A massive new mixed-use development in the heart of Newtown is connecting Johannesburg’s past, present and future, and reviving the viability of a tired inner city area.
Already the 85 000m² Newtown Junction has shown how a rich heritage can be interwoven with the progress needed to drive a modern city. The new development is expected to bring an additional 5000 to 6000 people into the inner city each day. At a cost of R1.3 billion, Newtown Junction was almost a decade in the making.
Construction began in 2012 and finished early this year. It includes a 38 000m² shopping centre, 39 000m² of office space, a gym and basement parking for over 2500 cars. Additional features include a landscaped public piazza, open events space and new pedestrian routes. Situated in the middle of Newtown’s cultural district, it is the biggest multi-use development built in Johannesburg’s central business district since the Carlton Centre was built in the 1970s.
Construction on another key component of the development – a 148-room City Lodge hotel spanning 8000m² will be complete at the end of 2015.
JSE-listed property owner Attacq and Atterbury Property Developments each own half of the development, and the substantial investment in an underperforming area is viewed by some as a brave decision. The development was financed through Nedbank Property Finance.
Part of the attraction in investing in the city centre is also to benefit from the Urban Development Zone (UDZ) tax incentive, which encourages inner city renewal across South Africa. Under the UDZ, investors are encouraged to refurbish existing buildings or to build new assets in the inner city and to offset the cost of the development against the company’s taxable income.
Atterbury Property Developments MD James Ehlers says the project was originally meant to be just a shopping-centre development, but it evolved into a mixed-use development in partnership with the city and the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA).
While the retail portion of the development has not received a green rating, it has still benefitted from the building’s overall green design.
John de Klerk, associate director of dhk’s Johannesburg office – the lead architects on the project – notes the designs had to take cognisance of heritage structures. The architect’s response was to respect the surrounding material palette, which included traditional face brick and red roofs.
“Newtown Junction’s design successfully retains the magic of the past, blending it with the excitement of the future. It will become an important landmark in the city centre,” says Stoffel Mentz, Aurecon project director and structural engineer.
Green building principles first
Nedbank, as anchor tenant in the office building and development overall, was the driving force behind Newtown Junction’s green credentials. The Newtown campus is the bank’s fifth green building. The 4-Star Green Star SA Office Design rating has already been achieved and submissions made for the final As Built rating.
WSP Green by Design advised on how to achieve an office building committed to sustainability and responsible development. The office space uses 30% less energy than a building built to SANS 204 regulations by using efficient heating and cooling systems.
One of the standout green features is the ice storage air conditioner system – enabling a reduction in peak energy demand. Two 76m3 tanks located in the basement level are filled with Cristopia balls and glycol infused chilled water that make up the ice storage system.
At the start of the day, the tanks are filled with balls of solid ice that are frozen overnight during off-peak electricity times. The ice slowly melts during the day to reduce the cooling required from the chillers.
Design elements improve natural lighting. Large atriums with glass ceilings are a feature of the Nedbank campus, De Klerk explains. Glare is controlled via external screening and internal blinds.
Good practice also dictates consumption of no more than 200kWh/m2 per year for Johannesburg offices. At present, Newtown Junctions’ simulations suggest it will come in at 55% of this value, at around 110kW.
About 90% of the steel used to construct Newtown Junction, including some of the rebar, is recycled. The building’s roof has also been designed with the right slope and orientation for the future installation of photovoltaic solar panels. Nedbank is in the process of procuring the solar panels.
A dual pipe system has been installed for the grey water flushing system and low flow taps and fixtures, and minimum flush toilets were installed throughout the building, including in the retail section.
Celebrating the past
Because Newtown was declared a heritage district at the turn of the millennium, strict building limits were introduced. It took almost 10 years for the development to take off. It first had to be advertised in a public, open-tender process and proposals had to be weighed up and negotiated while the developers had to sign up tenants successfully.
Under guidance from dhk, the project team took particular care in creating a structure that connects the past, present and future with vibrant flair, making it an exciting place for people to work, shop and eat.
The project is backed by the Johannesburg Property Company and SAHRA, with a major heritage study undertaken, permits strictly controlled, and work closely conducted with the architects and developers to preserve the unique history of Newtown.
Many of the old structures originate from the turn of the last century, such as the old Potato Sheds of 1910 – a market relic built next to the railway siding of the day, an Edwardian gentlemen’s public toilet, and the old stationmaster’s house.
Where there have been new interventions to historic portions of the site, they have been kept clearly contemporary, in contrast to the delicate Edwardian steelwork and detailing. The existing pedestrian railway crossing bridge was also reused, while the original railway became an access road.
Johannesburg’s centrality, access to different modes of public transport including the Gautrain and BRT buses, and cheaper rent are all boons to the project. Tenants include Pick n Pay, Ster-Kinekor, Truworths, The Foschini Group, Mr Price, Busboys & Poets, Life Grand Café, Shoprite and Planet Fitness – all valuable amenities to the growing number of inner city residents.
The test for the development, however, is to convince people to shop there by choice for staple goods and not just see it as a place of work. Ultimately, Newtown Junction has the potential to be an economic injection for an ever-changing and regenerating Jozi.
By Yolandi Groenewald
The full feature appears in the June/July 2015 issue of earthworks magazine.