first fully enclosed township mall in the city."

The developers of the Square, West Side Trading 600 Pty Ltd - a joint venture between Mzoli Properties; the IDEAS Fund - a partnership product between Old Mutual and Unity (a consortium of trade unions); Group Five, Khula Finance and a community investment scheme - have consulted widely with the local community to ensure a wide range of shopping options and the support of the local population. This consultation has involved a four-tier approach - initial stakeholder engagement, the formation of a project steering committee (PSC), public meetings and the appointment of a community liaison officer. The highly representative PSC's role is to provide a channel for the community to interact with and monitor the project.

The name 'Gugulethu' is a contraction of 'igugu lethu', which is the Xhosa word for 'our pride'. Roberts says that the architects have utilised this phrase as a theme in the design of the centre, which incorporates upmarket porcelain floor tiling, feature columns and precast concrete finishes with inscribed graphics and poetry related to the central theme.

The theme has been utilised to enhance a sense of locale and community and to engender local pride in the Square. The exterior of the building will be decorated with graphic panels featuring the handprints of Gugulethu schoolchildren, local artwork and community messages.

Gugulethu Square will offer a varied broader-based retail, dining and entertainment facility, thereby retaining valuable local consumer spend in the area. The surrounding areas such as Heideveld, Manenberg and Philippi will also benefit from the new centre.

"Part of the design brief was the requirement of top quality finishes so that Gugulethu Square could compete on an equal footing with other major shopping centres," explains Roberts. "The Square will have the shopping options and the look and feel of other large upmarket malls. The developers hope that valuable catchment area spend will be retained in the area."

The shopping centre consists of three blocks, each anchored by national tenants Shoprite, Spar and Cashbuild. Letting has been brisk and tenants include Jet, Ackermans, Pep, Identity, Truworths, Exact, Fashion Express, Legit, Mr Price, Foschini, Markhams, Total Sport, Capitec, FNB, Nedbank, KFC, Nandos, Spur and Ellerines. The developers have allocated 3000m² (12%) of the GLA for small traders to ensure the tenant mix includes local entrepreneurs.

"The external finishes are also high quality and include large buttress columns clad with natural stone, a roof parking deck over the central block with shuttered concrete and suspended decorative bulkheads and lighting. Eyebrow canopies extend around the entire building creating relief from the concrete and each large entrance will be identified with different colour tiling."

"The innovatively designed roof parking deck can be converted into a temporary outdoor venue with views of Gugulethu and Table Mountain. The developers are talking to various interested parties about the possibility of regular community events on the roof deck," says Sean Friend - Portfolio Manager of the IDEAS Fund, Old Mutual Investment Group.

The architects have ensured that the interests of the population of Gugulethu have been thoroughly considered. The Square has been designed with a direct connection to a well-organised pre-existing taxi rank that forms part of the development and is situated between the two main blocks. Existing informal traders have also been considered and will be given leased kiosks with roller shutters in a well-demarcated space facing the taxi rank.

The architects were briefed with creating a sustainable design and the architecture of Gugulethu Square includes extensive natural lighting, eco-friendly materials, efficient use of space with roof parking, efficient artificial lighting and air-conditioning. All the materials from the demolition site were recycled. "We are also doing a huge amount of landscaping to integrate the centre into and improve the surrounding environment," says Friend.

The development has created numerous positive benefits for the residents of Gugulethu, especially in terms of job creation as a significant number of local residents were employed as construction workers. The developers' commitment to draw 25% of the construction workforce from the Gugulethu community has been exceeded and a ratio of 37% has been achieved.

The PSC's community liaison officer was appointed to receive CVs and company profiles of parties interested in participating in construction and to undertake on-site monitoring of commitments to local employment by both the main contractor and sub-contractors. Vacancy advertising for retail jobs at the Square will be centrally coordinated as a service provided by the centre. This will ensure that participation by the community is maximised and that qualified local candidates that might ordinarily be overlooked get equal access to job opportunities.

Bentel Associates International has created a community-centred design that will ensure that Gugulethu Square will add to the aesthetics and quality of life in the area and will provide a catalyst for future and sustainable growth in this vibrant township.

For more information contact:

Bentel Associates International
Stephen Roberts
Tel: (011) 884 7111
Fax: (011) 884 7110

Old Mutual Investment Group - Sean Friend
Tel: +27 11 217 1685 +27 21 509 5977
Fax: +27 21 509 6484

© 2009 Lois Aitchison, FVS Marketing & PR