Thembisa is derived from the Nguni word meaning “promise” or “hope”. A visit to Mall of Thembisa, the latest development by rural retail development specialists McCormick Property Development (MPD), evokes the energy and potential of the people of Thembisa and points to a promise of even greater things to come.
Designed by MDS Architecture, this vibrant shopping centre, just off the busy Olifantsfontein Road in the North Western quadrant of the growing Thembisa township in Gauteng, has a gross leasable area of 44 781m². This project aims to be the catalyst for further development in this underserviced portion of the township, with the long-term vision including plans for a high density residential and commercial development.
Jason McCormick, Managing Director of MPD, explains that a central tenet of the approach to shopping centres is to ensure that the social fabric of the community is fundamentally changed – for the better. “We love innovating and challenge our professional teams to create unique centres that speak directly to their communities. We want each centre to be an improvement on the previous one and challenge the team to make them unique, to ensure that they boast elements that are specific to the community and area they will serve.”
And this is what happened at the Mall of Thembisa.
Site specific challenges
“Double level malls are generally expensive to develop but this site had a significant fall and the difficult ground conditions required piling and subterranean elements to rectify it. However, this played into our hands, allowing on-grade parking on both levels whilst reducing the building’s footprint and the amount of piling required,” explains Jason.
The design takes the slope of the site into consideration as well as the building’s central location. Shoppers enter the building on lower ground level along the east façade and upper ground level along the west façade, essentially giving the building two prominent front façades.
“This positioning required strategic design thinking in terms of the placement of services and delivery areas, which are extensive components of any retail development, especially one of this size. In response, a services passage ensures easy access to multiple service areas, while design elements along the façade enhance the aesthetic, masking potentially unattractive aspects of the service areas,” says Louis Pretorius, partner at MDS Architecture.
The massive rainfall of 150mm between March and April 2020 resulted in huge storm water damage, which, coupled with the COVID-19 hard lockdown, caused significant delay. The rainfall washed away half of the hill above the building, resulting in extensive repairs needing to be done once the site was re-opened.
Strength and protection symbolised
The main feature of the external architecture is the distinctive entrance canopies which comprise columns in the shape of stylised tree trunks with branches and shield shaped roofs. The concept of the shield was selected to represent the strength and protection that shield imagery evokes.
The largest shield-shaped roof covers the external food court area and main entrance to the building, with the tree-trunk columns being a prominent design feature throughout the building. Serving as inspiration for the Mall’s logo, the same design elements are featured on the building’s façade.
Externally, the building is painted in monochrome colours with a pop of colour occurring above each entrance. Leaves are referenced in the colour palette throughout the building and mosaic tiling introduces lines of different colours.
The anchor restaurant, Imbizo Shisanyama, is located on the most prominent north east corner of the building. The circular, aluminium-clad, triple volume form takes full advantage of the magnificent views of the township beyond and forms a focal point of the building from the main road.
The food court includes a children’s play area, central hand-washing station and al fresco dining options.
Whimsical play area
Bertha Wium Landscape Development designed the outdoor play area, creating a colourful and intertwined environment focused on maximum adventure, cohesive play and enjoyment.
Bertha comments, “The main element is a combination of birds’ nests of various heights and sizes comprised of steel, with the open nest protruding from a mounded area, creating the entry into the closed nest structures.
“The nests are linked with spiral steel tunnels and fitted with internal nets to allow for climbing through rounded openings to various levels inside the nests, forming a sizeable and impressive focal element. A slide and ‘fire poles’ allow for sliding down from the nests.”
All rubberised floor surfaces of the play area were constructed with the safety shock pad and final finish in vibrant colours of rubberising, in a specific circular design on mounds and flowing lines on the horizontals. Mounds were created with G5 fill and a concrete shell. Activity elements (tunnels, climbing poles, slides and swing structures) were created out of steel with a hard-wearing paint finish. The feature steel rainbow element finished in rainbow colours adds the sculptural element.
A detailed and technical approach was necessary within such a restricted space. Each element was specifically placed based on its intended use, function and space requirements, ensuring all elements could be enjoyed safely.
Lighting was crucial in contributing to the “magic” of the play area, bringing the play elements to life, and it is especially magical at night. Lighting communicates comfort while simultaneously creating a festive environment, which is also why the “electric orange” colour was integrated into the tunnels. Accent lights were placed on the trees, emphasising the magnificent trees.
Airy and open
Given the anticipated footfall numbers at the Mall, the brief was to maximise natural light and to ensure a feeling of space within the Mall of Thembisa. The numerous pop-up roofs flooding the interior with natural lighting through clerestory windows are a prominent architectural feature. There are also extensive openings in the upper ground floor slab, with glass balustrades creating double volume spaces which further bathe the building with natural light all the way down to the ground level.
The stylised motif of the tree trunks and branches of the external canopies and walkways have also been carried through the building’s interior and have been repeated in the ceiling design and tiling patterns. The monochromatic colour palette is also used consistently in the interior, allowing tenant merchandising and synergy to pop within the mall.
A continuous signage bulkhead above the shop fronts and feature lighting bring unity to the interiors and add a sense of intimate proportion to an otherwise grand space.
“Timber elements and finishes were used in the toilet areas and the main court to further provide warmth and texture. The design and selection of finishes ensure that intimate proportions in a grand space are achieved at Mall of Thembisa,” says Louis.
Innovative community initiatives
The Kasi CoLAB is a township designer’s emporium that provides local designers with a prime location within Mall of Thembisa from which to trade. Eleven local entrepreneurs were selected to trade rent-free for a year with a view to growing their businesses during this time.
The open-plan space, located at entrance 1 includes a seating area and vibrant graffiti painted by local artists. The CoLAB has already seen the local designers growing from strength to strength with a number of them breaking their own turnover records on opening day.
Local Farmer’s market
One of the most exciting initiatives is the creation of a farming co-op on site, called Reahola, which brings local farmers from the Kaalspruit flood plain together.
“I have been wanting to start a farmers’ market for fifteen years and we have finally brought this to life at the Mall of Thembisa,” says Jason.
Reahola consists of five farmers (unfortunately only 4 pictured above) who are all Thembisa locals and were supplied with land, equipment and seedlings to grow spinach, cabbage, beetroot, assorted herbs and more. An offtake agreement, facilitated with Imbizo determined the first seedlings that would be planted. The seeds were selected in order to cater to the needs of the Imbizo kitchen who purchased the first crops from the co-op in November 2020. Regular meetings are held between the restaurant owner and the farmers taking part in this fast-growing local community initiative.
Hope and promise
Both the developers and architects have demonstrated that with passion and a renewed focus on the needs of the community, shopping centre’s do not have to be massive imposing buildings without character, but that with a shared vision, they can become places where dreams, magic, hope and promise are realised.
PROJECT FACT SHEET
• Architects: MDS Architecture
• Developer: McCormick Property Development
• Structural Engineers: SCIP Engineering Group
• Civil Engineers: SCIP Engineering Group
• Quantity Surveyors: Quanticost Quantity Surveyors
• Electrical Engineers: KKA Consulting Electrical Engineers
• Mechanical Engineers: Pretocon Consulting Engineers
• Wet Services Engineers: CKR Consulting Engineers
• Fire Consultant: Fire Safety Designs Fire Consultants
• Outdoor play area: Bertha Wium Landscape Development
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