“Quality building materials and good design should not necessarily be reserved for high-profile buildings, and in many cases even greater thought must be put into facilities that serve the needs of those most in need of them,” says to Christie van Niekerk, Corobrik’s Western Cape manager.

He was referring to the Helenvale Resource Centre project that has just been completed in the northern suburbs of Port Elizabeth, where one of the chief challenges was finding a balance between providing the best quality building materials and meeting the tight budget provided by the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality (NMBM).

“We decided to use the Roan Satin FBX for the super structure and internal walls and the Roan Travertine FBX for the external boundary walls, entrance and outbuildings,” says Van Niekerk, adding that 65 000 of the Roan Satin and 102 000 of Roan Travertine were supplied and used. The quantities were later adjusted as required.

The choice of clay face brick for the Helenvale Resource Centre was perfect as the municipality wanted to keep maintenance costs to a minimum.
“The inclusion of environmentally-friendly characteristics such as automatic electric light management, heat pumps, rainwater harvesting and wall and roof super-insulation added to the sustainability of this project,” says Van Niekerk. 

“The typical characteristics of clay bricks mean that maintenance costs are cut dramatically over a sustained period, and the excellent thermal properties of clay result in the building using less electricity to regulate temperatures in both summer and winter,” he adds.

Port Elizabeth architect, Miles Hollins, from The Matrix… cc Urban Designers and Architects, who conceptualised the project, says, “The existing community centre was an isolated event on a barren, rocky site in the heart of the Helenvale community. It was not only too small, but in a severe and sad state of disrepair. Fundamentally, it no longer served the needs of the people,” he says.

The Matrix’s initial brief called for extensive renovations to the existing building, as well as the construction of additional facilities required at the site.

“However, after a thorough analysis of the site and the brief – and after extensive consultations with the client and the community – we realised that the full civic potential of the site could only be realised by demolishing the existing buildings and infrastructure and erecting, in its place, a new integrated facility,” Hollins says.

This comprised, among other things, the creation of a community plaza that extends the civic landscape to a new urban park that forms part of the Helenvale Precinct Plan across Leith Street (the primary modal interchange in Helenvale) and then climbs up to the main public entrance to the building.

“These changes were key to the design of the new facility,” he says.

All in all, 3 000 of Corobrik’s burgundy pavers were used as borders to define the walkway leading to the entrance of the centre.

“It created a spatial relationship between the community and the new complex. The tree-shaded plaza with a tall marker tower defines it as a place, while the welcoming pergola ferries the community into the lightly enclosed Community Street,” says Hollins.

He added that the Community Street was the most special area, working as a primary functional and spatially organised element in the building. Various community facilities (including community offices, a sub-divisible community hall and a large multi-purpose hall) are attached to this space.

The axis of Community Street orientates the entire complex parallel to Leith Street. “This is a spatial characteristic that is prevalent in the densely packed, semi-formal, urban fabric of Helenvale,” he says.

“This linear space is the dominant form, with a transparency that is defined by a skeletal framework of highly detailed, laminated timber mono-pitch roof support structures.

“The community plaza flows through this space, accentuated by the continuation of the material and pattern on the ground plane and a spinal vertical plane stretching from outside to inside and then outside again,” says Hollins.

He says this was not the only issue that needed to be considered by the architects when meeting the needs of a community that relies on the Helenvale Resource Centre.

“One thing that the community objected to was the waiting periods, which so often occurred, particularly when any conflicts arose and community members needed access to counselling services or parole supervision.”

To address this, Community Street provides private seating pods for people who have to wait for relatively long periods.

“These semi-enclosed, semi-transparent, timber-clad forms create smaller, more intimate spaces that give some privacy, while still allowing for public interaction,” Hollins says.

Community service facilities (including the councillors’ chambers and a boardroom) are located beyond the seating pods and flank Community Street on the Leith Street side of the building.

In contrast to Community Street, the form in which these are housed is less articulated, simplified, sharp-edged and flat-roofed. “It’s like a solid, plain, white box,” Hollins says.

“The openings in this form are grouped into a linear element that highlights the horizontality and directs attention towards the main public entrance and Community Street,” he says.

“The small community hall and large multi-purpose hall belong to the same functional family and thus have similar forms and articulation. They are both characterised by rich patterns of deep red face-brick flanking walls, enveloped in a cranked plane of heavily articulated, charcoal-coloured cladding,” Hollins adds.

All in all the Helenvale Community Resource Centre gives its residents a sense of pride and ownership – something that is so often lacking in urban design.
Tel: 031 560-3111
Website: www.corobrik.co.za